In the olden days, local aldermen and dignitaries would be the people that kept football clubs going. These butchers, bakers and candlestick makers were far from perfect – they were often autocratic, completely insular and frequently treated the supporters of their clubs like dirt – but, for the most part, they partly ran their clubs for the honour of their local communities. Many of those people have gone, now, even from many lower division clubs. The profile of the average football club owner has changed over the last few years, and it certainly hasn’t always been for the best.
The modern breed, you see, will uphold traditions for as long as it suits them but, a lot of the time they demand at the very least as they put in. Some will asset-strip. Some will bend the rules to the very point of breaking. Some, if the rumour mill is correct, will use their clubs as handy money laundering emporia or fronts for other business misdemeanours. Some, of course, still do it purely and simply for the massaging of their own ego (as has been said several times before, you know that you’re middle-aged when your dreams turn from playing for your team to owning the club). Some, though, choose to keep it more parochial.
Histon Football Club’s rise from the Eastern Counties League to the Blue Square Premier has been painted in some corners of the media as being a “fairytale”, but the truth of the matter is somewhat more prosaic than that. The club got into the Blue Square Premier through good organisation and investment from local businessmen. However, Histon’s position as a village team playing in a national league leaves them in something of a quandry. They made the BSP play-offs last season, but to sustain that level of performance on the pitch – or anything like it – they need higher crowds than the average of just over 1,000 that they managed last season. However, the club represents two villages with a combined population of just 10,000 people. It seems unlikely that they will be able to drastically improve their crowds even if they are very successful. Even if Histon were the stronger side last season, Cambridge United remain the local club of choice for many in their locality.
This season, they remain relatively comfortable in the mid-table of the Blue Square Premier, but the club needs an investment of cash, especially since sponsorship revenues have tailed off and television money has completely vanished. Businessman Raj Chodankar might have proved to be the answer. He had expressed an interest in investing in the club, but had a condition that might just prove to be a little unreasonable. Chodankar’s son, it would appear, is something of a footballer himself, and his father’s offer was pretty clear. If Histon sign his player after a forthcoming trial at the club, he will put money into Histon. Chairman Tony Roach seems to have blanched somewhat at this prospect and confirmed that no arrangement has been agreed with him.
Older readers may remember a story from “Roy Of The Rovers” from the mid-1970s called “Millionaire Villa”, a cartoon story about a millionaire called David Bradney who bought a football club called Selby Villa and played himself even though he lacked any football ability whatsoever. The story was obviously played for laughs, but the question has started to raise its head again in recent years. In 2003, Doncaster Rovers chairman John Ryan became the oldest player to play for a professional club in the history of English football when he appeared from the bench for Doncaster’s last game of the season against Hereford United.
This, however, doesn’t quite count as nepotism. Raj Chodankar’s mistake here might have been in making this small clause public. We don’t know whether his son is any good at football, or whether there would be anything written into this “investment” into Histon that might have required him to play for the club at any stage. Considering that the club seems to have backed away from this particular offer, it will be interesting to see whether see turns up to a trial there and whether he is any good. The suspicion is that if he was actually any good, such an offer wouldn’t have needed to be made, but we shall see.
It’s not difficult to have a degree of sympathy for the club. The additional revenue streams that made them able to be competitive in the Blue Square Premier have completely dried up over the last few months, and the harsh reality is that clubs of their size now have to cut their cloth accordingly. Is it sustainable to run a professional football club on crowds of around 1,000 with few additional ways of bringing money in? Probably not, and the bare fact of the matter is that Histon should probably step back from investors promising to throw cash at them and pause to remember how far they have already come.