Friday, February 04, 2011

There's only one John Williams

I'm going to add to the wave of eulogies to departed Blackburn Rovers chairman John Williams.

I thought something was up when he wasn't in his normal seat at the Spurs game. When I saw him at the Liverpool game I asked how he was and said: "You know?" and swivelled his hand to indicate that he wasn't happy.

I got to know him over the last ten years. He was accessible, open and very honest. And he could talk and talk and talk like no-one I'd ever met.

I got to know him after I'd written a few things about the running of the club that were less than complimentary - like 99 questions for the sleazy end of the football business - I'd also asked why the chief executive of a business turning over £35m needed to be paid the thick end of £200K. We were critical of the hospitality offering back in 2000. We also wondered why he'd employed his son in the marketing department. Unlike other bosses of businesses we'd upset he called me in and confronted me. I have to respect him for that.

Picking up on the fact I was a Rovers fan he invited me to a game as his guest and told me lots of stories from inside the camp. Our semi-regular meet-ups, a coffee and a chat, could last three hours. So, I mention these encounters because I take as I find. I also judge his performance as chief executive and chairman from a fan's perspective. I think he is probably fond of the sound of his own voice, like a lot of people in football, but he also understands the people of Blackburn and the surrounding area. The pricing plan was his idea. He knew the importance of balancing the budget, securing Jack's legacy and the financial probity of the club.

He stepped up as chairman, taking over from Bob Coar. The circumstances of this have never been made public, but I understand it was all down to the way Tony Parkes was let go by Mark Hughes. Jack Walker's daughter Linda Matthewman was outraged at this, really angry. Shortly after Bob was demoted to director, John was made executive chairman.

Like the rest of the board, John Williams always worked the room in the suites, often popped into the shop before a game - I bet not many football executives do that. But the last few months must have been crazy times. The guys I know at Crown Paints were a bit miffed that he - anyone - didn't call to talk through the new ownership. Especially as Venky's were making noises that they'd have their names on the shirts - it would have been good form to mention this to the incumbent. Words were said and to be fair, all seemed to be back on an even keel at the Liverpool game when John had a good chat with Crown boss Brian Davidson.

Interesting timing then, that Crown should announce on the day that John Williams is stepping down that they'll be ending the sponsorship. This is what the statement said: “Sponsoring the Blackburn Rovers’ shirts over the last three years has been a partnership we have really valued and been proud of. It has therefore been a very difficult for us to decide not to renew the contract when it comes to an end in May. 

"We have really valued the excellent working relationship we have built up with Chairman, John Williams, Tom Finn and Simon Williams, and wish to thank them all for this opportunity.  We are disappointed to hear the news of John’s departure from the club.  He was an incredibly respected Chairman and admired by so many people, both on a local and national level. 

“In line with our growth strategy, we are in the process of researching other opportunities to consider in the future.”

So, amidst this period of change, more change. A people's chairman, gone. A local employer as a sponsor, gone. Compared to winning games and qualifying for Europe and making big signings this might not matter, but in the words of one of my favourite songs: "Don't it always seem to go, That you don't know what you've got, Till it's gone."

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi John,

Thanks for your excellent and informative blog - really envious of your time spent in John Willams company - perhaps you could get him to agree to put out his memoires.

Worrying times as far as I'm concerned - the patients have taken over the asylum and don't know what to do (or do they!). Things will never be the same again - yesterday was the day the music died.


Ray Pickup