Every now and then we all get a little bit frustrated with the higher-ups at of our respective clubs. We all want to see a little more money invested, a few more players drafted in and a dose of extra ambition shown.
But there are some chairmen and some owners who have posed supporters with issues that go beyond minor gripes. Some who divide the fanbase, incite protests, make baffling decisions and send teams spiralling into a financial black hole. Here’s a look at five of the worst to have ever “graced” the landscape of English football.
Sir Doug Ellis
Nicknamed “Deadly Doug” by Jimmy Greaves given his reputation for nonchalantly dismissing managers, the former Aston Villa chairman and package holiday pioneer endured a tumultuous, drawn out association with the Midlands club.
Ellis was first named as Villa chairman in 1968, but was ousted by the board after 11 years. But he was to return in late 1982 when the Villains, having won the European Cup earlier that year, were one of the powerhouses of the English game. He remained at the clubs for decades later, overcoming health problems and various criticism to religiously take his seat at the stadium.
He became the first ever football director to pay himself a salary—just short of £300,000 in 2005—having once said that “only women and horses work for nothing”, per The Guardian. His vice-like grip on the club coupled with a perpetual lack of ambition did plenty to rile the Villa faithful; he eventually sold the club to Randy Lerner in 2006
While Ellis did little to curry favor amongst Villa fans—”Ellis Out” banners and placards were regularly dotted around Villa park during the latter days of his tenure—it’s worth noting that he has since been knighted for various admirable charity projects.
From the outside, things couldn’t have been going much better for Peter Ridsdale in 2001. He’d been chairman of his hometown club for the past four years and under his tutelage, Leeds United had gone from mid-table dwellers to the semi-final of the Champions League. The club had a host of bright young talent on their books and they looked set to mix it with the Premier League’s elite for years to come.
But under Ridsdale’s reign, Leeds endured some of the most fearful times in the club’s history. The chairman had chanced a £60million loan against the club’s gate receipts on the premise that this effervescent young side would qualify for the Champions League, which they failed to do on the back of their European adventure in 2001.
Having allowed manager David O’Leary to spend big on players, United were suddenly in a major predicament. Ridsdale resigned in 2003, but the effect have been longstanding and debilitating for Leeds. The club had to cut back massively and the effects were there for all to see on the field.
Rio Ferdinand was sold to rivals Manchester United along with a host of other star names such as Harry Kewell and Jonathan Woodgate. In 2004—12 years after Leeds were crowned champions of England—the club managed to stave off the threat of insolvency, but they were eventually relegated to the second tier of English football.
Ridsdale wrote a book called United We Fall, in which he looked to absolve himself for much of Leeds’ predicament. He criticised O’Leary at length, but the Irishman responded with anger, branding his former chairman as a a “deranged man” and the allegations as a “smear campaign”, per Sky Sports.
Tom Hicks and George Gillett
The American businessmen bought Liverpool Football Club for £218.9 million back in 2007 with a promise to build on the club’s unique history. In the end, it turned into, what author Brian Reade described as “an epic swindle: 44 months with a pair of cowboys”.
They vowed to invest heavily in the players that would expedite the Reds’ return to the peak of English football and to construct a new stadium in Stanley Park that’d help push the club into the modern era. They also made the promise that no debt would be placed on the football club itself as part of the acquisition.
Needless to say, none of the aforementioned promises truly materialized. The pair became increasingly unpopular with the Anfield faithful as the club’s debts spiraled out of control. When the club was formally put up for sale in 2010, murmurings that the banks were about to call in the toxic debt could have pushed the Liverpool to the brink of administration.
Eventually the club was sold to John W Henry’s New England Sports Ventures in late 2010, much to the delight of Liverpool supporters across the globe. There are plenty who still feel as though the club is still yet to fully recover from that turbulent time, though. Indeed, former manager Rafael Benitez thinks the pair ultimately cost the Reds the title, per ESPN.
After a divisive spell as owner of Chelsea, plenty of eyebrows were raised when Ken Bates became the principal owner of Leeds United in 2005. The hotelier was technically the Blues’ most successful ever chairman upon leaving Stamford Bridge after a 21-year spell with the club after all, but numerous controversies punctured his time with the Londoners.
His spell with Leeds was briefer, but would prove to be much more turbulent. His first two years in Yorkshire were controversial, as he made alleged anti-semitic remarks about new Chelsea owners being “a bunch of shysters from Siberia”, per The Guardian. When the Blues lodged an official complaint to the FA, Bates’ charming retort was “I haven’t laughed so much since Ma caught her tits in a mangle”.
In 2007, the club went into administration. A consortium led by Bates bought the club back from administrator KPMG, although supporters remained unhappy that the former Chelsea man was still involved. The club found themselves down in the third tier of English football as the financial problems snowballed, and they began their first season in League 1 with a 15-point deduction.
Protests about Bates—who was the sole owner of the club in 2011—were commonplace at Elland Road and eventually, he sold Leeds to private equity group GFH Capital. He was instilled as an honorary president by the new owners, but was sacked over a dispute regarding his £120,000-a-year private jet, per the Mail Online.
With his pants hoisted up to his midriff, a neatly trimmed moustache and his Cardiff City jersey worn over the top of a business-like shirt, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Vincent Tan was something of a comedy figure. But during his stint as owner of the Welsh club, plenty of his decisions have been far from humorous by the Bluebirds faithful.
He took over the reigns in 2010 with promises aplenty, but supporters were enraged in 2012 when it was announced the club would be undertaking a rebrand that’d mean changing their kit color from blue to red. And while the plans were initially dropped amid a backlash from fans, the club went ahead with the changes just one month later.
Tan went on to create further controversy during his dispute with then manager Malky Mackay, a man who had steered Cardiff into the top tier of English football. The Malaysian businessman suspended the club’s head of recruitment Iain Moody amid claims of him going over budget on transfers; Tan replaced him with Alisher Apsalyamovby, a 23-year-old friend of his son who painted the stadium’s walls on work experience.
Mackay refused to walk away when Tan allegedly told him to “resign or be sacked”; the Scotsman received unanimous support from the Cardiff supporters and figures within the game, but he was dismissed and replaced by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. After his dismissal, the Bluebirds eventually sent a dossier to the FA regarding Mackay and Moody, in which it was alleged the pair had sent text messages containing homophobic, racist and sexist content.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
100+ Channels With Sports & News
- Starting price: $29.99/mo. for fubo Español Package
- Watch Premier League, LaLiga, Liga MX & MLS
- Includes NBC, NBCSN, ESPN, FS1, FS2, TUDN, beIN SPORTS and more
Favorite Leagues At The Best Price
- Starting price: $7.99/mo. for Live TV Package
- Watch LaLiga, Primeira Liga and Copa Libertadores
- Includes beIN SPORTS, GolTV, TyC Sports and more
Many Sports & ESPN Originals
- Price: $5.99/mo. (or get ESPN+, Hulu & Disney+ for $12.99/mo.)
- Features Serie A, Bundesliga, FA Cup, EFL & more
- Also includes daily ESPN FC news & highlights show
Live TV, Soccer & Originals
- Starting price: $5.99/mo.
- Features Champions League, Europa League & NWSL
- Includes CBS, Star Trek & CBS Sports HQ
175 Premier League Games & PL TV
- Starting price: $4.99/mo. for Peacock Premium
- Watch 175 exclusive EPL games per season
- Includes Premier League TV channel plus movies, TV shows & more