Football: Clash of the dug-out directors

Brentford against Carlisle tomorrow is not just another game. It is also a contest between two chairmen who manage their teams.
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The Independent Online
TOMORROW AFTERNOON'S Nationwide League Third Division game at Griffin Park will be a unique occasion for British football as the respective chairmen of Brentford and Carlisle United, Ron Noades and Michael Knighton, meet for the first time as managers.

The only two men in the game who have been daring, or foolish, enough to take on both roles are old friends from more heady days, when Noades was chairman of Crystal Palace and Knighton a director of Manchester United.

Noades, a qualified coach as well as a successful businessman, sold up at Selhurst Park earlier this year while Knighton, a former physical education teacher, is still best remembered for demonstrating his ball skills in front of the old Stretford End when he seemed about to buy United. He has been at Brunton Park since 1992 and appointed himself Director of Football after dismissing Mervyn Day as first-team coach 12 months ago.

"I think our roles are probably identical apart from the fact that Ron spends a lot more money than I do," Knighton said yesterday.

"I don't think we do things similarly at all," Noades said. "I'm not interested in being chairman of Brentford, I'm only interested in being involved with the players. You'll find Michael in the boardroom before the game, whereas I won't be there until the match is over and we've dealt with the press."

"I certainly wear both caps, there's no question about that," Knighton said. "I'm out there every day with my tracksuit. Ron doesn't actually put the coaching sessions on - he's like me, he just oversees the footballing side." It should be an interesting day. What will they wear? Where will they sit?

"I will probably be in the dug-out on Saturday, but I like to see how the dug-out fits in relation to the camber of the pitch," Knighton revealed. "You get a far better view from the stand." Noades spends most of his time in the directors' box on match day, but takes occasional trips down to the dug-out to join his assistant, Ray Lewington.

For someone who has aired such strong views over the years about the way in which football clubs should be run, it seems strange that Noades should restrict himself to the playing side, but he insisted: "I've got no interest in running Brentford's business side in the same way I've run other clubs. I appointed a managing director in July [Gary Hargraves] and I don't go to Griffin Park at all other than on match days."

For his part Knighton says: "I've never used the term `manager' in all my time here. The last incumbent called himself manager but he wasn't, he was a coach. To manage a football club is a different role altogether from dealing with footballers. One of my roles is Director of Football, whatever inferences people want to draw from that. I do involve myself with the football; my coaching staff welcome that and we work extremely well together."

Although both are undoubtedly enjoying their new jobs, neither man believes he is setting a trend. "I know an awful lot of chairmen and directors in football and I don't know anybody that would attempt it," Noades said.

"I don't know whether it would work in the Premier League," Knighton said. "It certainly isn't something that's going to catch on."

Noades admitted that, unlike other managers, the only person he is accountable to is "probably my wife", but he added: "If I wasn't enjoying it, which means if we were losing and I was getting stick, then Ray Lewington's contract provides that I can ask him to take over at any time. So far it's been terrific. I'm looking at everything long-term and the quality I'm looking at now in our training sessions is far superior to three months ago."

"There's been no difficulty whatsoever," Knighton said, "save for the extraordinary reaction from certain sections of the media and a lot of the football world, who make absurd value judgements about how the two roles marry together. All I would say is, before people make judgements they should come and see how the system works and what the precise roles are."

Tomorrow would be the ideal place to find out, and Knighton was clearly looking forward to the challenge. "I'm sure it's a first, and Ron likes to be the first at things," he said. "I was going to ring him today because I haven't spoken to him for a week or two, but I don't think we'd be comparing notes. I have to say, the moment I heard he'd taken over at Brentford I said `There go the champions', and I'm going to stand by that. What we hope for is to be in the top seven or so, but I think they'll go up as champions."