The position of Premier League chairman Sir Dave Richards has come under renewed scrutiny with the revelation that a company run by his son secured commercial deals to provide merchandise both to the Premier League and to help promote England’s 2018 World Cup bid.
The marketing firm Glue Creative Production Solutions, based in Sir Dave’s home town of Sheffield, insist he had nothing to do with either deal but a potential conflict of interest is being taken so seriously that the issue could be raised at this week’s latest hearing into football governance.
According to Glue’s website, both the Premier League and Football League are clients of the company, whose co-partner is Sir Dave’s son, also called Dave. The company, which supplies a raft of branded gifts, openly promotes its business with the football world though there is no mention of Sir Dave who was a director for roughly a decade before leaving on Dec 31 last year.
Glue proudly claims it was asked by the England 2018 bid team “to produce a range of promotional merchandise to be given away at various events in the UK and also during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The items were to be given to children, adults and also VIPs.”
"Adults received pin badges, pens and leather hand tied coasters, with the VIPs receiving premium pens and hand-made Italian calf leather moleskine notebooks packaged in exclusive branded wrapping.”
Sir Dave was a board member of England 2018 until stepping down in November, 2009, the official line being he could help the international side of the campaign more effectively by working independently.
Intriguingly, another of Glue’s clients is the national league of Thailand for whom they were asked to create a new trophy. The head of the Thai FA is none other than Worawi Makudi, a FIFA executive committee member whose vote England 2018 coveted during their ulimately doomed campaign.
Richards’ son, also called Dave, insisted his conscience was totally clear and that there were no vested interests. “We supply gifts to a whole raft of people, it’s our bread and butter,” he told the website Insideworldfootball.biz. “Sport represents an insignificant amount of our turnover. My dad hasn’t been a director since December of last year and isn’t a shareholder. He has no influence over the business and no active role within the business.”
He said it was totally wrong to infer that the company, whose turnover is understood to be around £600,000, had made money on the back of his father’s position. “Do I see a conflict of interest? No. Neither myself nor my business partner think we have done anything wrong.”
While the FA wouldn’t comment on their involvement with Glue, it is understood that those connected with England’s 2018 bid knew full well that Glue was run by Sir Dave’s son and could pose a potential embarrassment if it became common knowledge at the time.
The Premier League, meanwhile, stressed it had no ongoing contract in place with Glue but did admit it had had dealings with them, insisting however that all tenders follow the same process, with suppliers selected on the basis of cost and value. “They have in the past provided us with an ad-hoc service for small-scale orders of Premier League branded corporate gifts as many other small suppliers have,” a statement said.
Glue has also done business with the Swiss-based European Association of European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL), of which Sir Dave, who was unavailable for comment last night, also happens to be chairman. The EPFL said in a statement yesterday that Richards had never taken part in any decisions related to Glue and had no concerns about any potential conflict of interest.
Asked how Glue came about providing material for 2018, Richards Jr. said the work was commissioned by the London-based communications and marketing agency Unspun, co-founded by Sara Donaldson who has worked as a consultant on a number of high-profile campaigns, including London's successful bid for the 2012 Olympic Games. “That’s who we were given the work by,” said Richards. “They were the ones who specifically placed the work with Glue.”
When contacted, Unspun declined all comment. Although there is no firm evidence to suggest Sir Dave or Unspun influenced the choice of Glue to provide the merchandise involved because it was run by a member of Sir Dave's family, Damian Collins, who sits on the culture, media and sport committee which is carrying out the inquiry into football governance, said he would raise the issue this week.
"If football organisations he [Richards] is a part of were doing business with a company he had interests in, that does raise serious questions,” Collins told the Yorkshire Post newspaper which first uncovered the story. "It is about the general issue of transparency in football. If Dave Richards had commercial interests that does raise questions about how transparent those interests were."
Fellow committee member Therese Coffey added: "If there are vested interests at play we need to help bring some sunshine into that and that is part of the role of the inquiry."