Last month, Swansea City announced that they were unlikely to pursue the offer of a new US investment deal thought to be worth up to £30m to the club. Supporters’ Trust member Bobby Gardiner explains why so few fans were keen on the idea.
On January 24, 2002, a handful of loose change amounting to £1 and a carrier bag containing £20,000 were slid across a hotel table in Cardiff. In that moment, the remarkable fairy-tale of Swansea City’s rise began. Under the turbulent, austerity focused leadership of previous owner Tony Petty, the club had amassed £1.7 million in debt and was in turmoil. But amidst the disaster and ensuing ashes, a group of local businessmen had become galvanised in their desire to reclaim and take control. The club was to be run by people who cared.
And so it still is, over a decade, three promotions, a league cup title and a Europa League adventure later. Huw Jenkins, the club’s Chairman, is probably as trusted in his position as you could find anywhere in the world, seemingly unable to make a mistake in his managerial appointments and signings alike. When Michael Laudrup was sacked to be replaced by Garry Monk, who was still a player at the time, the neutrals of a judgemental footballing landscape scorned the club’s naivety. Although some fans were uncharacteristically doubtful, the overarching attitude of supporters towards the change was simple and, in hindsight, correct: “In Huw we trust”.
Through the Supporters’ Trust, the average fan is still able to have a say in the club – the Trust maintains a share of 21.3%, a unique situation compared to the rest of the English top flight. Forums are held regularly with the opportunity to direct questions to Huw Cooze, the Trust’s representative on Swansea’s board of directors. At the most recent of these though, there was a scent of scepticism. The Trust and fans were vehemently expressing their disapproval of the rumours hinting at American investment into the club; so opposed towards the idea are some that a fanzine recently went to print with an image of the star-spangled flag burning as its cover.
Talk of investment had been bubbling for a while. In September, Jenkins claimed that Swansea were “miles behind” rival clubs in terms of commercial income and, in a match programme in November, he threw three pertinent questions at fans: “Will the current Board of Directors continue as they are forever? Can Swansea operate in the same way for the next 10 years as it has in the past? Will standing still and protecting what we already have be enough for us to compete in the future?”
Plans slowly began to materialise as it emerged that a group of Americans, spearheaded by billionaire John Moores, were contemplating acquiring a 30% stake in the club. Football finance expert Tom Cannon urged fans to “be very careful about getting over excited about American investors” in a BBC piece, echoing the already public apprehensions of the Trust, who remained adamant in their stance that Swansea “are a community club and don’t need outside investment”.
When asked about the issue, Garry Monk stood firmly behind Jenkins’ plans, emphasising the importance of attracting “other interest and other investment to areas of the club that need to be strengthened”. The club has been in negotiations about the purchase of the Liberty Stadium for a while, but this seems to be forging ahead whether or not there is an American injection and it has been suggested that some of the Wilfried Bony money may be used on such things.
Another priority is the Academy which is still categorised as Level Two by the FA, meaning that only youngsters who live within a 90 minute radius of the club can be signed. With the guaranteed influx of astronomical TV money and Swansea’s relatively low wage budget, it is perhaps plausible that such strengthening could be accomplished without external involvement.
In a business sense, an investment is a payment in the expectation of a profitable return but in football, the word extends beyond finance and becomes a matter of intent. The carrier bag with which Swansea was bought could hardly be called a rational investment under the prior definition, but Cooze, at the recent forum, pointed out that “when you’re sitting on an investment which cost you £50k, and it’s now worth £5m, that’s life changing”.
The current shareholders bargained their own savings for the livelihood of the club and so perhaps they should be allowed to reap the benefits of its success. The issue for the Trust here is that while they might not blame a shareholder for cashing in, to suggest it would be for the benefit of the club is another matter entirely.
If the shareholders other than the Trust (who, if anything, would like to increase their stake) sell their shares, that revenue would be completely external to the club itself. This is why, according to Phil Sumbler, Chairman of the Supporter’s Trust, “this particular deal isn’t investment. It’s the potential sale of shares of the club”.
The agreement might be closer to traditional football investment if it involved the guarantee of cheap loans, but Swansea are proudly debt-free and only have to point at the colour that their nearest and fiercest rivals played in last season to highlight the possible downfalls of external investment.
The question of the club’s ‘next- step’ is likely to arise again soon. Likely to finish in the top half and now confirmed by Deloitte as the 29th richest club in the world, Swansea City’s continued success has been the product of meticulous foresight and a refusal to stand still.
The Trust may seem conservative in this instance, but this only comes from their desire to uphold the same promise with which Huw Jenkins signed off his programme address in November: “I can guarantee one thing – the current board will always fight, as we have done over the last 12 years, to work together as one with the Supporters Trust to make 100% sure that Swansea City football club remains the number one priority in all our thoughts and in every decision we make”.
You can follow Bobby Gardiner on Twitter (@bobbygardiner)
Do you agree with Bobby or are you a Swansea supporter who would rather someone showed you the money? Should more clubs be run like Swansea or are they unrealistic and destined to be cast aside by a game so beholden to cold, hard cash? Let us know by writing to us on [email protected] or by clicking this.