THE CLIFF CROWN INTERVIEW-IN FULL

Cliff Crown has now been Chairman of Brentford  FC for five years. On the anniversary in June he tweeted that it had been an 'incredible journey' so far and he wrote of 'the progress we have made'. To mark the anniversary, Cliff answered questions from Bees United about player trading, who will sit where in the new stadium, whether Matthew Benham would ever sell part of the club and lots of other talking points. Thanks to BU Board member Greville Waterman for collating all our questions and to Cliff for answering them all head on.

 

 

 

Q

In your Chairman’s statement in the last set of accounts you said: 'while we maintain our aim of promotion to the Premier League, player trading remains an integral part of our business strategy’. Does a moment come when in order to improve the chances of promotion to the Premier League the club is prepared to forego trading its best players?

Or to put it a different way - bearing in mind that the club was close to break-even in the last financial year because of player trading, would the club be happy to settle for a stable position in the Championship rather than take the financial risk of keeping its best players to try to reach the Premiership.

 

 

A

The way you put the question suggests one has to choose between keeping the “best” players or getting to the Premier League.  Whereas I believe a well run football club will buy and sell players and increase its probability of reaching the Premier League.   Indeed, I think that is precisely what we have done every season since we came to the Championship.  I believe our player trading has, together with all the other improvements we have made ,overall, resulted in a stronger team with a higher chance of getting to the Premier League.  

 

 

Q

Given what has happened to Aston Villa’s finances and Birmingham City’s problems re FFP, is it arguable that from the buyers’ point of view, those high-priced investments purchased from Brentford have not worked. Might this realisation depress market prices in future.

 

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A

No – not at all.  I don’t accept the premise that those investments didn’t work for those clubs.  That suggests the clubs’ performances were down to those players.  We all know the performance of the whole team and coaches – and a healthy dose of luck – brings success.  And it also matters how you use the players and continue their training.  It is possible for good players to perform poorly if they are played out of position or in a system that doesn’t suit them to name but two examples.  In any event, we have sold plenty of other players to clubs which have gone on to be extremely successful.  The trend in football is that prices are still increasing and I don’t believe the performance of a few clubs that have spent a lot is going to change that.  

 

 

 

Q

The next questions arise from Matthew Benham’s interview with the Griffin Park Grapevine in which he said that his investment in the club was '106 million, of which 32 was on the new stadium’.He also said: ‘I’m pretty comfortable with it now to be honest. It’s pretty much at a peak, because we now have a lot more incoming flows from historic transfer deals. So when we get the instalments from them and the add-ons and sell-ons, and now the stadium is progressing, I’m comfortable that the bulk of the spending is now behind me’. 

He was then asked: 'So you’re not expecting to put in much more money? to which he replied 'Correct. Not much more than 106. But who knows if the right deal comes along’. 

When the stadium deal is completed what will his investment in the club be?  

 

A

That’s dependent on what happens in the current and next two transfer windows.     

 

 

Q

What kind of ‘right deal’ would encourage him to invest more than the current £106m? 

 

 

A

One that improves our chances of getting into the Premier League sufficiently to justify the spend.  What gamblers call a “value bet”. That does not just relate to buying players but any investment that provides an edge or we believe will help us to attain our goal. 

 

 

 

Q

Everybody at Brentford is delighted at the success of Danish Side FC Midtjylland which Matthew also owns and where you are also a board member. Are we right to assume that all the ups and downs of FC Midtjylland’s financial position go directly to Matthew’s bottom line and not to Brentford’s? Is there any direct or indirect benefit to Brentford from FCM’s success?

 

A

Yes- although to be fair since making the initial investment the club has become largely self funding. The main benefit to Brentford from FCM’s success is the collaboration and learnings which we can and do benefit from. You may also have noticed a few Danish players playing for Brentford which may not have happened without our knowledge of the Danish market gained in part from owning FCM. 

 

Q

What are the Board's views on potential minority investment bearing in mind the reported Chinese approach last season? Are we actively seeking outside investment?  

 

 

A

The success that Brentford has had over the last few years, together with our location in west London means we receive approaches from time to time.  I am sure many clubs do and it’s not clear how many of these approaches are serious. You ask what the Board’s view is on minority investment.  The Board is not seeking investment because it has no need to: we have an owner.  And it’s not for us to take a view on proposals people make since we would not be the ones selling shares.  I am sure Matthew will continue to be polite when investors come knocking but ultimately it is for him to make a decision about their proposals.  

 

Q

How does the club intend to keep fans informed and indeed excited about the build of our new stadium. Any news seems currently to be coming form an external source - The Brentford Drone. Is the club missing a trick here?

