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Tony Kleanthous Interview
Part 1

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Committee members Ben Kentish and Sam Norris interviewed Tony Kleanthous in early June. The full interview will be published over the next couple of weeks in three or four instalments. The first instalment is below.

The questions were submitted by BFCSA members.

How do our wage and transfer budgets compare to those of other League 2 clubs? Can you give us any details about the size of our wage and transfer budgets?

The average squad budget in League Two is about £1 million. Ours is about three quarters of that. Nowadays in football you don't have a transfer budget as such; instead you have a budget that covers any spending on the squad. That budget includes spending on wages, signing-on fees, agent's fees, salaries, bonuses, relocation monies, loyalty fees, and so on. It's not just the transfer fee that you have to pay for a player; it's the whole lot that gets taken into account.

Do we have to sell key players such as Adomah and O'Flynn this season, or are we financially stable enough to reject offers and try to keep the team together in order to push on?

It's nothing to do with our financial stability; we don't have to do anything. I had this conversation with Ian Hendon last week. Of course we want to have John [O'Flynn] as part of the squad next year, but he's only got a year left on his contract. So if we can't get him to sign a new deal and we don't sell him now, we're going to get nothing for him in a year's time. What we have to do is maximise the money available to the manager. Watching all these good players go for nothing will get us nowhere. It's the fact that we manage it so well that allows us to compete.

I told you the average League 2 budget and I told you ours – there are clubs such as Bradford who are spending over £2 million on their squads. Peterborough and MK Dons, when they went up, both had squad budgets of over £2 million. And here's us on three quarters of a million. Peterborough and MK were paying four to five times what we were paying. The only way we can bridge that gap is by being a bit clever. John O'Flynn is a player who is worth money and I can't afford to see him walk out the door for nothing. If we got no money for him then how are we going to replace him? You might see us sign somebody on a free transfer, but what you don't know is what the agents fees and the signing on fees are, or what the salary is. So in answer to the question, if I had my way I would never, ever sell a good player. But I'm realistic and it is the players that sell themselves. Do you really think that with a player of Albert's quality, at Albert's age, that him, his agent and his family would be happy for him to continue to play League 2 football on a low salary for the division? He's got only a 15-year career; do you think he wants to spend 5 years of it doing that?

Albert is a lovely boy, but he's ambitious and he's going to want to move on. So either we provide him with the opportunity to move on and he helps us maximise that, or we get nothing. I could say to Albert 'You know what, Albert, I'm going to make you play for Barnet for another year because that's what your contract says', and he'll have to do it. But then after a year he'll leave here, we'll get no money, he'll say nothing but bad things about the club, he'll bad-mouth us to everyone, his agent will never bring another player to this club again, and anyone who talks to him will never come near this club again. So let's be realistic. Let's accept that actually the only way we get these players is because we give them the opportunity to play and to move on with their careers. We'd all like to get millions for every player, but there is a balance. It's all about getting a return for the club that allows the club to continue competing and bring other players in, and at the same time giving the player the chance that they agreed with you when they first came that you would give them.

What is the latest to the net that the club announced last August would be installed as a segregation barrier on the East Terrace?

We hit problems with it. We said we'd put a Perspex laminated barrier up, and that was the intention. But we then got into a technical issue over what strength and construction that should be, and it was starting to become a bit of a messy discussion. The problem is that we can have a large gap there and it seems easier just to use the gap, but I know our supporters don't like it. So what we decided at the time was to just steward that area better. Putting up the barrier seemed a lot of hassle for not very much gain. It seemed easier to just segregate it and then think about what we were going to do in the summer. Having said all that, we still haven't turned our sights to it because we've been so focussed on Prince Edward. I think that's the trouble, people don't appreciate just how extremely busy we are. With a project like Prince Edward, you'd normally have a whole team of people dedicated to that but we're just carrying on doing it as part of our everyday jobs. I have to admit we haven't paid as much attention to [segregation] as maybe we need to, and we need to get onto it, but the focus has been elsewhere.

What, in your opinion, went wrong last season?

We didn't prepare with the right players in the summer. That's it, full stop. Money was made available for the manager to bring in some experienced players to bolster the squad. We were supposed to have a push for promotion last season. We felt we had a team that, with three of four good, experienced signings would go on and do well. I kept them all together - I had to let Jason [Puncheon] go because we made a promise that he would go - but I kept everyone else together and it cost me a lot of money to do that. I also made money available to strengthen the squad because I really wanted us to have a push. I really felt we could make the play-offs. But we never brought in the right players in the summer.

