1978-79 | The self-implosion of Manchester City

gordondaviesmoustache

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Patronising, condescending twat
When I interviewed Swales I asked him about Clough and the England job and he said (without realising what he was saying): ‘We could’ve had Clough at England AND we could’ve had him at City. Problem was he’d have wanted to run the whole thing… and that was my job!’
What an absolute **** he was was.
 

JGL07

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We might have signed Clough.
And the players might have done to him what they did to Saunders.
Saunders deserved everything he got at City. He was always the wrong fit for City. He was far too dour as a manager
 

solley attwell

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This is a fantastic thread and some great insight into the turning point in our history. But maybe the reason Swales was so powerful in the board room was that the board itself were all patsys. Look at the documentary when they are discussing appointing john bond and one of the directors says something along the lines of " if the chairman is happy with the appointment". Not even a counter opinion. Even tony book at the news conference to announce Allison's departure seemed in awe of Swales and looked like a yes man.
 

Stiff Little Wingers

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This is a fantastic thread and some great insight into the turning point in our history. But maybe the reason Swales was so powerful in the board room was that the board itself were all patsys. Look at the documentary when they are discussing appointing john bond and one of the directors says something along the lines of " if the chairman is happy with the appointment". Not even a counter opinion. Even tony book at the news conference to announce Allison's departure seemed in awe of Swales and looked like a yes man.
God it was as cringeworthy as you describe. Whilst obviously their offences were wildly different, it seems Swales tenure had the look of Saville to some extent. He seemed to have people in his thrall to such an extent that no one could bring themselves to call him out.
 

petrusha

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This is a fantastic thread and some great insight into the turning point in our history. But maybe the reason Swales was so powerful in the board room was that the board itself were all patsys. Look at the documentary when they are discussing appointing john bond and one of the directors says something along the lines of " if the chairman is happy with the appointment". Not even a counter opinion. Even tony book at the news conference to announce Allison's departure seemed in awe of Swales and looked like a yes man.

Yes, the documentary is striking. Swales swans around as if he owns the place (even though at that stage he doesn't - see below). Some of the sycophancy in the staged board meeting is off the charts. Meanwhile, when Book in that press conference is prodded by Swales to tell the assembled press that the chairman treated him and Malcolm fairly, he couldn't be more supine if here were starring in one of those terrorist videos where they force a hostage to endorse their demands.

Anyway, the above post makes a good point, and @Gary James has, both recently and further back, mentioned before the role of the other directors. This is something that I often neglect, such is the foam-at-the-mouth fury that afflicts me when I think of Swales and the way he ran our club. It's an issue well worth looking at, though.

We should note here that Swales didn't enjoy a majority shareholding until late 1984, when he and Stephen Boler subscribed for GBP 750K-worth of shares, after which they each held around 32% of the total number in issue. Boler was a friend of Swales and took no interest in the running of the club, simply acquiring his stake as a favour to his mate, so Swales had a de facto majority among the shareholders from this point.

So this gives rise to the question of how Swales stayed in post between 1979 and 1983 despite the series of calamities he inflicted on the club in this period (I can understand how people might have been satisfied with the club's progress and direction before 1979). If Swales owned relatively few shares at this time, who were the men who kept him in post? Few on here will be gripped by detail of machinations at shareholder level at Maine Road in the seventies, I appreciate, but I'll continue the post in case there's the odd contributor who might be interested.

(I should point out here that most of my City books with the detail on this aren't currently available to me here, so I'm relying on my memory and what I hope counts as informed speculation save to the limited extent I can factcheck online. Thus, I welcome well-sourced corrections if anyone has any).

I know Gary traces all this back to the failed takeover of 1970, in which Joe Smith and his backers acquired some shares but not a controlling interest. Nonetheless, we eventually ended up with Smith and his followers taking up directorships (the likes of Ian Niven, Simon Cussons, Michael Horwich and Chris Muir, the latter having left the board amid some acrimony but then returning later). IIRC, Smith wasn't around with any kind of profile in the later seventies, and I'm not sure what happened to him. However, the others did stay on the scene.

