Quiz question. Who is the Chairman of Chelsea? If you said Bruce Buck, well done.
Once upon a time all football clubs were run by committees. Amateur ones still are. Pretty much all amateur sports clubs are run in that way with a treasurer and a secretary, perhaps welfare or a social secretary and, without fail a chairman (or chairwoman/person of course).
The role of chairman is one I have fulfilled in a sports club for many years. It’s quite a weird job because it’s the role of leading the club forward, not by ‘doing’ necessarily but rather by encouraging others to do their jobs in line with the overall goals that have been set. In business a chairman tends to operate a similar role, often being the figurehead of the business, keeping everyone in the right direction and, of course, chairing meetings but not with a specific to do list.
In the age of the powerful, rich owners of clubs, the title has often been given to them while the club is managed and the board chaired by the managing director (or as Americans prefer and therefore we now see used in the UK, chief executive officer or CEO).
Those who answered the question above with Roman Abramovich were probably quite surprised to hear that Stewart Donald was resigning as Chairman believing it to mean he was stepping away from the leadership of the club or even that he was leaving the club altogether. Sadly, that isn’t the case at all. He has simply resigned from what is, in this day and age a relatively meaningless role. He remains owner, a board member and a director.
But it doesn’t have to be a meaningless role. While Rodwell has been brought in to be the CEO and therefore should manage the business, there is an opportunity for a new chairman to do exactly what a chairman in an amateur club does – keep everyone working together towards the goals of the club and make all stakeholders from the players to backroom staff, club staff to the local community feel part of that journey. Stewart Donald, in my opinion, never fulfilled that role and so his resignation should be neither here nor there to all Sunderland fans, he didn’t do them so what’s there to miss?
However, the new appointment could be an opportunity for a new beginning, but only if it isn’t a token appointment for a token position. The Chair doesn’t have to run the club, they’ve a CEO for that, or run the team, we’ve got Phil Park… OK, that’s another issue to be honest, but it certainly isn’t the chairman’s job. The most likely result is that we’ll replace someone who did neither the CEO nor chairman’s job with someone else who’ll nod politely and do what the owner and CEO want. In my opinion that leads us further down the road of accepting that we’re a League One club and should be called out if it happens.
But maybe, just maybe, someone could take the club forwards as the new chairman if it’s not an appointment from the current collection of yes men. Their first job would be to work on harmony both within and outside the club and draw up a medium and long term strategy for the club by taking contributions and opinions from all interested parties, something that has been missing for far too long, their second to work in the interests of all to achieve those goals and aspirations. Although Donald failed as chairman, one of his great contributions to the club could be the appointment that follows. It will either be that or as irrelevant an appointment as the resignation that preceded it.