Louie Theophanous: When Money Talks More Than Honesty

by | Jan 7, 2020

I’ve often cited, in these pages and elsewhere, a 2013 clip of the (sadly former) RTE Gaelic Football pundit Joe Brolly at his best; a razor-sharp, note-perfect excoriation of Ulster county Tyrone’s cynical fouling when protecting a lead late in games (search “Joe Brolly, tell the children to play tennis” for YouTube details).

But Brolly struck one bum note with a personal attack on Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh, who was named man-of-the-match despite a ‘professional foul’ which helped win a tight game but was not then punishable by dismissal under Gaelic Football’s rules. “Sean Cavanagh is a brilliant footballer,” Brolly said, correctly, before tumbling from the moral high ground by adding “you can forget about him as far as he’s a man.” And, as confirmed on a recent retrospective of the ‘Sunday Game’ show on which Brolly made his comments, the personal stuff is what most people remember.

The now-ex-Kingstonian striker Louie Theophanous is, at Isthmian League level (English club football’s seventh-tier), a brilliant footballer. But, apparently, you really can forget about him as far as he’s a man.

On Sunday, Ks announced his sudden departure, for a small range of reasons. Ks’ current top-scorer was in stunning scoring form right up to 13 minutes plus stoppage-time from the end of his Ks career. So, the shock was palpable. A 450-word statement on kingstonian.com confirmed that Theophanous’s Ks contract was to be cancelled by “mutual consent” and detailed the short, sharp process involved. Ks manager Hayden Bird said “this decision has been made after a series of discussions and great consideration from myself, the player and the Board of Directors.”

Theophanous and Bird had spoken “throughout Saturday night and Sunday morning” after the player contacted Bird “on Saturday evening” to explain “that due to circumstances outside of football, he is finding it increasingly difficult to commit to Kingstonian.” On Sunday, Bird “asked if there was anything” Ks “could do to help him, if he wanted to play his football elsewhere or if he was looking for a transfer.” But Theophanous “was adamant that he feels it necessary to simply take a break from football to concentrate on his family.”

Bird exceeded the usual “we thank him for his time at the club” guff which often means “the money-grabbing git can sod off… he was crap anyway.” He called Theophanous “a good guy” and expressed Ks’ desire “to support him.” He stressed the importance of “every player” really wanting to be at Ks and “able to focus and commit to the project.” But Theophanous didn’t “feel in a position to do that,” So, Ks let him “leave with our very best wishes.”  Bird said, correctly, that “Louie has offered the club great service” and concluded: “I’ve enjoyed working with him and wish him every success.”

Theophanous also exceeded the norm, claiming to be leaving Ks “with a heavy heart” and wishing “the boys all the best in getting promoted, as I know they will.” He called “working with Hayden” a “joy,” and had been “really” refreshed by “such a professional environment at this level.” But, “with a young family at home and a new business,” it was “really hard” for him “to balance everything as a man.”

Then, though, he triggered a world bullshit shortage by insisting that leaving was “nothing to do with football or a desire to play for any other club” but “purely for personal reasons.” This reminded me of Ian Gillan leaving his own rock band, the imaginatively-named Gillan, in December 1982 because he could lose his voice if he kept singing, before joining Black Sabbath in April 1983 (obscure cultural references? We got ‘em).

One immediate reaction, before the Romford story broke, was to ask why he hadn’t waited until after Ks’ big FA Trophy tie at home to Leamington next Saturday, which may have seemed a little Ks-centric but was entirely forgivable. My immediate reaction, past the initial disappointment, was frustration that he was leaving just as some of us started pronouncing his name right. We should have emphasised the “anous” not the “oph,” apparently. We’ll be emphasising the ‘anus’ from now on, be assured.

But my next reaction was born of my middle-aged cynicism, pondering how long it would be before Theophanous could once again “balance everything as a man.” In the back of my mind was his spell at the grotesque Glenn Tamplin’s grotesque incarnation of Billericay Town and Tamplin’s current money-fling at Romford, one division below Ks in Isthmian Division One North.

