Goodbye message to Albion fans from outgoing Chairman
Fourteen years ago I became the chairman of West Bromwich Albion and my challenge was to ensure that when I left, the Club would be the better for my stewardship.
That moment will soon arrive and I think I am entitled to believe that target has been achieved.
A new era for Albion beckons. The Club can look to the future with excitement about the opportunities ahead.
I think this acquisition of West Bromwich Holdings by Guochuan Lai, and the access he brings to the booming football interest in China, provides a great opportunity for the Club.
Albion have to grow and the potential to do so under the new owners is very real.
I’ve been over to China to meet with Guochuan and visit the offices of Palm and their management team. I believe what they presented takes the right long-term view for the Club, a belief that has grown throughout this process.
I wish Guochuan every success. He has a vision for the future and the energy to see it through. He’s 42; I was of a similar age when I became Chairman at The Hawthorns and recognise the enthusiasm and drive that will be needed to take the Club forward.
English football can be a minefield for newcomers which is why I am so pleased to bring in John Williams as my replacement Chairman with immediate effect. John was my preferred recommendation from the outset and I believe we have found an ideal man to help carry the Club forward.
From his acclaimed work at Blackburn Rovers, firstly as Chief Executive and then Chairman, he is used to running a club of comparable size, a club that was very successful in the Premier League prior to his departure. I know from our discussions he is eager and excited about the challenge.
I shall not be stepping away entirely. Although I am relinquishing my position on the board, it has been agreed that I shall remain as an advisor at least for this season ahead. We will review this arrangement at the end of the campaign.
I could not leave, however, without some reflections and notes of appreciation.
In one sense, the last 14 years have flashed by in the blink of the eye. But in another, the turbulence around Albion back then reminds me of the epic nature of the journey.
I do not mind admitting those early years found me learning “on the hoof” through the design of others. Although I had a background in corporate finance and running public companies, the unregulated player-trading culture, particularly, surprised and alarmed me.
I quickly came to realise that I must go my own way. As you will recall, these were the ‘yo yo’ seasons when we struggled to sustain a Premier League position. There is no hiding place from the critics in football and I soon reasoned that, if I was going to be pilloried for whatever went wrong it was not going to be for somebody else’s decisions.
Slowly what I hear referred to as “the Albion way” evolved. Try to compete in the top-flight but keep the Club solvent, invest in its infrastructure and its future development, always building but never at the risk of the Club’s financial well-being.
I look around now at the training ground, the Academy’s EPPP status, an ever-improving squad of internationals and the growth of the Albion Foundation with all its wonderful community work and feel it has been a successful strategy.
It is sometimes difficult to strike the balance between planning for the future while acknowledging the past. This “handover” of power is all about the years to come but I am particularly pleased that I leave with the Astle gates - and Jeff’s memory further preserved by the emotional tribute paid to him on Astle Day - and the Tony Brown statue adorning the stadium.
I am also delighted that having accumulated a huge collection of Club artefacts and memorabilia, we have begun the long process of archiving for the digital age the story of Albion for the generations to come.
But to stand still is to go backwards in this Premier League and it is right for me to recognise that, in order we add more and meaningful chapters, a fresh energy is required. I feel I have played my part and now is the time for new ideas, a new vision, to propel the Club forward.
Over the piece, I can have no grumbles about the fans. When you are sat at the head of a club, especially in today’s Premier League, you cannot expect to escape flak but the “Peace Out” banners have thankfully been few and far between!
I think also being a local lad, whose father and grandfather both supported the Club, has helped me but I also believe from the letters I still receive that the supporters understand what we have tried to do and the difficulties we have faced in dragging the Club back from the lost years of the 1980s and 90s. I think they 'get it.'
They have shared the thrills and spills in the last 14 years. Finishing eighth is so far the high water-mark of this Premier League era for us. Although it will not be easy, I obviously hope there is even better to come.
But I shared the excitement, too, of those visits to Wembley where we experienced both pride and pain, promotions and winning the Championship and our arrival on the big stage with, for example, back-to-back victories at Old Trafford and Anfield. There have been some memorably good days to off-set the disappointments.
Along the way, there have been invaluable contributions from too many to mention but I would reserve a special thanks for our Chief Executive Mark Jenkins, who has been unflinching amid some of the tough decisions that have had to be taken and unswerving in his support.
I wish we could have won a major Cup because I believe the players we have assembled here have been good enough to do so. Perhaps that is something Guochuan and John can experience as they take the Club on from here.
I wish them, and all who have Albion in their hearts, every success as they endeavour to do so.