Swales famously joined as a 'peacemaker' between these new directors and the old guard. Nonetheless, it seems that it was the new men on the board who were much taken by Swales, while the more established boardroom figures were far less impressed. Anyone who's read Eric Alexander's autobiography knows the lack of belief in Swales on the part of his predecessor, as well, presumably, as the rest of the august Alexander family of City stalwarts.

One can only speculate what other established directors, such as club doctor Sidney Rose and John Humphreys of Umbro, thought. However, as far as I can tell (key words), the Alexanders' position at board level at some point ceased to be backed up by a major shareholding (Albert Alexander had a 28% block of shares in 1970). Frank Johnson also disappeared from the scene, and if he also disposed of his shareholding, then more than half of the club's equity changed hands in this period.

This, I think, allows us to identify one of the villains of the piece, because it's a matter of public record that the Greenalls brewery bought into the club during these years. We know that Greenalls, who remained a shareholder until 2001, had 13.9% of the shares immediately after the Lee takeover in 1994. Bearing in mind that this holding must have been substantially diluted in the Swales/Boler 1984 share issue, it could well have been in the range of 25% or more when first acquired, which would probably have been the largest single block of shares for the best part of a decade.

The sad thing was that Greenalls cared nothing for club affairs. Their interest was motivated solely by a desire to retain the right to sell their awful beer at the ground and at the social club. Thus, they backed the man in pole position, who happened to be Swales, and didn't rock the boat.

I suspect that Swales may also have picked up a fairly small individual holding in this period, and that if the likes of Niven, Cussons, Horwich and Muir (as well as Joe Smith, possibly, in the background), then it's likely that these fragments will, when combined with Greenalls, have meant that Swales could rely on almost half the shares being behind him.

Most of the rest of the shareholdings were hopelessly split into small units. Also remember that 15% of the shares were estimated in 1970 as 'missing' (mostly, I presume, very small blocks bought up by fans in the distant past and now forgotten). The passiveness of Greenalls and the holdings acquired by his fanboys would then have meant it was highly unlikely he could ever be defeated in a shareholders' meeting, and right here you have the most likely explanation for 'how he got away with it'.

There will have been no incentive for the pro-Swales board group to oust him if they wanted to keep their own positions. None of them was himself a credible figure for the chair, and since they were identified as Swales acolytes, any dominant incomer gaining a major stake in the club would surely have swept them aside with disdain.

And this is how we saw the responsibilities of the two most business-savvy directors in the late 1970s usurped by Swales. As I noted in an earlier post on this thread, the Nationwide booklet for the 1977/8 TV show referred to two directors in particular who, while not major shareholders, were independently successful businessmen bringing enviable skills and expertise to the City boardroom. By 1979, Swales had taken over the roles filled by both men.

John Humphreys, then the MD of Umbro, was cited as the "finance director". It wasn't the fault of Swales or the other directors that Humphreys died at the age of only 50 in February 1979 (after Allison's return, but before the real financial madness began) - but it was their fault that they never thought to recruit a similarly skilled specialist in his stead. And Robert Harris, another director, was chairman of Great Universal Stores. Nationwide asserted that he was "known as a fierce negotiator" and a noted financial strategist. He quit because Team Swales kept ignoring his advice.

Let's just think about this for a minute. Humphreys was a finance man from what was Britain's leading supplier of sports kits who'd had the nous and skill to negotiate with every federation represented at the 1966 and 1974 World Cups to ensure that each of the 16 teams at both events wore his company's kits. Harris was a nationally renowned operator who was chairing a major public company. These guys were running our finances. And then, instead, these matters were decided by a TV salesman from Altrincham, egged on into ruinous folly by a publican from Marple. It makes you weep.

Anyway, there you have it. The story of how City were shafted for years by having major shareholders who didn't care, an egotistical chairman on the make, and a bunch of spineless toadies who were clinging to their directors' privileges in his wake, too weak-willed and cowardly to stand up for the right thing. It's a good job we're decent these days, or else writing this stuff would make me want to go and slash my wrists.
 

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