John Hayes Interview: "Businessmen wanted a takeover"
Feature by Patrick Hill
Updated Tuesday, 28th October 2003
The ongoing feud between the board of directors at United and local businessman John Hayes became public again last week with the publication of a letter from Hayes to outgoing Iron chairman Steve Wharton, he responds to this with an exclusive interview to us.IB: A letter you wrote to Steve Wharton which was read out at the AGM was recently published on the club's official website - it was later removed at the request of Steve Wharton - can you confirm that the letter was from you and what is your reaction to the decision to put it online days after the meeting?
JH: Well yes it was a letter from me and it is word for word. It was sent to Mr Wharton in an envelope marked private and confidential. He chose to read it out at the AGM which then put it in the public domain so I have no problem with it being printed anyway and I've no problem expressing my feelings towards what I think was an honest opinion of his chairmanship over the last two years.
IB: Do you stand by your comments written in the letter about Steve Wharton?
JH: Yeah, I think the results verify them.
IB: Did you intend your letter to Steve Wharton to be made public?
JH: No, I did not intend to make the letter public hence I sent it as a private and confidential mail shot. I kept a copy obviously incase it ever came into the public domain other than by me. I must admit I'm disappointed the Evening Telegraph didn't pick up on it, because according to Bob Steels it was a totally uncontroversial AGM. Well I have been to some AGMs and I don't consider that one as uncontroversial. Mr Wharton chose to put it in the public domain, I wouldn't have written it if they weren't my feelings about how the club has been run over the last two years. I don't think we're any further on than since I was on the board a decade ago.
IB: Were you surprised that the letter was made public?
JH: Who can read Mr Wharton? He is a gentleman that uses the press as he wishes yet anyone else that uses it is out of order according to him, we shouldn't go to the press. But his comments over the last few weeks are totally different to what the website says that everyone's involved at Glanford Park because it read in the paper like there was only him involved and there weren't any other Directors there.
IB: Shortly after Mr Wharton became chairman you lead a group who were looking to takeover the club - what made you do this?
JH: I had some businessmen who were interested in taking the club over, unfortunately one that came over from Jersey looked at the ground, he'd only seen an aerial photograph and when he actually saw it his comment was well this is a Vauxhall Conference ground. Which it is really. It's a shame that we built what we did without any foresight and I could talk to you all day about what we should have done. He was interested in entertaining his UK clients at football but didn't feel that the ground gave him the image that he wanted to portray.
IB: Did a meeting ever take place between yourself and Steve Wharton regarding the takeover bid?
JH: It was actually Steve Wharton and the rest of the board, we had a meeting at Glanford Park. I made certain proposals as to how I'd run the club which were obviously poo-pooed and I notice from this weekend's press that they're keen to get two new Directors but they certainly haven't approached me, maybe because I'm too controversial and have my own opinions.
IB: How far did negotiations go?
JH: Well they went as far as that meeting really. I don't think my thought's on how a football club should be run particularly impressed the board. One of my restructures was of a totally new management team and they immediately thought that was to sack Brian Laws. That wasn't neccessarily it, I don't think we should call the gentleman in charge of the first team a manager of the club, he's a coach or that's what he should be, he should get the team fit, he should get them coached to perfection and he should pick the side. He's not a manager, he shouldn't be involved with negotiations with a player's wages but their perception of a totally new management structure was that it meant Brian Laws would be out. Well not neccessarily so, but again I've got my opinions of Brian Laws and his record.
IB: Was a price mentioned?
JH: Yeah, there was. I consider that a number of, not all, but a number of the current Directors get football on the cheap and if you equate it to what they get and what the average fan who stands behind the goal at Glanford Park gets, the average fan actually pays more than some of the Directors. I believe that there should be a fair shareholding in the club, at least a minimum of a 100,000 shares and at least a £50,000 loan into the club. That's how I would restructure it.
IB: How much do you think the club is worth?
JH: Well, I mean we've had some creative accounting and the ground has been revalued at over £5,000,000 which makes the balance sheet look a lot better but at the end of the day who will pay £5,000,000 for a second hand football ground to demolish it and build whatever they can on that land? Apart from industrial units now I think they would struggle to get retail because of the Government's policy of out of town retail so it's probably not worth what it's been valued at but it looks good on the balance sheet.
IB: Why do you think the takeover never came to fruition?
JH: Well just because one of the main players dropped out and no further interest was shown by Scunthorpe United because obviously it's a closed shop and we never went any further. Had they approached me, perhaps we could have rejigged something but there's been no approach.
IB: Would you consider another takeover attempt? If so would you have any backers (eg. Des Comerford)?
