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Craziest Club Chairmen


Ideally, when operating in such a volatile business environment as professional sport, you want a safe hand on the tiller, one with a long-term plan to guide your beloved club through the ups-and-downs - to remain positive when times are tough, and to not get carried away when things go wrong.

Unfortunately, as Mick Jagger once stated, you don't always get what you want - and sometimes you're lumbered with a total lunatic, intent on indulging their every whim and desire, using the club as their own personal plaything. At least it's entertaining. As Cardiff's Vincent Tan and Hull City's Assem Allam carry on the noble tradition of insane club owners, we look at the top 10 craziest club chairmen.


Ken Richardson (Doncaster Rovers)

In terms of pure criminality, few come close to Ken Richardson. In 1996, following the decision of the local council to deny permission for his plans for a new stadium, the Doncaster owner employed two local criminals to burn down the club's existing ground, the Belle Vue stadium, in order to claim the insurance payout, then sell the land to property developers. Unfortunately - as if it wasn't suspicious enough already - one of the two arsonists left their mobile phone at the scene. South Yorkshire police joined the dots and Richardson was eventually sentenced to four years in prison, but not before running the club into the ground, appointing a manager whose previous job was a lottery salesman at Stockport and relegating the club out of the football league with 34 defeats out of 46 games and a goal difference of -93. Detectives, brilliantly, described him as "the type that would trample a two-year-old child to pick up a 2p bit".


George Reynolds (Darlington)

Another criminal chairman - literally - was the multi-talented smuggler, burglar and safe cracker George Reynolds, who had already been in prison twice before taking control of Darlington. With the club in the 4th tier of English football, George made unsuccessful bids for Paul Gascoigne and Faustino Asprilla, before naturally deciding that what was needed was a 25,000-seater stadium named after himself. Unfortunately, sometimes if you build it, they don't come: the move bankrupted the club, sent them into administration, and George was sent to prison for a third time for tax evasion and money-laundering.


Luciano Gaucci (Perugia)

It's not just the English game that has seen its fair share of crazed club owners; Italy has some serious form in the department too, starting with Luciano Gaucci at Perugia. Amongst many stunts that he tried to pull were signing Colonel Gadaffi's son Saadi (pictured, above) - who failed to play a game, then tested positive for banned substances - attempting to sign the captain of the Swedish women's team, cancelling a signing upon hearing that he was rumoured to be gay, and sacking Ahn Jung-Hwan after the striker had the temerity to score in the 2002 World Cup for his country, South Korea, against Italy. Perugia went bankrupt in 2005, whereupon the Italian authorities started an inquiry into his business affairs: he prompted hid for four years in the Dominican Republic before returning to Italy in 2009 and receiving a suspended three-year jail sentence for tax fraud.


Freddy Shepherd (Newcastle United)

After initially having success working with Newcastle owner Sir John Hall, including helping to bring Alan Shearer to the club for a then world-record fee, things went wrong when Hall moved to Spain and left the day-to-day running in the hands of Shepherd and his son Douglas. A 1998 sting by the News of The World saw the "Fake Sheikh" Mazher Mahmood, posing as an investor, meet with them in a brothel, where they described female fans as "dogs", laughed at supporters for spending money on over-priced merchandise and insulted the legendary Shearer, describing him as the "Mary Poppins of football". After initially refusing to resign, the pair eventually did, but just ten months later they voted themselves back on to the board. As if this wasn't enough, in 2004 he fired Sir Bobby Robson - another club legend - just four games into what was planned to be his final season, denying him the chance to exit football in the way he wanted. A class act all round.


Vincent Tan (Cardiff City)

Malaysian businessman Tan arrived at Cardiff City in 2010, before becoming fully involved at the start of 2012, promising to wipe out the club's debts and spend money taking the Bluebirds to the Premier League but at a price: the changing of the club's crest and colours from blue, to the supposedly 'luckier' red. He sacked the popular Malky McKay (although recent revelations suggest there may have been a good reason), he's booed his own team and consistently been on the wrong side of supporters. After Ole Gunnar Solskjær's ill-fated reign, it now looks like he's taking a chance on Leyton Orient's Russell Slade, who's never managed above the third tier of English football. Will it be a wise appointment, or total folly? Time will tell.