Why can't we have an amber kit?

If someone can define amber for me then maybe we can have an amber kit. But as long as that someone understands that we'll go back to those horrible old days where we had a mixture of yellow, gold, old gold, orange, and everything in between. We had yellow and black scarves, we had orange and black scarves, we had gold scarves. It was just a nightmare. The problem is that amber isn't a definite colour; amber sits somewhere between yellow and orange. I accept our kit has become more orange. The reason for that is very straightforward. When you buy something – let's take a scarf, for example – when you go to a scarf manufacturer and you are Arsenal and you are buying 100,000, you can have any colour you want. But if you are Barnet and you are buying 500, you've got to make a choice: you can either have the fabric dyed in the colour you want, but the scarf you'll be wearing will be three times the cost of any other, or you can go with a stock colour, and the stock colours tend to be gold - and it can vary from one supplier to another as to what gold is - yellow or orange. Depending on which person was doing the buying for Barnet at the time, we got a mixture of colours.

So we took a conscious step: what with Watford, whose colours are black and yellow, being nearby, we didn't want to get confused with black and yellow, we wanted our own identity. So we decided that whenever we can't get something that is a sort of orangey-amber colour, we veer towards orange. That way, we're unique. That makes it so that I know a Barnet fan anywhere. We all have our own views, but the point for me is this: the only way we could be unique was to not be like Wolves or Hull – black and gold, and not be like Watford – black and yellow. I want us to be unique. Our colours are black and amber but if we can't do that, we veer towards orange. I also know many supporters like striped kits and I'm a big believer in stripes. I'd have a striped kit tomorrow if it was up to me, but I keep getting overruled by our head of commercial. Our commercial manager overruled my striped kit for this year. That's because commercially stripes are very difficult for sponsors. He's looking at it from a purely commercial perspective.

What were the reasons for Ramesh Kumar joining the board at the start of last season? Has he been given a specific job?

His job is merchandising, it's as simple as that. You want to see the nice new club ties we'll all have next year! The fact is that the board is actually only myself and Andrew [Adie]. But then we have board advisers like Dennis [Signy] and Mel [Stein]. The board consists of people who are experts in their field. Mel's an expert in the legal field, Dennis is an expert in PR and media, as well is being just a good guy to have around. Anyway, the merchandising side of football is becoming quite a big issue and we needed somebody who understood those things better. Ramesh has a commercial expertise that he can bring to the board. He's just someone who I've got to know over the years who has a lot of expertise - and believe me he does. When it comes to that stuff, he really knows his stuff. We've already seen benefits because of that.

Has Mr. Kumar taken a shareholding in the club or has he indicated to you that he plans to do so at some point in the future?

He doesn't have shares in the club. He's not a big investor in the club, either - he's put a little bit of money in but it's a small amount. I don't know what plans he has, but if he wants a shareholding then I'd have to sell it to him and I've got no plans to sell a shareholding. Let's be clear: I will sell this club, absolutely without a doubt, when I can find a buyer who can take it further than me. I'm not interested in anyone who's just got money, or someone who is just interested in the assets. I don't want to have spent fifteen years and a lot of my health getting this far, only for some plonker to come along and take it all apart again. I'm stuck here and you're stuck with me because I made a promise to make sure that this club is run right and properly and I will do that. But I don't want to be doing it for the rest of my life; I've suffered a lot here. I haven't yet come across anyone who seems to have the same intentions for this club that I have. When I do, and hopefully they'll be younger and richer than me, then I'll be able to step back and have a life again.

How important is it to boost attendances and what new ideas or methods will be used next season in order to attempt to get the average crowds above the 3000 needed to break even?

I can't imagine anything more important. There is no point running this football club unless we boost attendances, because we've got no future unless we do. We've certainly tried to be as innovative as we can and do as much as we can, but we have to accept, I suppose, that attendances here will only improve when the facilities improve. I said that when I first arrived and I believed it then, but I hadn't appreciated just how right I was; how much of an influence the facilities have. Because you look at that new South Stand which, let's face it, is no more than a bit of metal and a decent seat, but it's got leg-room, it's got a good view and all of a sudden it's filling up. Look how many kids are in that stand and how many women are in there. We built a new ladies' toilet block and suddenly the amount of ladies turning up increased.