JH: Well, Des wasn't one of the people involved in the takeover and I make that quite clear, whether Des would have become involved later on I don't know because I think Des has got his heart in Scunthorpe United and is one of those people who would give his all and if directed correctly would be an asset to the club.
IB: Chris Holland has said that the club are looking for Directors and associate Directors, would you be interested or can you think of anyone who could be?
JH: It's very difficult because although they say you don't have to be a yes man in the boardroom Mr Wharton will only move forward if there's an utter yes or no depending on what the vote is and if there was a split vote he wouldn't accept it, or my understanding is that he wouldn't accept that and I don't think in a democratic world you can get between six and eight people sat round a table and everyone's going to agree with everything you're trying to do but if you're going to move forward you have to work on a majority decision and you have to debate your corner well enough to get that majority decision.
IB: Would you consider investing in the club with the current board of Directors still there?
JH: No, I did say to Mr Wharton in one of my conversations when we met some time ago when I was selling a large amount of my shares to Des Comerford that I would only invest in the club again when I thought the structure was right within the boardroom.
IB: You said you were unimpressed with Steve Wharton's reign as chairman, will you back Chris Holland as the new chairman?
JH: I'll certainly do like I do with everyone at Glanford Park and give him a chance because I think I stayed completely quiet for two years with Steve Wharton and I think Steve is to blame for where we are now, which is where we've always been, middle of the Third Division or Fourth as I call it. You can call the Premiership what you like and renumber the rest of it but we're still in the Fourth Division, mid-table. I think we've got a reasonably strong squad, I don't think there's too much wrong with the squad, I think what's wrong is the fitness levels and the coaching are not right. Chris needs to make his mark and make it quickly otherwise the perception of the public in Scunthorpe will be the same as it has been with every previous chairman.
IB: What do you think has stopped Scunthorpe from emulating the success of a club like Walsall who moved into an identical stadium after ourselves when in a similar position?
JH: Well Walsall actually came and looked at Glanford Park because they were the second club to relocate and build a new stadium. I still don't think even they got it right but they got it slightly better than we did, but they've obviously got thing's right on the park which is really where fans are more concerned and I just think we need to get our coaching right and our dedication right. I think Scunthorpe United is still being run as it was in the seventies at The Old Showground, it's a four day, part-time week and until that changes it'll not change out on the park.
IB: Do you think SUFC suffer from not having a supporters club with a say in the way the club is run?
JH: Well I think you've got to listen to your supporters because they're your customers and you know that's how it is now. Every business stays in business if it has enough customers to support it and I think you should listen to your supporters because some of them are quite knowledgeable but I don't think unless they commit some financial commitment to the club that they should have a say in how the club is run, you know, it's easy for them to say this should happen and that should happen when they come and pay their 12 or 16 pounds but if you put real money in then it's your personal opportunity to come down and pay your money at the gate as it is with my nightclub, if they come and pay five pounds at my nightclub and have a good night, they might come back again but it's up to them, the only difference with the local football club is that you haven't got another choice. You have to go watch Grimsby, Doncaster or Hull which is a bit difficult to do when your heart and soul is as an Iron fan but some of the fans are staying away. It amazes me that we have the gates that we do have, it shows how good it could be with a little bit of success. If you look at the York fixture, 3800, 500 of those from York there's still a base of 3300 in Scunthorpe. Although it looked a bit light in certain area's, I always think that you can tell how well you're doing by how many are behind that goal and there's certain people saying this isn't good enough and staying away and until we change it that won't improve.
IB: If you'd become chairman ten years ago, how do you think the club would differ now?
JH: It'd certainly be more professional, it would certainly be more of a full time job for the players, the manager would be a coach, he wouldn't be able to go off on a tangent with no guidance because I do believe that like any manager in a business they need training and guidance and I don't think we give them that. I think every manager that's been at Scunthorpe United - apart from Brian Laws who's had a damn good run - has been fired within a couple of years because he's been allowed to do his own thing. Other than with the chairmen, who in some cases have tried to work it out on the back of a packet of Woodbine's. We've been disloyal to them because we haven't advanced them in their career in managing people and getting the best out of people and I think Bill Green sticks out in my mind in that in his second year we reduced his squad to sixteen players and he had a win percentage of 48 per cent. The highest of any manager, above Ron Ashman and anybody and we sacked him and yer know Brian Laws is here after seven years with a 38% win record. The figures don't lie.
IB: Let's say you became chairman tomorrow, what changes would you make?
JH: (Laughs) Now we are are in dream world! I'd just restructure the club completely, I know Don Rowing gets a lot of flack but I believe with his experience and his knowledge of running a lower Division club that had this board and previous boards listened to him more and been more cautious in some of their decisions, the club would certainly be financially better off and to some extent I think up another Division and if I, and some people might say god forbid (Laughs) became chairman then I would work with Don to make the club far more professional on and off the field.