 

A

There is a significant amount of planning going on at the moment and we will be going full steam ahead in the near future. Watch this space!

 

Q

If you are currently a season-ticket holder in the middle of the Braemar Road or New Road stands  where is your equivalent seat in the new stadium if you don’t buy a premium seat, do you end up near a goal-line or even behind a goal? How can you maintain an excellent seat?

 

A

There is a process which we will follow that will ensure all season ticket holders will get the opportunity to buy seats in the new stadium. The longer you have been a season ticket holder the more likely you are to get a seat of your own choosing in the new stadium.  Also I would say that many fans currently have a restricted view in Griffin Park – in particular from behind pillars (including Matthew!). So I would argue that the vast majority of fans will have the opportunity of an improved view, even if not in exactly the same area of the stadium they currently sit (or stand) in.   

 

Q

Will the Club feel the investment in LR is still justified if we spend another five years in the second tier or are even relegated back to the third tier? Does LR and indeed the club only become sustainable in The Premier League?

 

A

We hope so but only time will tell!  If we are able to sell out most of the premium seats and secure average gates significantly in excess of the current figure of 10300 then the investment in the new stadium will be considered to be a success. Commercial success including that which will inevitably arise out of the new stadium will enhance our ability to be sustainable outside the Premier League but given the trend in player prices and our ability to be successful in trading I expect that will contribute to our sustainability. 

 

Q

Can you provide any more information about the Premium Seats, the facilities available, where they will be situated, how they will be sold?

 

A

There will be approximately 2900 premium seat packages available, all in the South Stand. The packages will  include access to lounges and a choice of food and beverage options, ranging from sit down meals to buffet style finger foods and will naturally cover a range of prices. Sales planning is in its final stages and we’ll be selling all of our Premium seats in person via a dedicated reservation centre ( which will also support sale of season tickets). These packages will be offered initially to Brentford fans and current commercial partners, those who have expressed an interest and then targeted at local businesses in our catchment area as well as both national and international companies.  

 

 Q

How do you feel the role of BU in the club's history should be recognised in the new stadium?

 

A

The Club will be happy to recognise the important part played by BU in our history. We will liaise with BU to find the most appropriate way to do this. 

 

Q

How can BU help as we move ever nearer to the new stadium?

 

A

Encourage all BU members who are not currently STH to buy season tickets at Griffin Park, and ultimately in the new stadium. And if any of them are managers of their own businesses or budget holders for marketing / entertainment spends in companies where they work, to encourage them to look into buying premium seats in the new ground.   We believe we will be offering great football and a really good day out to compete with any alternative form of entertainment in the area.

 

Q

Can you detail the thinking behind the pop up shops and refreshments booths and the lack of a stadium store?

 

A

Not having a shop in the stadium is largely down to lack of space. It’s a very tight site and we have to make it work for us. The shop has historically not made much money and so utilizing the space that might have been set aside for a shop for something like the provision of more premium seats that we are confident we can sell makes good business sense. Fans will still be able to buy everything they want on a match day or online.  I tend to think the best place for a 7 day a week retail store is in a high street but if a store makes good business sense there’s nothing to stop us bidding for the retail space around the stadium.  

 

Q

Will the away section be flexible in size both up and down according to the size of both home and away support?

 

A

Yes – it will range between a minimum of 847 increasing in increments to a maximum of  2500 when the need arises. 

 

Q

Will there be a priority scheme put into place in terms of long term supporters choosing their seats?

 

A

Yes- details to be announced in the near future.

 

Q

How can we ensure that the "feel" and homeliness of the club is not lost and that the role of the numerous selfless volunteer supporters is maintained and recognised at LR?

 

A

It’s a huge challenge but one we are fully aware of. The greeting that fans get will not change. The hospitality, warmth care and attention shown by our stewards will not change. The infrastructure will and that of itself may change the ‘feel’ but that will manifest itself in the physical feel only!  As to the work volunteers have helped us with, and continue to help us with, we are open to suggestions as to how they can be recognised. It is a huge part of what makes us Brentford and we cannot afford to lose those historic connections. 

 

Q

What are your thoughts about our prospects for the coming season and are we still "under the radar" or is the secret out?

 

A

I am very optimistic about the coming season.  Our success over the last three seasons in proving that our first year back in the Championship was no flash in the pan, coupled with our success in the transfer market means we are more visible. 

 

We believe we are establishing a reputation for being the club to come to if you are young and want to develop your talent in a club that play good football and are focused on helping you improve as an individual both on and off the field.  If that is how we are perceived then yes we are no longer under the radar and the secret has been out for some time!  Maybe some clubs still feel like it’s little old Brentford and are maybe just waiting for us to come unstuck but we’ll show them!