People expect standard facilities and we just don't have them. People just want to be able to sit down on a decent lavatory seat. We've got to get the basics right. In this day and age you can't expect people to turn up, and if they want to go to the toilet, have to stand on a concrete step and wee against the wall. It's just not acceptable. That's the trouble here; there are no proper facilities. There is nowhere to get a proper meal or to sit down in the warm and eat it, and all that matters nowadays. It might not matter to the diehards, but it matters to the mums coming in with their six-year-olds. As for what we can do to boost attendances, we are the only club I know of that lets under-12s in for nothing. Plus we give huge discounts to under-18s. So I think our packages are good. I can't do much with what is on offer on the playing field – we spend what we can, everything we have goes on the team - but we know that we have a much smaller budget that most of the other clubs, and higher costs what with being in London.

People say we should do more marketing and run more adverts, but I'm not sure they have any idea how much that costs. If we run an advert in the local paper, it costs £4,000. We'll run a £4,000 advert and we'll get ten inquiries and make £40, and everyone will say 'Well done Barnet, you did some advertising'. I smile because I'm thinking 'they're praising us, but what they don't realise is what we've actually just done is taken the cost of a scholar for a year and spent it on your ego'. Because we all like to see our club everywhere, but it is solely ego. We're not gaining from it. The best way to increase support of the club is through the BFCSA. We can provide the facilities, but supporters come when other supporters tell them it's worth coming, not when we tell them it is. They listen to each other much more than they listen to the club.

How much of an effect has the current recession had on the club?

It's had a significant effect. But it's hard to tell how much of it was also down to us performing badly at the same time as a recession. We really suffered - we were £250,000 over our budget last season and it really made us suffer. Most of that money was spent bringing in loan players.

If you had one message for Barnet supporters, what would it be?

Keep the faith. Keep supporting. We have to stand above and be better than everybody else. We're a little club, we've got all the costs of being in London, and we've got people who, when something goes wrong, they give us a little kick. Everybody looks down at us, and that's fine. But we'll be better than everybody else and eventually we'll overtake everybody else. Being better is not just being louder on a terrace; it is actually about really supporting and understanding, working together. I'd like our supporters to be educated, to know things about football that other supporters don't know, to understand their club intimately, and to work with us so we don't fight each other but instead we work together.

One of the things I really like actually – and it seems a silly thing – is when Barcelona supporters wave a white flag when they've had enough of the manager. I actually think that is a lovely thing. It shows the supporters are completely, intrinsically in-tune with what is going on at their club. It's not booing the bloke; to me what they do is doing it in the right way. If you've got to protest and you feel that strongly, that's the right way to do it because you're sending a clear message but you're doing it after a match and you're not affecting the team's performance or being abusive about it; you're just making your point. We can't grow without our supporters. We have to all grow together. And we have to grow together with understanding. I don't want one of these clubs where we dictate to you and you protest about us.

I don't want to be involved in that, it's a load of rubbish. We're all in this together. And that's where, for me, I get frustrated because sometimes some of our supporters forget we're all in this together. Last season when things were going wrong, I felt it just as much as everyone else. There was no need to have a go at me – what was that going to achieve? I have to do things in the right way, in the proper way and in an honourable way. I'm not going to behave dishonourably for anybody. At the end of the day, if we give someone a contract and we agree as a club we're going to work with them, but it's gone wrong, then we have to find the right way to extricate ourselves from that situation while retaining our dignity and that individual's dignity. There's got to be a Barnet way. I cannot and will not behave in that horrible way I see around football; it's just not for me. If you want to be involved with this club, we're open to it, we want you all to be involved with this club and I want us to work together, but it has to be done in a proper, structured way.

What does the club do to be environmentally friendly? Does it recycle the paper it uses, use energy efficient light bulbs where possible etc.? And if not, would it not be a good PR/marketing initiative to become a 'green' football club?

We protested against the North Korean nuclear testing but they ignored us. Would it be good to be a 'green' football club? I quite like black and amber actually.

Interview by Ben Kentish

Part 2 of the interview, in which Mr. Kleanthous talks about his plans for Underhill and the search for a site for a new ground, will be published next week. Part 3 will follow the week after that.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

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