In The Age (Melbourne) this morning there was an article on the new Aussie Swindon Town owner.
In the piece he states "The problem was the last regime had no interaction with the supporters. Over there, it’s quite important to get them onside"
He seems to understand the club and fan relationship, and is willing to personally interact with their fans.
It's early days for him, but if he keeps listening to the fans and gives good honest (do you know that word AL?) feed back I think he has a chance. He needs to have good people around him to make it work. Something I don't think AL did/has.
With our owner he has missed his chance (I am not sure he saw it), and just wants to go to war with the fans now.
Viva the revolution!
For anyone interested in the article, a copy of the article is below.
Clem Morfuni is used to starting things from scratch. Nearly 30 years ago, he was an apprentice plumber who built an empire from his bedroom in Sydney’s northern suburbs. It now turns over $200 million a year, employs 800 people and works with some of the world’s largest construction companies on major projects like hotels, hospitals, casinos and stadiums.
His next challenge neatly ties together his business expertise and his lifelong passion for football: taking the broken, empty shell of a once-proud club, one of the oldest in England, and making it whole again.
Little-known within Australia’s football community, Morfuni is now a hero in Swindon, a railway town nearly two hours’ drive west of London. Two months ago, the self-made tycoon became the owner of the city’s only football club, Swindon Town, which competes in England’s fourth tier and has been teetering on the brink of collapse.
He has just arrived home after spending the past few weeks there, attending to club affairs and attempting to win over a cynical fan base which had all but lost hope, having watched their team slowly become a laughing stock of the English game.
Morfuni immersed himself in the city: he pulled beers in the pub, drove around town in a mobile billboard truck promoting season ticket sales, played six-a-side football with supporters every Wednesday, and even padded up in the cricket nets next to the stadium and invited fans and media to bowl at him. Whatever it took to convince people he was the real deal.
“I’ve never known a chairman of any football club do this,” one Robins diehard told the BBC. “He’s just inspiring to everybody. We all love him.”
Morfuni acknowledges it’s a nice feeling to be loved, but is acutely aware of how quickly things can change in this sport. “Football’s quite fickle,” he laughed. “So I’ve got to make sure I do the right thing, and I will.
“The problem was the last regime had no interaction with the supporters. Over there, it’s quite important to get them onside. You know what the English are like - they’ve got this hierarchy, where we as Aussies, we don’t really care. We’ll talk to anybody.”
Morfuni has enjoyed keeping a low profile over the years, at home and abroad, but Swindon Town has finally blown his cover. He’s a warm but direct character with no airs and graces, who seems equally at home chatting to his team’s rank-and-file as he is rubbing shoulders with the so-called “prawn sandwich brigade”. He’s a season-ticket holder at Tottenham Hotspur and a regular face in corporate suites across the Premier League. He has lunched with Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers and takes counsel from Socceroos legends Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill, who are both intimately aware of how things work at the base of England’s professional pyramid.
“Once they found out I owned Swindon, they came out of the woodwork to find out what was going on,” he said. “I caught up with Harry a couple of times. He goes, ‘mate, it’s a roller coaster - you must be mad to buy into a football club’. I probably am, but I love the game. I understand the English and how ruthless they are. You’ve just got to be careful. There’s a lot of sharks over there. I keep saying to the English, there’s more sharks in the streets of London than the waters of Australia.”
Morfuni comes from humble beginnings, born and raised in Sydney to southern Italian parents. Obsessed with football from an early age, he followed Marconi and APIA Leichhardt in the old National Soccer League and is a big Sydney FC fan. He still plays, too.
His love for the sport crystallised when he flew to Germany in 2006 for the Socceroos’ historic World Cup campaign. The next year, he expanded his business to England, went to a few Premier League games, and realised he had a burning ambition to buy a club.
A client convinced Morfuni it would be simpler to sponsor a team through his company, Axis Plumbing. And so he did, putting his money behind Harrow Borough, a rustic non-league club. A few years later, he was introduced through a mutual friend to Lee Power, then-chairman of Swindon Town. Axis first became the club’s back-of-shirt sponsor, then bought a 15 per cent stake for Ј1.1 million ($2.08 million). For a while, Morfuni was a non-executive vice-chairman.
To cut a long story short, Power and Morfuni’s relationship deteriorated and a lengthy, complicated legal battle ensued over the ownership of the club. It went all the way to the High Court and was only recently resolved. Morfuni won full control, and has also earned the trust of the local council, supporters and the English Football League as the right man to take the Robins forward.
But by the time the takeover was complete, the club had no manager, no CEO, a mountain of debt, only six players on the books, a transfer embargo, no kit (because it hadn’t paid apparel suppliers Puma), no bus to transport the team to and from matches, hadn’t paid wages to players and staff for two months, and was still reeling from relegation from League One last season.
“It was an absolute mess,” Morfuni said. “But it didn’t worry me. I’ve been in business 27 years now, I get the business side of football.”
Founded in 1879, Swindon Town have never been regarded as a powerhouse, on or off the field. The club’s trophy cabinet is fairly spacious, containing four professional league titles and the 1969 League Cup. They reached the Premier League for the first time in 1993-94 under Glenn Hoddle but were swiftly relegated. Morfuni believes their rightful place is in the Championship - from there, who knows? - and sees opportunity for growth in the club’s geographical location, away from major rivals.
“I love the club. The supporters are really good, I’ll tell you that now. The club’s big enough but small enough, if that makes sense,” he said. “It’s a good size. It’s not a two-bob club. You’ve got Bristol 30 miles away, you’ve got Oxford and you’ve got Reading. There’s no other team around the place.”
Morfuni also wants Swindon Town to become the first port of call for Australian players seeking to break into Europe. It’s a model that has been pursued in the past - most notably by alleged fraudster Bill Papas at Greek club Xanthi FC - but no Australian has ever fully owned an English club before, so this is uncharted territory. Morfuni is planning for the Robins’ director of football Ben Chorley to visit Australia next year to assess the local talent.
“We’ve got so many good Aussie kids who want to play football but when they get to 17, it drops off the cliff, there’s nowhere to go,” he said. “Unless you go through the lower leagues you’re never going to get [straight] to the Premier League, I’ll tell you now. You’ve got a better chance getting into these lower leagues, learning the ropes, learning how it actually works in England because it’s a tough market.”
Morfuni has sponsored Australian teams in the past, including Sydney FC and NPL NSW sides Marconi and Mt Druitt Town Rangers.
“I do pump a lot of money into football here as well,” he said. “People are going to ask, why didn’t I buy an A-League club? I thought the opportunity to try and buy an English club is a lot better because when you go up the leagues, you can make a lot more money. If I get in the Championship I get Ј10 million ($18.9 million). The difference between here and there is you’re buying and selling players. If I buy a kid for 50 grand, I can go and sell him for a million quid, or two, or five. Then you get a sell-on clause on their contract.”
For now, Swindon Town’s short-term objective is simple: avoid relegation. Once stable, they can build. Morfuni does not appear to be in this for any reason other than his own love of football, and insists he’s strapped in for the ride just like every other supporter. He is very much living the dream.
“Something like that,” Morfuni said. “It’s hard work, it’s full on, it’s relentless. Is it good? Absolutely. But it does take its toll. My son’s probably suffered the most, my wife and my family, from me not being there and driving what I’ve tried to drive. But I’ve said this to the people at Swindon: you can do whatever you want. If we all work together, with drive and a passion, we can do anything. Take it from me.