Hættulegasti maðurinn í enska boltanum

Á enska boltanum má finna marga skúrka. Sá versti og hættulegasti er John Batchelor. Hann hefur nú skotið upp kollinum eia ferðina enn.

Maður þarf ekki nema rétt að renna augum yfir Wikipediu-færsluna um hr. Batchelor til að sjá að hann er enginn venjulegur maður. Hann auðgaðist sem kappakstursmaður og eigandi kappakstursliða, þar sem allt var falt – þar með talið nafnið hans sjálfs. Þannig keppti hann á fyrri hluta ferilsins undir nafninu John Top-Gear en sí­ðar sem John B&Q. Þar með var tónninn sleginn fyrir það sem sí­ðar átti eftir að gerast.

írið 2002 eignaðist hr. Batchelor knattspyrnufélagið York City FC fyrir eitt sterlingspund. Hann lét breyta nafninu í­ York City Soccer Club, til að gera það „alþjóðlegra“ og breytti sömuleiðis merkinu á þann hátt að það fæli í­ sér ví­sun í­ kappakstur.

Eftir ár var félagið komið í­ greiðslustöðvun. Stuðningsmenn liðsins komu félaginu til bjargar og komu í­ veg fyrir að það yrði lagt niður. Til þess þurftu þeir að greiða John Batchelor væna summu. Stjórnartí­ð hans hjá York City er eitthvert markvissasta morðtilræði kaupsýslumanns við enskt knattspyrnufélag í­ seinni tí­ð.

Sí­ðasta vor reyndi hr. Batchelor að kaupa Mansfield Town – enn eitt félagið sem hefur verið skelfilega óheppið með eigendur. Fréttirnar vöktu mikla athygli, þar sem kaupendurnir væntanlega lágu ekki á þeim fyrirætlunum sí­num að breyta nafni félagsins í­ Harchester United, í­ höfuðið á skáldaða knattspyrnuliðinu í­ sjónvarpssápunni „Dream Team“.

Ekkert varð úr því­ að Batchelor fengi að kaupa Mansfield. Þá sneri hann sér að Accrington Stanley – og núna sí­ðast Chester City.

Chester er í­ eigu Stephen Vaughans – sem er ekki fí­nn pappí­r. Hann lagði á sí­num tí­ma utandeildarliðið Barrow næstum því­ í­ rúst peningalega, áður en hann sneri sér að rekstri Chester (sem er frægt fyrir tvennt: að vera gamla lið Ians Rush & fyrir að heimavöllurinn er á landamærum Englands og Wales. Fyrr á þessu ári þurfti hann að segja af sér stjórnarformennsku í­ félaginu, þar sem gefin hefur verið út opinber kæra á hendur honum fyrir fjársvik – en hann er þó enn eigandi félagsins.

Nú vill John Batchelor kaupa Chester City og ætlar að breyta því­ í­ stórt og þekkt vörumerki. Á því­ skyni er hann ennþá spenntur fyrir Harchester-nafninu, með þeim rökum að 27 þúsund manns hafi skráð sig sem „aðdáendur“ sjónvarpssápuliðsins á netinu og að það sé miklu meiri fjöldi en mæti á heimaleiki Chester. Hann telur raunar stuðningsmenn Chester vera labbakúta, sem engu máli skipti. Þeir eigi ekki að hafa meira um það að segja hvernig fótboltafélagið þeirra sé rekið en t.d. súpermarkaðurinn í­ hverfinu. Miðasala á leiki skipti engu máli – aðalatriðið sé að fá styrktaraðila, auglýsingatekjur og sjónvarpsáhorf.

Ég birti hér að neðan viðtal úr The Chester Chronicle við hr. Batchelor. Það er slí­k lesning, að maður trúir ekki sí­num eigin augum. Ég lét segja mér oftar en tvisvar að viðtalið væri raunverulegt – trúði varla öðru en að það væri tilbúningur. Svo virðist hins vegar sem maðurinn sé gjörsamlega siðblindur og firrtur. Því­ miður stendur enska knattspyrnusambandið sig álí­ka vel og FME á Íslandi í­ að stöðva svona lukkuriddara og koma í­ veg fyrir að þeir fái að leggja í­ rúst rótgróin félög sem eiga lí­f og sál þúsunda fólks:

Full (and frank) interview with John Batchelor

JOHN Batchelor insists he will not give up in his quest to buy the Blues – despite Stephen Vaughan’s public rejection of his bid yesterday.

The former York City owner spelled out his vision for the future of Chester City in a interview with The Chronicle on Wednesday – and openly admitted he did not care what the fans thought of his plan to change the club’s name.

