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Archived News from June 2003

25th June 2003 11:40

Evening Post, 24 June 2003

Even after ten years as chairman of Mansfield Town, Keith Haslam still believes there is plenty of work to do in the face of an ever-changing environment within the game, as IAN WILKERSON discovered...

While beer and milk comes in pints, petrol in litres and turkeys in pounds and ounces, there are some things in life that are less-easily quantified. Just how do you measure progress?

In the case of Mansfield Town, analysis of Keith Haslam's ten years at the helm, the anniversary of which was reached last week, different criteria could lead you to wildly contradicting conclusions.

The simplest would be to look at the respective league tables and, what do you know, Stags entered the Haslam era having been relegated from Division Two with a total of 44 points, exactly the same as the position in which they currently find themselves.

So, isn't it natural to surmise that the circle has been completed?

Perhaps, had it not been for the renovated stadium. Or the £1.6million debt Haslam inherited. Or the end of the days when a decent young player could reach his potential and then be flogged to one of the big boys for a couple of million quid when his contract had run out.

Analysis based merely on games won, drawn and lost may add a bit of colour but hardly paints the full picture.

That is a message Haslam goes to great lengths to put over whenever he puts over his views on the state of our national game.

He's worried that common sense still appears to be an absent commodity among many of his peers, leading him to conclude it could all end in tears.

And although the biggest transfer news of the summer may seem a million miles from the Stags' fight to get back into Division Two, he is insistent he will not spend beyond the club's means like the biggest names in the game.

"The old adage in football is 'speculate to accumulate' and there is a feeling that you have to do that to have success but I don't know how many times it has to be shown that it doesn't work," he said.

"Even Real Madrid, the greatest club in the world, are more than £100m in debt.

"They have spent £24m on David Beckham and they may win the Champions' League next season and La Liga and everything else but they are still going to lose money.

"To me that makes no sense, although I'm sure it does to a supporter. I cannot see how you can work like that.

"I have always viewed it that you have to have a pyramid. You have got to have a strong base and build on it gradually.

"But a lot of people have inverted pyramids and there are no foundations."

With such thinking trickling down the leagues, clubs have to satisfy fan demand for instant success while still maintaining a more long-term view, with Haslam seeing the role of the local community as pivotal to the club's success.

Businessmen with little experience of football and big wallets, he believes, do more harm than good.

"The fundamentals of football go wrong when you get artificial money put in there through benefactors.

"It may give them an advantage but it doesn't serve the club well in the long term because the structure is not in place.

"Take Oldham. Because the club has not fulfilled what the chairman wanted from the business he is selling up.

"There is no structure for when he goes and, as a consequence, the club is losing £50,000 a week.

"If you buy a business, you have to have a feel for it. You have to have a background in that industry.

"People in football would like quick success to develop their careers, while the chairman of a football club would like short-term success but has to look at the long term."

For the time being, though, the aim is to get back up into the Second Division and push on. Haslam has little doubt the club has plenty of potential, with its location meaning it can serve a population of around 400,000 within ten or so miles.

Such a fan-base could sustain Division One football and the aim remains the same as he views last season as part of a learning process.

"Everything is well as long as you are not going backwards," he added. "You have to take something like being relegated on the chin and you have to make sure you are stronger the next year.

"Hopefully, we are in a position where we are not financially strapped like a lot of clubs are when they are relegated.

"Football is changing so rapidly with the Bosman ruling, the transfer market going and the ITV Digital situation and there will be something else crop up in the next 18 months. Something else is bound to raise its head.

"Supporters have to be patient, but people are more demanding.

"We have all got ambitions to get promotion but there are more clubs thinking if you finish mid-table and you are in the black then that is success as well.

"I don't want to be in the Third Division. I want to move up the divisions and I enjoyed it in the Second Division.

"I wanted us to stay there for a season or two and move on again.

"We want to push on again now."

Haslam, whose father Harry was manager of Luton Town and Sheffield United, also worked in marketing with the England squad when Bobby Robson was in charge.

He had been looking around for the opportunity to invest in a football club before the chance at Field Mill arrived and he took it on, although the going was initially tough.

He said: "It was a very bad time in the history of Mansfield as a town. All the pits were closing and the club had just been relegated to the Third Division which an aging side and one or two good young players coming through.

"The club was £1.6m in debt and we didn't have that money so they took the land away and said I could buy it back.

"We then had five years to drum up the money to get some assets back so the first priority was to structure the club so it wasn't haemorrhaging like it had been. It lost £450,000 in its previous year.

"No-one can sustain that sort of loss and some harsh things had to be done. I started off with a background in the game and that definitely helps.

"When you come into football, there is that learning curve when it is a different word for people in the first 18 months.

"Then it hits them between the eyes and it is an expensive business when you don't know what you are doing."

While results are the be-all-and-end-all for the club's supporters, Haslam admits he is unable to be in that position.

He enjoys the good times, like gaining promotion the season before last and beating Leeds in what was then the Coca-Cola Cup in 1994, but plenty of other things provide the satisfaction to make him want to carry on.

"I think the job absorbs you," he said.

"It's a seven-day-a-week job and there are functions to attend in evenings.

"I do see football rather differently to what I expected but, before, with my father being on the football side, I was probably more player-minded but now I have to look at the business as a whole and make sure it works.

"One thing that does stimulate me now is the development of the club with things like the function rooms and the classrooms and expanding the business that way.

"We have to look on the 400,000 people around here as our supporters. We want to support them and we want them to support us."

And as for the criticism, it goes with the turf. The only thing that bothers him is when his family are privy to it. The peak was an on-pitch demonstration in 1998.

"It hurts you when people are shouting at you, particularly when your young children are there," he said.

"I think it is unfair they should witness things like that.

"I understand supporters' frustrations and, on the whole, when you talk to them, by the end of the conversation, they understand your reasoning or why decisions have been made."

And, as for another ten years?

"I just hope we can build this year and have a good season, playing entertaining football and get promotion again.

"I think we are in a lot stronger position than we were two years ago. If I had achieved what I wanted to then I would probably hand it over to someone else.

"I would like to be involved in the club as long as it progresses in the way I would like it to and hopefully I would leave my successor with better foundations than I inherited."


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