Yet I admonished myself immediately. Not for my cynicism; that, I submit, is a natural reaction to thirty-eight years of watching non-league football. But for imagining that Theophanous would (a) think Ks fans would be stupid enough to accept his “personal” reasoning  if he played for anyone else this season (let alone this week) and that (b) he would be stupid enough to think Ks fans would accept his reasoning once the truth emerged. Apparently, though, he is that stupid. Or doesn’t care.

Romford are eight points adrift at the bottom of Division One North. Since Tamplin bought them in November and made himself manager, because of course he did, he has signed loads of players, to little initial effect; one win and three losses, the latest a 6-0 trimming at second-placed Aveley. He still operates with his trademark mix of ambition and arseholery (e.g. “I could’ve got involved at Macclesfield but I like a challenge”). Yet signing Theophanous again, after doing so for Billericay in May 2017, will likely significantly improve their fortunes.

Of course, the idea that professional footballers should be club fans and employees in equal measure has long been preposterous. And the money on offer to semi-professionals has long been large enough to be a key consideration in choosing clubs. When I edited a Ks fanzine, a slightly distressing thirty years ago, one player said in an interview that “if you cut me I would bleed red-and-white hoops.” But even then we knew he was joking, although he was genuinely one of the more likeable players.

However, the issue is not loyalty. It is integrity. The big takeaway from the club’s statement is now the idea that he “simply” wanted a break from football to “concentrate on his family.” Which most observers (and his family, you’d have thought) reasonably assumed would be a tad longer than eighteen hours. Being less cynical, these were not direct quotes, leaving scope for misunderstanding. Maybe playing for Romford would help him “balance” his family and business. Maybe his business is based at the Romford Business Centre.

Word is that he lives in Surrey. And he lived in Kennington when he first came to fame as a Cristiano Ronaldo body-double in 2013. But he has orbited London during his club career; Millwall, AFC Wimbledon, Staines Town, Bromley, Staines again, Farnborough, St Albans City, Chelmsford City, Billericay Town, us on loan for a month, Woking and us again (the issue really isn’t loyalty). So maybe even he isn’t sure where he lives.

Indeed, his direct quotes could have been drafted by a lawyer seeking to avoid any issues surrounding an uncancelled contract. But Theophanous stands condemned by his last words. The construct that the move was “nothing to do with football or a desire to play for any other club” becomes a lie, if you sign for another club less than twenty-four hours after your contract is cancelled. Unless Tamplin has Ks’ website on metaphorical speed-dial, he would surely not have known of Theophanous’s sudden non-contract status in time to organise the move within hours, and get him registered for Romford’s Wednesday friendly with Ilford.

But is such naked mendacity surprising? In wider society, dishonesty is all-too-often rewarding. Exhibit A: Boris Johnson. Even leaving party politics aside, his demonstrable lies throughout 2019 helped him achieve what those who know him best have long-cited as his over-riding personal ambition, becoming prime minister. Personal shame is not a quality universally possessed. So when the consequences of mendacity can be so positive, why not be mendacious?

Kingstonian have, of course, been ‘done’ by agreeing to terminate Theophanous’s contract. Ks aren’t short of money just now, after this season’s lucrative FA competition successes. But every little helps. Theophanous would have attracted a transfer fee. And who knows what Tamplin might have offered. Fan suggestions of £25,000 would seem fanciful but for his involvement, whatever arrangements he may have made to avoid that necessity.

Some fans have reasonably questioned why Theophanous’s contract was cancelled without assurance of compensation, although the club statement seemed to explain that. Ks board had a choice between believing Theophanus or paying him until 30th June for not playing. In the statement, Bird asked “everyone to trust me.” This mess exists because we couldn’t trust Theophanous.

On-field, Theophanous will be missed, although not as much as I initially assumed. He scored 33 goals in 76 Ks games, mostly in struggling sides. And Saturday’s goal was his 18th this season. But Ks have striking options, plural. And while it is unclear how this will affect the dressing-room, most of it has been together for a while, sans Theophanous, having followed Bird en masse from league rivals Merstham last summer (a point to note on the subject of player loyalty). Ks will survive…and could still thrive.

And Theophanous will be a brilliant footballer at Romford, if Tamplin’s trawl for players catches some good midfielders. But, after the above events, you really, really can forget about Louie Thephanous as far as he’s a man. Whoever he was.