The straight-talking Batchelor was happy to answer our questions.

Q. HOW did Tuesday’s meeting with Stephen Vaughan go and where are you at in terms of your proposed takeover of Chester City?

It wasn’t our first meeting and, as far as things go, there is no problem on the price. There’s no problem on the proof of our funds, we’ve shown him that. I wasn’t just with Stephen, his lawyer was present as well. The only thing is that I have some fairly contentious plans for the club. We still need to get over that.

Q. Can you expand on what those plans are? Would they involve renaming the club?

Yes, there would be a complete change of identity for the club in all respects.

Q. What would you change the name to?

We probably have three options, all of which relate to sponsorship deals.

Q. What would you say to supporters who feel you are interfering with the history and tradition of the club?

I don’t care, basically, is the answer. If I’m going to invest £2m into a business venture, it’s being done on the basis that the amount of commercial income we bring in is greater than what the fans contribute.

At the moment they don’t contribute enough to keep that club going, so if both of them want to ring me I’ll speak to both fans… It’s as brutal as that.

You’ve only got to look at the high street and look at Woolworths for example. It’s been there 99 years. It won’t be there next year because it’s had its day. Chester City is the same thing. Not enough people turn up at that club every other Saturday to maintain that particular brand.

I can create something for professional football in Chester that would maintain it if nobody turned up. So they (the fans) don’t get a vote. And they don’t get a vote because they don’t get a vote when they go to Tesco’s on how the store is run. Why should it be any different with football?

Q. So you don’t think the fans play an important part in a football club?

Not interested. If they want to come and watch successful professional football in Chester – under whatever guise – if it belongs to me they will do it on my terms. If they don’t want to come, fine.

Q. How can you make this work? How can you make Chester City successful?

If I sound frustrated about this, or if I sound abrupt, it’s because people have a mental block when you say you want to run a football club and you don’t care about the fans. There are three routes of income for this club which will generate probably three times as much as it generates now. None of those involve people coming through the turnstiles. So if people do come through the turnstile, it’s a bonus.

Q. Naming Chester after the fictional team Harchester United (from Sky TV’s Dream Team) has been mentioned. Is that something you would be interested in doing?

It’s possible that we could do that. I would use the Harchester alternative if it works for the various sponsors we have. One of those sponsors has a very extreme brand and the more extreme we can be, with positive or negative publicity, it doesn’t matter, the more we would get.

The Harchester thing is quite interesting. I investigated it about 18 months ago. I spoke to the owner of the rights and did some background on the fan base that fictional club has. It has just over 27,000 registered fans on the Harchester website. From a marketing perspective, it would be a lot easier to talk to them than the couple of thousand people who turn up at Chester.

Q. But just because people register themselves as fans on a website, it doesn’t mean they will travel to Chester to watch the team.

We don’t need them to travel. We don’t care whether they turn up or not. But we do like to sell to them.

I’ve got to be open with everybody because, if I’m not and I try to be everybody’s best friend like when I was at York City, then 12 months in it just gets nasty. I’d rather everybody knew where I’m coming from – which is to keep professional football in Chester, making a profit and having a successful team based there whatever it’s called – than pretend that I’m going to look at 120 years of heritage, which I don’t give a monkey’s about.

Q. You admitted in an interview with The Guardian earlier this year that you lied to York City fans. Have you changed since your time at York?

I’m seven years older now, seven years wiser, and I think it’s because everything I enter into now I enter into for one reason – and that’s me and my family, and for no other reason. I’ve had the ego thing, and I’m really not interested in the ego thing any more.

Q. You have described yourself as an “asset stripper” in the past. Are you looking to do that at Chester?

No.

Q. Where have the funds to buy the club come from?

I’m not sure I mentioned £2m but it’s been mentioned and that’s not too far off the number. Secondly, all of the proof of funding was produced on Tuesday for Stephen and his lawyer. Thirdly, investment will come from sponsorship deals.

Q. Would the current management team of Mark Wright and Steve Bleasdale be safe if you took over?

I might want to add to it but I have no problems with Mark or any of the management team that exists at the moment.

Q. What is the next step in your proposed takeover?

We’re ready to go as and when he (Vaughan) is. He is proving somewhat difficult in relation to some of the more radical ideas that we have for the club. Stephen is a very difficult man, as I’m sure you’re aware.

Q. So there are certain points that you still need to thrash out?

I don’t, but apparently he does.

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  1. Ég ætlaði að skilja eftir einhvern reiði og hneykslunar skilaboð.

    Satt best að segja er ég algerlega orðlaus…

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