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From the boardroom to the newsroom, A difference of style


bickster
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By OutByEaster?

A Canadian journalist recently criticised Randy Lerner, claiming he’d alienated Villa fans. I think it’s fair to say that he’s learnt his lesson, and the reaction tells us something very interesting about Randy’s Villa.

Villa fans have always had an unusual relationship with the press, and it seems that the recent arrival of Liverpool’s American owners has helped create something of an international incident.

It all started when a journalist with the Montreal Gazette printed this about Messrs Gillett and Hicks:

”He also showed he could probably sell a few trainloads of ice to Winnipeg - but that is part of Gillett's charm. Whereas his fellow Americans Malcolm Glazer (at Manchester United) and Randy Lerner (Aston Villa) have alienated supporters of their teams by refusing to have anything to do with the media or the fans, Gillett revels in rubbing elbows with those who cover his teams and those who pay the bills by purchasing the tickets.

"It's not that they're doing anything wrong," Gillett said of Glazer and Lerner, "it's just a difference of style.”

Well, Villa fans weren’t going to stand for it. The very idea that Randy had left us “alienated” just wasn’t going to wash. Quickly the revolutionary front mobilised, and the e-mails started to make their way across the Atlantic.

I include the following as a particularly erudite example;

"Hope you don’t mind the mail, I appreciate you must get a lot in your in box, but I read your recent article regarding the purchase of Liverpool FC (English Soccer) by George Gillette, and you made one factual error of calamitous size.

You referenced Malcolm Glazer, the recent purchaser of Manchester United, and Randy Lerner the new owner of Aston Villa FC.

Frankly, I wouldn't speak for Manchester United fans, although yes, Glazer bought the club, then mortgaged it to the hilt, but the Aston Vila fans are in the midst of a frankly unprecedented love affair with Mr. Lerner. Indeed, at the present time he may be the most popular man in Birmingham.

The club was going backwards, lacking in ambition, stale and locked in management paralysis with its previous owner, an 82 year old ex travel agent, who oversaw personally most aspects of the management of the club. Mr. Lerner bought a club, who mirrored the Cleveland Browns (His NFL Franchise) in having a rich history, fan base, and had frankly had done nothing much in over 20 years.

Since that time, he has frankly put his money where his mouth is in spending on the training facilities in a way previously unimaginable to achieve the best for the future, has funded some key players, managed to acquire the most sought after coach available in England, achieved a deal with leading kit sponsors, and opened lines of communication to the fans at a base level that was unimaginable (that word again) under the previous regime. Other examples abound, and for research I recommend reading www.villatalk.com. Mr. Lerner treats fans with respect, and does much for the club, including a top-flight team of board members to steer the club on.

All of the above is such a refreshing change from the previous regime, who were protested against frequently, and who would not even indulge in communication with the fans.

So we now, in six months, have a club that the hottest young talent are looking to sign for, (and its not just about wages). A forward thinking board, including the mightily well respected General Krulak, average gate attendances increasing game on game and that’s only part of the story, which can be measured on the balance sheet. If I told you that there are 38k Brummies (the locals of Birmingham) who would willingly shake Mr Lerner’s hand and buy him a pint (an English term for a beer) despite his being $ 2.5 billion wealthier than they, that probably gets closer.

So I hope you note that despite grievances at many other Premier League clubs about American owners,99% of Villa fans are frankly over the moon at Mr Lerner purchase, and the personal standards he brings to owning the club.

Thank you.

Julian”

Indeed.

Julian wasn’t alone, a great number of Villa fans sent e-mails to the journalist in question, and bless him he replied. However, by the sound of his replies I’m not sure he was too happy.

”look, we don't cover soccer. We were told yesterday that Lerner didn't talk to fans or the media - apparently only the second part of that is true.

don't get your knickers in a twist.”

No wonder, here’s his final reply to Julian, note the amount of correspondence he’s received:

” Gillett can come across as canned and prepared with media clips to talk about this and that...

it was Gillett himself who left us with the impression Lerner wasn't liked. (Interesting poll note: I probably received at least 150 letters from Villa fans supporting Lerner – and not a single one from a Man U fan saying the same about Glazer. That's a pretty thorough dose of hate.)

Over here we mostly hear about Man U and Chelsea, hence the ignorance about Villa. I will make it a point to catch up. Now I'm intrigued.

Thanks for helping to straighten me out.

todd

That’s right folks, a hundred and fifty Villa fans incensed enough by a chance comment in the Montreal Gazette to complain to the journalist involved. It would appear that it’s not wise to try and get between our billionaire and us.

Journalists eh !

I don’t think they’re doing anything wrong, I think it’s just a difference of styles.

Take for example a recent visitor to the site, Hyder Jawad, Chief Sport’s writer for The Birmingham Post, and in my opinion a decent local journalist.

