Here is part 3 of our interview with Kieran.
“In the 1980s, the reason for going to university was to avoid having to think about a career. It is so much more vocational in nature nowadays.
“I did okay in my A Levels and I wanted to go to Manchester for football and music. I was 18 and that was the focus of my life at that age and the Manchester music scene was incredible.”
But eventually the real world intruded. “I was good at numbers so there was pressure on me to be an accountant because people think that is what accountants are, and I realised that getting a qualification on top of the degree would be useful.
“And there were family reasons. Before I took a job with Grant Thornton’s accountants in Worthing I was running one of David Sullivan’s shops in Brighton for £150 a week, which was good money in those days.
“But in the end I took a 50% pay cut to go into accountancy because I hadn’t told my mum I was working in a sex shop. I come from a big Irish Catholic family and she would have fainted or the rosary beads would have been out because I was dancing with the devil.
“But I was a terrible accountant and I hated it. I don’t like dealing with people, working as part of a team or talking to clients. I wasn’t suited to it at all. But then I got the chance to teach and although It’s not well-paid and I didn’t think it would be up my alley at all, I sort of drifted into it and this is my fifth decade.
“My life is full of ‘Sliding Doors’ moments. I was working down in London teaching investment bankers at a bank that was advising the Glazer family when suddenly the doors were all closed and the windows were shuttered. They explained that the Glazers’ takeover of Manchester United was just being announced and they were worried about Cockney Reds putting the windows in.
“I picked up a few bits and pieces of details about the deal and that afternoon the BBC phoned up my university, which was Manchester at the time, and asked if they could explain what was going on.
“They said they couldn’t but they had this idiot who was football mad and used football clubs as examples for students, so they put them on to me.
“I got a few more calls as a result of that and Liverpool University heard about me. They head-hunted me to come over and just focus on teaching the football side of things. I have got the best job I could ever hope for, given that I have got no natural talent for anything.
“I just talk about football and try to get people to understand. The students buy in from day one because they want to know more about their clubs and all I am doing is giving them a tool kit that effectively enables them to be financial archaeologists. That is what lets you find the links between what is happening on the pitch and in the boardroom. I have just been very, very fortunate.”
He is likely to field more media requests for his insights as financial problems multiply in the next few months. “How long is it going to take before we get back to normality, whatever normality is? It will be longer than the politicians are saying.
“Things will change because clubs will have less money coming in and club owners will find that their other assets have decreased in value. Therefore, their ability to subsidise clubs to the same extent as they have done up to now will be restricted. That will be natural market forces.
“I think conspicuous consumption will no longer be championed in the way it has been historically. Selling ‘match-ready’ shirts for £100 a throw and signing players on huge salaries for vast transfer fees could potentially generate a backlash when unemployment will probably have doubled in the past three weeks.
“So I think we will probably see an element of restraint in the short-to-medium-term but in the end everything will be dictated by the size of the broadcasting and sponsorship deals.
“We have reached a peak in how much can be extracted from match-day fans but whilst Premier League football is still the crack cocaine for the subscription model of the broadcasting industry, the big sums will keep going in.”
Where he differs from many pundits is in his view of players’ wages. “Four percent of professional footballers went to private schools, compared to eight percent of the population as a whole, 27 percent in cricket and 31 percent in rugby,” he says.
“I quite like the idea of guys from working-class backgrounds becoming millionaires. I don’t see any calls for a wage cap in banking or accounting or law. Why are footballers this constant easy target?
“Wilfried Zaha making all those properties available to NHS staff delighted me on so many levels. There has been so much benevolence coming from within football and it doesn’t often go the other way. Players take fearful abuse but they are somebody’s son or dad or brother or husband. We de-personalise footballers terribly.”
But he is most optimistic about the Albion. “We are not going to be in a position to compete with the biggest clubs because we are not Manchester City or Real Madrid, we are Brighton and Hove Albion. We know where we are in the natural order of things.
“Yes, I felt last season the results were better than performances in the first half and in the second they were both poor. This season, performances were better than results and have continued to be so.
“But I follow the team home and away and with the possible exception of the Bournemouth game at their place I can’t think of a match where I came away thinking we were not very good. I’ve been frustrated because we can’t finish, but never angry. Graham Potter conducts himself so well and seems such a genuinely good guy, as did Chris Hughton of course.
“And the way the club has acted throughout the crisis has been exemplary. I have been so proud to be an Albion fan because they were first out of the blocks in agreeing to keep paying match-day staff and a number of the other initiatives have been superb on an individual and collective level. I think it reflects the culture of the club very well.”
And he is making his own contribution to society at this difficult time. “100 percent of my Price of Football book royalties will now go to the Trussell Trust, who set up food banks in the UK,” he says. “I’ve never written a book before and I’ve never received a royalty cheque, so I’ll never miss one.”
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