IB: Would you keep the same manager?
JH: He'd certainly have to work within different parameters and then it would be up to him.
IB: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
JH: (Laughs) Dead probably! Well hopefully still alive but who knows, everyone is always wiser with hindsight and hindsight comes after the event not before it so no idea, I might still be sat in the stands with everybody else.
IB: What do you think is the reason behind the apathy of the people of Scunthorpe towards the club?
JH: I think it's justifiable really, they've had too many years of non success and the odd blip. I think, not just Scunthorpe United but a lot of football club's abuse the loyalty of supporters. McDonald's and Coca Cola spend millions a year to get you to buy their products. If you went somewhere and there was a Burger King and a Pepsi you'd take it because that's how it is, with a football club, if you went to Glanford Park and someone said it's Grimsby playing today against somebody else, if Scunthorpe weren't playing that day you'd say well I'm not going. I think in some ways Steve Wharton mirrors his father who didn't want us to get in the first Division because they couldn't afford it, yer know, well that's just ridiculous small minded businessmen frightened of success and you shouldn't be frightened of success, you should embrace it and carry it forward and I think over the years when we sold Barrie Thomas and everybody else, the supporters have just got pissed off with it for want of a better word.
IB: Do you think that's definately why we sold Barrie Thomas, because we didn't want to get to the first Division?
JH: Yeah, they were frightened, frightened of being in the First Division. Even one season is better than none at all though isn't it?
IB: You stated that Glanford Park should be a hub of excitement in the town - How would you propose making this the case?
JH: Well it start's on the pitch and then just snowball's from there because everybody want's to be involved but that ninety minutes on a Saturday is the most important.
IB: What do you propose be done to raise gates and make the club more respected in the town?
IB: If you were the chairman would you develop Glanford Park (eg. Des Comerford had plans to build a shop at the front of the ground)?
JH: I think if you're successful it doesn't matter where you are, if you look at Winteringham Fields, you'd say who would go to Winteringham? But it's because it is the best or one of the best in the country people go and I think if Scunthorpe United were top of the First Division looking at the Premiership it wouldn't matter if you put the shop at the other side of the railway enbankment, people would find it so I think they're just negative excuses.
IB: Do you think it's still possible for small club's like Scunthorpe to do a Wimbledon or do you think that's beyond reach nowadays?
JH: Anything's possible if you've got the dedication and the desire.
IB: Are you selling Club 2000 in order to put yourself in the postion to buy SUFC?
JH: I don't think one man should be in total control, at the AGM I was against Mr Wharton owning nearly 48% of the shares, I think that put's the club in a very vunerable position and while I would put some money in I would expect it to be reasonably split among the rest of the Directors that were aboard.
IB: Do you think your time has come to finally take control of the club?
JH: I think most genuine supporters would love to be chairman of their own football club and I'm quite sure, some if they won the lottery would do their damndest to do that and yes while it must be an honour to be the chairman of your local football club I don't neccessarily see that as my ultimate goal although I wouldn't decline it if it were offered but I think you have to structure the club totally differently in the boardroom and the management team and that could be done reasonably quickly if there were those people committed financially and professionally. It's hard to say though because in a football club you shouldn't let your heart rule your head, this is what happens unfortunately, if you're too much of a supporter you will make the wrong decisions long term for the club because you want instant success all the time and you can't as Blackburn proved, you might buy it in a blip but you can't sustain it.
IB: What drives you to become involved within the club?
JH: I'm a supporter and I want to see Scunthorpe United do well and I've got businesses in the town, if the football club does well, you've got four or five thousand people leaving Glanford Park who are happy and suddenly by six o clock ten thousand people are happy cos they've gone home smiling and by eight o clock at night when I open my businesses twenty thousand people are happy and there's a chance that there might be a knock on effect for me so it just makes the town buzz more and we all want a vibrant town, daytime and nighttime and the football club is a major contribution to how a town buzzes because when you look at an FA Cup run, if we got to the fifth round of the FA Cup every business would be involved. They'd be displays in shop windows, it just has this knock on effect where it carries everybody on a cloud nine if you liek and it's wonderful when it happens.
IB: And finally, do you have a message for your doubters?
JH: Well there's the old saying, you can please some of the people some of the tiem but not all of the people all the time, you're always going to have people who are doubters, just as I don't believe the present board are correct all the time, they'll be people who believe that I'm not, so you can only prove yourself by your results and that's out on the park, those ninety minutes a week are the most important ninety minutes for a football club and if you don't come away with three points you've failed. That's how you measure your success.