The role of a chairman in a football club is crucial, as their decisions can shape the direction and success of the team.
However, not all chairmen are welcomed by fans with open arms.
Some have demonstrated poor decision-making, a lack of football knowledge, or have been involved in controversial activities.
In this article, we will examine a selection of football chairmen who fans would rather avoid at all costs.
Among these characters is Anton Zingarevich, whose time at Reading Football Club left fans disappointed and disillusioned, Massimo Cellino who created an incredibly toxic atmosphere at Leeds United, and Vincent Tan, who changed Cardiff City’s whole history of being a club that wears blue to red.
Anton Zingarevich – Reading Football Club
Anton Zingarevich, a Russian businessman, acquired ownership of Reading Football Club in 2012.
A fan’s interest certainly peaks when they hear of a very rich foreign investor sniffing around the club.
A Russian billionaire, in particular, would lead to comparisons with then-Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who had pumped money into the club and turned it into a force in European football.
Although Abramovich’s reign ended abruptly with sanctions from the British Government over his links to Vladimir Putin, Chelsea fans will always remember the success his cash led to.
Zingarevich turned out to be a major disappointment as he didn’t have anything like as much cash as first thought.
It turned out what money he claimed to have actually belonged to Zingarevich’s father, and his dad wasn’t keen on big spending.
Unfortunately, his tenure was characterized by financial mismanagement and questionable choices.
Zingarevich’s failure to adequately invest in the squad and club infrastructure led to Reading’s relegation from the Premier League in the 2012-2013 season.
A few big name signings arrived the following season, but Zingarevich, who owned 51 percent of the club and was trying to buy the rest, suddenly announced he didn’t have the cash to do so.
The club was back up for sale and The Royals stayed in the Championship until 2023, when they were relegated to League One after a string of equally disastrous owners.
Ultimately Zingarevich’s lack of understanding of the game and disregard for the club’s needs frustrated fans and players.
One fan said: “Trust Reading to find the world’s poorest Russian billionaire!”
Massimo Cellino – Leeds United
Massimo Cellino’s tenure as chairman of Leeds United was marked by chaos and controversy.
His erratic behaviour, including numerous managerial sackings and public disputes with fans, created a toxic atmosphere around the club.
- Banning Sky Sports because he felt TV coverage meant people weren’t coming to games
- Sacking manager Brian McDermott (who was also manager of Reading under the previously mentioned Zingarevich) and then unsacking him.
- Eventually sacking McDermott and replacing him with a manager no one had ever heard of – Dave Hockaday, who had previously been managing non-league Forest Green Rovers – he was sacked after six games.
- Allegedly sacking goalkeeper Paddy Kenny because he had an “unlucky birthday.”
- Being banned from owning the club for tax evasion – twice.
Cellino’s inability to provide stability and necessary resources hindered Leeds United’s progress, leaving fans disenchanted.
Peter Ridsdale – Leeds United, Cardiff City
Peter Ridsdale’s involvement as chairman with both Leeds United and Cardiff City was marred by financial mismanagement.
He oversaw the club’s excessive spending at Leeds, eventually leading them into administration.
The stories which came out of Leeds about his epic spending are legendary in football circles.
- Players on huge wages and very long contracts
- £240 on goldfish for his office
- A fleet of 70 company cars, which cost £600,000 a year
- £70,000 on private jets for the club’s directors
- Still paying players wages even after they joined different clubs
- £5.7m to sacked managers
Ridsdale’s association with Cardiff City was also marked by financial difficulties, leaving the club on the verge of collapse. His actions tarnished the reputation of both clubs and left a lasting negative impact.
In 2012, he was banned from holding directorships of a business for seven-and-a-half years.
Ridsdale remains in football and appears to have learned his lesson after 11 years at Preston North End.
Vincent Tan – Cardiff City
Vincent Tan, a Malaysian businessman, made headlines during his ownership of Cardiff City. His decision to change the club’s traditional blue kit to red sparked outrage among fans, who saw it as a disrespect to their history and identity.
Tan’s interference in team affairs and unpredictable decision-making alienated supporters and contributed to Cardiff City’s decline.
His craziest moments include:
- Questioning the club’s goalkeeper’s scoring record
- Allegedly booing his own team
- Sacking the manager for asking for transfer money
- Allegedly asking Cardiff to sign players with an 8 in their birthday as he thought it was lucky
Assem Allam – Hull City
Assem Allam’s attempt to change the name of Hull City to Hull Tigers ignited outrage among fans who felt it undermined the club’s heritage.
The move sparked huge protests in the city and his apparent disregard for supporters’ sentiments caused ructions in the fanbase.
Allam’s controversial decisions and lack of respect for the club’s traditions made him an unpopular figure among Hull City fans.
Tom Hicks and George Gillett – Liverpool
Tom Hicks and George Gillett’s joint ownership of Liverpool Football Club is another marred by financial struggles and internal conflicts.
Their failure to provide the necessary investment and questionable decision-making resulted in the club’s decline on and off the pitch.
The club nearly ended up in administration after their takeover in 2007.
Liverpool fans became frustrated and longed for a change in ownership.
The two promised a new stadium – which never materialised, and said they would not add any debt to the club.
They also had a big falling out and the club’s plight was even brought up in Parliament by the MP Steve Rotheram.
The club had previously won the Champions League, but won nothing during Hicks and Gillett’s three-and-a-half year tenure.
Thaksin Shinawatra – Manchester City
Thaksin Shinawatra’s time as chairman of Manchester City was overshadowed by his controversial political background.
Shinawatra’s takeover caused controversy as it was approved despite allegations of human rights abuses during his tenure as Thailand’s Prime Minister.
He had £830 million of assets frozen while he was investigated for corruption by the Thailand’s Military Government.
The negative attention and lack of stability during Shinawatra’s reign created an unwelcome atmosphere for the club.
He lasted just a year at the club.
Ken Bates – Chelsea, Leeds United
Ken Bates’ time as chairman of Chelsea and later Leeds United was characterized by financial uncertainty and strained relationships with fans.
His outspoken nature and controversial remarks alienated supporters, overshadowing the achievements of the clubs. Bates’ reign left a bitter taste in the mouths of many loyal fans.
One idea he had was to introduce electric fences at Stamford Bridge to stop fans getting on the pitch – the local council refused the plan.
Ellis Short – Sunderland
American businessman Ellis Short’s ownership of Sunderland Football Club witnessed the club’s decline from the Premier League to League One.
His failure to appoint the right managers and provide adequate financial support contributed to the club’s struggles. Short’s inability to guide Sunderland in the right direction left fans frustrated and craving change.
It is thought billionaire Short lost around $200 million in his time in charge of the club.
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Chairmen hold significant influence over a football club’s success and culture. Unfortunately, certain individuals have proven to be detrimental to their respective clubs, leaving behind a trail of disappointment, mismanagement, and controversy.
These chairmen mentioned in this article have become synonymous with failure and frustration among fans. Their actions serve as a reminder of the importance of responsible ownership and the desire for individuals who genuinely care about the club’s well-being.