Michael Knighton (Carlisle United)

A famous figure in English football, Knighton will perhaps be best remembered for not being the chairman of Manchester United. Having lined up a £20m deal to buy the club from Martin Edwards in 1989, he even went as far as going on the pitch at Old Trafford in full United kit to perform keepy-uppies. To the huge embarrassment of both parties, the deal collapsed, and he had to watch the club become the most profitable in the world through the 90s and 00s. Undeterred, he took over lowly Carlisle United instead, promising a return to the top division. After some initial success, the club yo-yo'd between the 3rd and 4th tiers before Knighton made himself manager in 1997 and bravely guided the team to relegation. He finally ended his reign as chairman in 2002 after the club filed for voluntary administration and John Courtenay took over. And to think that United fans think it's bad now - count your lucky stars...


Gigi Becali (Steaua Bucureşti)

One of the richest men in Romania, earning his fortune from a decidedly dodgy deal with the Romanian Army, he took control of the country's main team, Steaua Bucureşti, in 2003 and used his fortune to fund the team - although he finally saw justice last year, being sentenced to three years in jail. His time in charge has been constantly overshadowed by his outbursts, with women, Roma, the gay community and other minority groups being on the receiving end of offensive comments. He has called Baptists "satanic", described one coach as being "too Muslim" and has averaged nearly two managers a season over the decade he has been in charge. One slightly lighter story was that he commissioned a painting inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper, but with himself as Jesus, surrounded by Steaua players. He denies this, saying that an admirer gave it to him. Of course they did, Gigi, of course they did...


Jesús Gil (Atletico Madrid)

Quite possibly the daddy of all crazy chairmen, Jesus Gil's reign of terror included a litany of 'highlights'. Taking over as president of Atlético Madrid in 1987, he shut down their youth academy in 1992, with all the players departing - including a certain 15-year-old Raúl who went on to become an all-time legend at their city rivals Real. Between 1988 and 1994, the club got through 12 coaches as he maintained an iron, autocratic grip on proceedings at the club. When they finally won the league in 1996, he rode around the pitch on an elephant. He was also a politician, and displayed all the skills of a UKIP candidate when, in 1997, he referred to Ajax - who had several players of Surinamese origin - as FC Congo. In 2002 he was banned from holding public office for 28 years, forced to stand down as mayor of Marbella and briefly imprisoned. Two years later he died, and the club returned to a more normal existence. Still, his methods were always clear when it came to football: "I'm the one who pays," Gil stated, "so I do what I like. The coach should train the players well, and explain their tactics on the blackboard. I'll do the rest."


Assem Allam (Hull City)

Far from the worst offender on this list, nonetheless Assem Allam has shown enough early, controlling tendencies to suggest he has a promising future in the crazy stakes. Buying Hull City in 2010 with his vast wealth, he saw them gain promotion to the Premier League in 2013. Then he dropped the bombshell that the club would be changing its 109-year-old name and rebranding to Hull Tigers, in order to capitalise on the international market. He stated "'Hull City' is irrelevant...it is common. I want the club to be special. It is about identity. 'City' is a lousy identity. 'Hull City Association Football Club' is so long." Naturally, fans thought very differently, with one group opposed to the change calling themselves "City Till We Die". With characteristic diplomacy, Allam responded by saying that those supporters "can die as soon as they want, as long as they leave the club for the majority who just want to watch good football." How charming.


Sam Hammam (Wimbledon/Cardiff City)

Appropriately enough, Hamman made his name as chairman of Wimbledon during the 90s, when they were affectionately known as 'The Crazy Gang' - and not just for the antics of the players. He promised to buy striker Dean Holdsworth a camel if he scored over 20 goals, he locked Robbie Earl in a dressing room, refusing to let him out until he'd signed for the Dons, and then, just like our good friend Jesús Gil, he paraded elephants around the pitch at their Selhurst Park ground - Croydon being pretty similar to Africa. He then took over at Cardiff in 2000 (those fans have really had to put up with a lot) and regularly made players eat sheep's testicles prior to signing with the club. He also tried to change Cardiff's name to The Cardiff Celts, but wisely backed down. His best quote was saying that Cardiff played 'orgy football': "The other team know they’re going to get it, but they don’t know from whom or where from." Incredible.


(Images: Wikicommons/Rex/Getty)



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