Hyder has to fill the giant pages of Birmingham’s only broadsheet, five times a week. That’s dozens of articles, thousands of words every week. It can’t be easy to fill all that space, and it must be tempting to just start to make things up (Bill) ?

That’s why the press, and especially the local press loved our old Chairman. Doug was not only Mr rent-a-quote, but he also created regular stories because let’s face it he wasn’t the most popular.

As part of our battle with Doug, Villa fans learned to use the weapons of the modern media; web sites, fanzines, letters and e-mail campaigns were all born of our unhappiness.

That’s a gift if you’ve got to fill the sports pages every day. So we found ourselves at odds with the press, we hated Doug, they loved him.

Then Randy arrived.

Randy doesn’t say much, he’d sooner we judged him on his actions.

So we do, and by God he’s doing very well. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve not seen the Villa fans this happy with a Chairman since Fred Rinder was wandering the lower grounds.

But good news is no news, and no quotes is very bad news indeed if you’ve a job to do and a family to feed.

So once again we find ourselves at odds with the press.

We finally get a Chairman we like, and they don’t like him.

Would we have been better off with Gillett and Hicks?

Time will tell, but the press would certainly have preferred it. Already these two seem to have shown their willingness to offer all the quotes that a man with a pen could want, and not only that, they’ve even had the decency to put their feet in their mouths enough to give them an angle.

I know that Randy has a foot, and I know that he has a mouth, but as yet, I’ve seen nothing that suggests the two are likely to meet any time soon.

In fact, by speaking rarely and well, Randy might just have found the perfect way to deal with the British press and their hunting pack. He spoke for the first time since the takeover this week, and the ferocious British press rolled over onto their collective backs to have their tummies rubbed. You won’t have picked up a paper in this country this week without having seen a good news story about the Villa.

Would that it was always so.

So we find ourselves where we’ve always been, slightly at odds with the local press, only we’ve switched ends at half time.

This time though, there’s hope of a better relationship, success sells papers just as well as anger, and it looks like we might finally get some of the success this region has craved for so long. With the team we have in the boardroom at Villa Park at the moment, we might just be able to sell the great news coming out of Villa Park, and welcome the press in rather than letting them create stories out of our division. You see, it’s a difference of styles, and this Villa board seem to know just how to handle the media.

…..but if not, members of the press should beware, the fans learned well during the Ellis wars, and we have teeth. If you don’t believe us, ask the Montreal Gazette, and never ever try to get between a Villa fan and his Chairman.

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great article Scott.

you did forget to mention the Eurosport journo who came on here and was very supportive of us (just after the players revolt) and of course a certain local paper who nicks stuff off here without referencing the source.

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As an addendum - I did email the poor over worked hack in Montreal,

With

-----Original Message-----

From: Julian Cole [mailto]

Sent: Fri 2/9/2007 3:10 PM

To: Todd, Jack (Montreal Gazette)

Subject: RE: George Gilette Article - American Owners in the Premier League.

Hi - I appreciate your busy and that English soccer is a real minority

interest to you and your readers, and I promise this is the last reply I'll

send, but your last mail re Gilette leaving you with a "inaccurate"

impression of Lerners popularity, might have something to do with the

purchase of Aston Villa itself (Forgets its sport, this is business).

Villa were up for sale, and marketed as such via Rothschilds bank, not some

ham fisted deal by a sole owner. Details of the bidders were not ever

generally made public, although press knew there were at least 3 groups

expressing interest in the purchase. The story of the "personal issue"

between Lerner and Gilette, is that it after the event transpires that on

Lerners first visit to Villa PArk to speak to the Chairman and major

shareholder in negotiations, he presented the chairman with a gift, a Browns

Helmet. That helmet was left on the table in the chairmans office.

It is then suggested that Gilette, upon visiting in his own negotiations,

noticed the Browns Helmet on the desk, and knew that LErner was in the

running to purchase Villa. It is then that it is thought Gilette realised he

was was unlikely to put a bid as credible as Lerner, and withdrew his

interest.

Almost like a cat marking its territory.... The long and short is that

Gilette has purchased a business with less room for actual growth for iro

£428m, where Lerner picked up one with arguably lower immediate profile but

more potential for growth, for £100m.

You work out why Gilette probably feels he's been stung by Lerner, and would

be keen to lieave you with the wrong impression.

Enjoy your day, I promise I'll quit bugging you now!

And received the reply thus....

thanks, Julian, you're not bugging me at all. You should see some of the letters I get and the stuff about Gillett and Lerner is great. Gillett did say he was first interested in another club...

Sounds like you go the right guy.

jt

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it was Gillett himself who left us with the impression Lerner wasn't liked.

Hmm, wonder why. Bitter that he only ended with Liverpool when he really wanted Villa :)

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