We were very pleased that the brilliant @david_conn featured in WSB3. Our good friends STAND also recently released their latest issue (which you can and should buy here) – it included this interview with David Conn by @The_Paris_Angel.
@The_Paris_Angel meets David Conn
When I was asked if I would interview David Conn for STAND I did not hesitate in saying yes. Not only was this a bit of a coup for the fanzine, there isn’t really a more suited journalist at this moment in time for a publication such as this.
David has written three books;The Football Business: Fair Game in the ’90s? (1997),The Beautiful Game?: Searching the Soul of Football (2004) and Richer Than God: Manchester City, Modern Football and Growing Up (2012). For all three books David used his investigative skills to delve into the somewhat murky world of modern football and the money which goes hand in hand with it. However, this is not the only reason he is the ideal interviewee for STAND – David has campaigned tirelessly on behalf of the bereaved Hillsborough families and his 2009 article for the Guardian (Hillsborough: How Stories of Disaster Police Were Altered: The Guardian April 13 2009)which brought to light the families’ continuing campaign for justice prompted the then Labour ministers Andy Burnham and Maria Eagle to press for all official documents relating to the disaster to be released.
He is massively respected amongst his peers and has been named sports news reporter of the year twice, in 2004 and 2009, by the Sports Journalists Association, and has been named Football Writer of the Year by the Football Supporters Federation three times, in 2002, 2005 and 2009. In December 2013 he was named Sports Journalist of the Year in the Press Gazette British Journalism Awards.
After a few emails it was decided between us that the best place to conduct the interview was at his house in the Yorkshire Daleswhich he shares with his wife and two daughters, two cats and a whippet called Daisy. On the coldest night of the year so far, David made me instantly feel welcome after a tricky drive in the snow and as he brewed up we got chatting about the work he has done with and on behalf of the Hillsborough families.
“I really hope with the new inquest approaching on March 31st, that the families get what they deserve and have been fighting for, justice, after all this time”.
After decamping upstairs to his office, David is quick to set out what he feels that football in this country is lacking:
“We are not educated enough about football as a nation – theorganisation of it, the values,the philosophy. I honestly think that if you asked people, hand on heart, that 99% would agree that football should be about communities and values. In Germany and elsewhere in Northern Europe, they don’t just follow a team they have a philosophy. They are aware that there are a set of values football has which should be protected. Although the game started in this country and we are incredibly passionate about it, for some reason we have never been educated enough and had that philosophy instilled in us. We have owners coming in, buying our clubs, and they are allowed to change such integral things as the colour of the shirts clubs play in simply because , we are told, “It’s their club, they have the money and they can do what they want” It’s just plain wrong”
What set David on this journey of investigative journalism was an interview with the then newly appointed Chairman of MCFC, Francis Lee, which he was sent to do by North West Business Insider magazine in1994. The whole idea behind the story was the rapid transformation of football from a professional sport into a business. The following is taken from David’s most recent book,Richer Than God: Manchester City, Modern Football and Growing Up:
“We got into talking, and as I waited for Franny to articulate an affection for the club and inspire me with his intentions for it, it crept on me gradually that he was talking about money, and the club’s need for it”
So it was an eye-opener then?
“Definitely. It was also around this time that I met an accountant from Deloitte who explained to me about the Premier League breakaway and the SKY deal. At the time of the First Division’s breakaway in 1992 I hadn’t realised it was all about the top clubs keeping the TV money, not sharing it with the other three divisions. The accountant took some delight in explaining to me that the shares in football clubs would be worth a fortune and the owners – I never considered them as owners because I thought the clubs belonged to the fans – would be doing very well out of this ‘new age of football’. He even described himself as ‘a missionary for the new age of football ‘. Yet, for me, a new age of football should have meant putting the money to good use throughout the game at all levels.
I wrote my first book, (The Football Business: Fair Game in the 90s), because I wanted people to know about football in the Premier League era but really the facts in it shouldn’t have been such a revelation. Yet they werebecause this was a secret world; perhaps the class system in this country could have a lot to do with it – the wealthy directors putting on a show for the masses with the masses not really being told what’s going on behind the scenes. That’s not for you, it’s really complicated. It’s not that complicated really but the business men like to use that as a mystique so they are unaccountable for their machinations – we should expose it to make them more accountable – and thankfully this has happened and is continuing to happen. MCFC, or any club for that matter, shouldn’t be about rights issues and shares – it should be about the game itself and the fans.”
One of the biggest issues of the modern game is the extortionate ticket prices – what are your thoughts on that?
“I think it’s depressing when I see clubs charging upwards of £50/£60 for a ticket”
It’s also infuriating when you have fans defending their club’s ticket pricing policy just out of blind loyalty.
“I totally agree. How can they see that as a club issue to defend? It’s a broad fan issue and one where people should be able to see the wider picture.”
David then shows me a crowd photo of the Kop in 60/70s and a modern one at Old Trafford (although it could be anywhere in fairness).
“Look at that one of the Kop – no baldies (like me!)no grey hair and a lot of kids and a real mix of ages. Then look at the one of Old Trafford today- no teenagers, all adults. We’re missing a generation. I’ve been making this case to the Premier League for years and they use their own figures on the match going demographic which they claim show there’s more of everyone going than there were in the past. Yet we know, me and you know as we were there in the past on the terraces, that it’s simply not true. I put those photos up at a conference I was at and it hit home more than any stats did because it’s so obvious. I think it’s really sad that most people at the game just seem to be of a certain age – older people”
It’s true, and I’ve often made the point that a huge part of growing up for me was going to the match and I think it’s sad thousands of kids won’t get that experience unless something is done about the prices, especially in the Premier League. Whereas in the past people went to the football and acted daft as a kid only to go less as they got older and settled down, the situation has been turned on its head and it’s considered by some as one of life’s luxuries you can only afford on a regular basis when you are earning a reasonable wage. It infuriates me when people view football as a ‘luxury’ people don’t have a right to enjoy.