No one likes them, they don't care

Phil Rostron finds football club chairmen united by the lowest common denominator
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Dan McCauley, the chairman of Plymouth Argyle, has announced that he wants to sell up and leave.

Forgive the Home Park faithful, likewise the manager, players, kitwasher and tea brewer, for feeling like Mars Bar wrappers tossed aside in a howling wind, but this is the second time in a year that Mr McCauley has taken the last tonsil-tickling bite and decided to spew out the lot.

He wants to recoup something in the region of the pounds 3m he has invested in the Pilgrims, whose progress has been less than remarkable since he took control of a club whose history has its roots in rugby.

The Argyle Athletic Club was formed in 1886 in a town which was a wobbly ball stronghold until servicemen introduced it to football. It spread quickly and, initially, the club played both sports in the colours of green and black. A number of exhibition games so convinced the locals of the feasibility of running a professional club that the rugby section was disbanded, heralding the formation of Plymouth Argyle FC in 1903.

They have had their moments in the subsequent 94 years, but in truth there has generally been little to cheer at Home Park unless, of course, you happen to be a diehard whose main interest in life is the winning, drawing or losing of the team you would walk a million miles for.

What, then, makes a man want to plough his money, time and energy into the running of a football club? Could it be ambition? Added wealth? Power?

There could be an element of all those things, yes, but for many the real reason is the craving for celebrity status; the desire to be the big man in town.

Anybody who has been in a club boardroom will tell you that the arrival of the chairman after a match is akin to St Peter's presence at The Gates. There is much handshaking, a queue to proffer large gin and tonics and a competition to see who can elicit the biggest laugh from the most feeble of jokes. This, mark you, is when you have lost.

Such worshipping at feet is the fulfilment of the chairman's dream and is not something that can be lightly relinquished.

It is a little-known fact that some 30 years ago, when the halcyon period he is now enjoying at Chelsea was merely a pipe dream, Ken Bates assumed the chairmanship of my beloved Oldham Athletic. In those days I was a young Latics fan and it still excites me to recall the events of the Boxing Day fixture that was the first under his stewardship.

Oldham were struggling horribly at the wrong end of the Third Division when his arrival was announced just before Christmas. As the team took the field there were gasps all round, with no fewer than five new signings making their joint debuts in a club kit that had suddenly been transformed from blue and white to electric orange.

A big, blond centre-forward called Frank Large was one of them, and he was to become my all-time hero. Moreover, Oldham won. Bates, who owned a concrete business in the north-west in those days, was hailed as the club's saviour.

Oldham avoided relegation but the fairytale was doomed when Bates issued his mission statement for the following season: "The club's wages come from home gates. The club needs pounds 75,000 a year, therefore attendances must average 15,000. The fans want victory or they don't turn up, therefore the team must win matches."

Here was a man who meant business. It was sanctioned that Oldham were to become the first club in the country with executive boxes (though some unkind souls suggested that these would be of the upturned wooden variety, which had previously contained South African grapes).

Bates later committed what to many supporters was a cardinal sin. One year and a day after signing him, he sold Large to Northampton Town for a paltry pounds 13,000, responding to my protest with a two-page letter explaining the economics of a lowly placed football club. For that, at least, I shall be eternally grateful.

Nobody is ever going to be Mr Popular in that role. Take Doug Ellis at Aston Villa. When it was announced that a new construction at Villa Park was to be called the Doug Ellis Stand, supporters viewed it as an incredible act of self-indulgence. He justified it by saying it was only because of the express wishes of the board that this course of action was being taken. Apparently the next completed construction is to be called The Not The Doug Ellis Stand.

It is said that Elton John has taken up a second term at Watford only because his lyrics have dried up and he can now pinch some new ones from the chants of the fans.

I suspect that only a small band of people will be forming an orderly queue for the privilege of adopting the Plymouth mantle, but I would draw to their attention a trick that was taught to me by an old mentor.

If your purpose in life is to acquire a football club cheaply, then this is what you do. You apply to your local planning authority for outline permission to build 50 dwellings. The bigger the mix, the better. Perhaps a dozen houses, a piggery, a pub, a chippy and a whorehouse.

That department would be obliged to reveal that an application had been received for such a development - right on the football club's land.

Another obligation would be to reveal the name of the planning applicant, and that is where the real fun would start. Such fear and horror would overcome the board members that an invitation to join their number would be forthcoming forthwith. At this point you issue an ultimatum: you either go in as chairman or proceed with the planning. You will, naturally, have the full backing of the shareholders.

It is a little scam, unworkable of course, dreamed up by a friend who is upset at the way "his" club is being run. He will never enter the realms of those who liked the club so much they bought it. Perhaps he should count his blessings.

Olivia Blair is on holiday

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