Review of Shocking ‘Dispatches – How to Buy a Football Club’

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Last night the Channel 4 showed a powerful documentary about wealthy businessmen and consortium buying football clubs in England.

‘Dispatches – How to buy a football club’ featured an undercover reporter claiming to represent a wealthy group of investors in a journey that took the reporter to the brink of buying a League One football club.

The documentary also focuses on the murky and confusing ownership structures in the Premier League and Championship the true state of English football and the lack of transparency that will disturb many English football fans.

The documentary tells the story of London Nominees and the ‘Football Fund’ two intertwined investment vehicles the latter fronted by Bryan Robson, and their involvement and scheming to buy upto three football clubs through complicated ownership and investment schemes.

The individuals involved were portrayed to have a well connected structure within the English football and Asian political structures with the documentary featuring the marketing, business model and structure of the proposed takeover.

The London Nominees consortium held meetings in Thailand with the Dispatches reporter, to discuss the purchase of a football club,  in which  former England captain Bryan Robson is at the forefront as a figure of power and connections for the group which view clubs as a commodity to be bought, developed and then sold.

The former England captain at the heart of the opening scenes comes across as brash, slightly greedy but not overtly dishonest, even seeking assurances that any investment would not involve asset stripping a future investment for ground development rights.

Robson however is quickly exposed as mainly a figurehead in the group designed to add respectability, the power residing with businessmen and owner of Manchester United’s Bankok bar Joe Sim, a man who claims connections across the footballing community.

During negotiations with the Dispatches reporter Mr Sim continuously leverages a relationship however fleeting with Sir Alex Ferguson, to convey an image of respectability and power and it becomes clear that Mr Sim is the driving force behind London Nominees.

Mr Sim claimed to have a personal relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson that seemed credible during the interactions between the reporter and Sim, the reporter even speaking to the Scotsman on the phone during a dinner between the pair.

Whilst the extent of this relationship is not clear Mr Sim certainly leverages any contact for indirect  financial gain and this raises interesting questions, it is important to note that Sir Alex Ferguson has been quick to distance himself from Mr Sim and his investment operations.

As the documentary unfolds both Sim and Robson make bold claims of the potential of future deals that could occur due to the pairs connections, they talk of exploiting connections and the English loan system to develop not just one but potentially three clubs fully aware that this breeches Football League rules. 

The consortium is filmed indicating that it is prepared to operate a complex shell game with the authorities, plotting to hide their true intentions and power from the governing bodies and overcome fair competition rules.

This is an eye opening and disturbing documentary showing how the influx of money in the game has opened the game up to prospectors who are willing to bend/break the rules to turn sport into profit, whilst unsuccessful on this occasion it is almost impossible to know if Mr Sim or the Football fund actually already own one or more clubs in the Football League.

Whilst it may not be surprising that some are willing to be dishonest, it is startling how deep this apparent conspiracy goes and how little say/control the average fan has over the actions of businessmen often plotting thousands of miles away.  

This documentary is a must watch for any fan of English Football

This documentary can be viewed on 4OD – UK ONLY

7 thoughts on “Review of Shocking ‘Dispatches – How to Buy a Football Club’”

  1. I watched this a thought the next day the papers would be full of it, but its hardly been reported at all, very bizarre, how much power had Fergy got or are the media too scared in case he wont talk to them. This is a real concern for any real football fan, as money is just sucked out of a club for shareholders/’owners’. I think there is a much bigger picture here too, that if Steve Bruce, Mark Hughes etc are still ‘under the wing’ of Fergy that there could be massive profits to be made in betting too, I wouldnt be suprised if Mr Sim has a large piece of the Asian gambling market. Are the media so distracted by the phone hacking scandal that they havent even taken any notice,

  2. I thought this documentary was insightful and showed good investigative journalism. Football clearly needs to be regulated more thoroughly, a problem that has arisen in the last 25 years with the large influx of money into the English game. It started with agents moving players from club to club in order for large signing on fees and “bungs” to managers. The problem is now even more dire.

    I think Bryan Robson was shown as being ignorant to what he was figure-heading, as supposed to an out and out crook; however, he should have been sensible enough to realise he was in murky water. Likewise, I think Mr Sim was full of a lot of bravado and embellishment, in relation to the connections he had with Sir Alex Ferguson.

    This does not take away the fact however that something is clearly array in the apparent ease to breach FA regulations and buy a number of clubs, milk them for all they’re worth and sell them on. It outlines the danger of the collision between the high emotion concerned with football supporters and the businessmen looking to exploit it. The talk in the documentary of stripping clubs of their assets was very disturbing and to Bryan Robson’s credit, he expressed that he did not support this. Whether that was due to his love of the game or simply to protect his name is another matter.

    I am a Sheffield United fan and to show how easy it could have been to dupe the owners into selling the club and then being able to exploit the club was worrying. Most fans would of course welcome an injection of money into their football club, in order to gain promotion and success, but if it all goes wrong then these consortiums will not hesitate to discard the club into the dreaded depths of administration – as was shown at Portsmouth FC.

    I agree that it is surprising the newspapers haven’t followed up this story, as with further investigative journalism and exposure, I believe the saga will unfold to massive proportions.

  3. I also agree @SheffUtd Fan and funky. It is so frustrating that these shocking revelations have not been covered extensively in the media. I urge any journalists passionate on the subject to write a story on the program and publish it online – I know ‘’ are looking for football journalists,although they may be wary of publishing articles on the business side of the game.

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