TSLR fans will have seen that we included an exclusive extract from Dick Knight’s new biography in the hard copy version of TSLR last month. When we printed that extract - ahead of any other publication, incidentally, some of them even professional outfits - shouts of ‘scoop’ were reverberating around TSLR Towers for the first time in six seasons (well, apart from when we won the race to interview Tony Meola back in 2010). The extract in TSLR053 was a fascinating read, as is the rest of Mad Man, which you won’t be able to purchase through the official club shop any time soon, but more on that later.
Of course, when we published the extract, we were unaware of the announcement that Dick Knight would make shortly thereafter: that he is offering his stake in the Albion by selling shares for a nominal £1 to fans worthy enough (ie, ones who purchase his biography). That story was actually broken by the Argus, who scooped us! This ‘Dick selling his shares’ part of the story has been widely examined elsewhere, not least on our own website. And we’ll certainly be looking to purchase some. But that’s not where our ‘scoop’ ends...
To ensure that we could secure the extract in the latest issue, we spoke to a lot of people in and around Dick Knight’s magic circle. The other Monday, Albion director Derek Chapman wrote an article about recent revelations in one of the newspapers who failed to secure the exclusive first extract of Dick’s new book. Now, I've always had a pretty impeccable opinion of Chapman but he opened his opinion piece by stating that he has been away working in Qatar in what is effectively his own biography (the article’s almost 2,000 words, FFSMurray). Now what would a construction man be doing working in Qatar? Not building World Cup stadia we hope. Chapman makes some very valid points, most notably in asserting that ‘we all know what Dick has been doing in the past few weeks. He is one of life’s great salesmen. And now he is trying to sell his book’.
Chapman is right to pour scorn on Dick Knight’s PR machine that has been in motion since the former life President’s appearance in the away end at Doncaster last month. And he’s right to be disparaging about a man who stayed silent whilst spending most of the last few years sunning himself in Marbella or some other Spanish expatriate utopia. Remember, last summer, when Knight suddenly reappeared in the Argus to moan about Paul Barber and Tony Bloom? A cynic would claim that to be the moment Dick began his biography selling marketing plans.
But does being cynical over Knight’s salesman technique allow Chapman to write what he wants in the Argus? Probably not. You see, the other Monday Chapman stated that: “It’s important to set the record straight on some of the things I've read and heard this past weekend: the club was not allowed to see the book in advance; neither the club nor its other shareholders were aware of Dick’s plan to sell his shares before last Wednesday’s Argus article; the club was not asked to stage a launch for the book at the Amex; and the club has never been contacted about stocking Dick’s book in its stores. But, then again, maybe we should not allow such facts to get in the way of another good story!”
Chapman correctly states that the club was not allowed to see the book in advance, but that was allegedly - sources tell us - in part due to the club being so concerned over the book’s content (especially the last couple of post Falmer construction chapters in which they expected some Bloom bashing) following Knight’s comments made about board members in the summer. Chapman is also correct to assert that fellow shareholders should have been told about Knight’s plan to sell his shares before offering them to supporters. But that’s almost beside the point - as our financial expert told us, the shares are next to worthless and the big hearted effect of offering part of the club to fans is something that will ensure there is enough love from Albionites to convince them to purchase a copy of the biography.
Now this is where Mr Derek Leonard Chapman either knowingly lied, or is about as much in the loop of the inner workings of the Albion as Knight himself - TSLR sources have told us something quite different to Chapman’s version. An event was discussed between Dick and an unnamed club representative with the latter claiming that the club would launch the book at the Amex, but only on the basis the club were allowed to see a copy first. The club was therefore contacted (more than once) about stocking the book in the club shop but pettily refused because they weren't allowed an advance copy. The decision not to sell the book in the club shop is a baffling one. Even if the club is concerned by the content (they weren't allowed to read the book in advance of publication but could have done so quite easily by now), Albion fans won’t shun the book simply because it’s not stocked in the official club shop. Far from it. It all means that the club won’t make the money they would have done by stocking what will be the best selling Albion related book in the lead up to Christmas. Our insiders estimate that to be costing the club £10k for every 1,000 books sold.
|For sale? The Albion's soon to be lost town centre shop, but not Knight's book|
Chapman is also correct to state that it was a bit out of order on Tony Bloom who, by 2009, was almost entirely funding the Albion - still, then, stuck playing at Withers and clearly losing a lot of cash - yet was making minimal decisions in the day to day running of the club because of Dick’s continued control. There is no doubt that Chapman, amongst others, had little time for what they regarded as Knight’s megalomania, especially as Dick became less of a benefactor as his tenure drew to a close.
Don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for Chapman, who also used the article to claim to have given the Albion £1.5m over the years (not a bad bit of Derek Chapman PR either - he must have taken some advice from Knight. Or Barber). This is an excessively brilliant amount of money, and about £1.5m more than TSLR and TSLRites have given - or will give to - the club over the years. And Chapman claims to have never made money out of the construction of both Falmer and the new training ground (and only a small profit for his firm at Withers), which is very honourable indeed, especially for a developer. But even then, we only have Chapman’s insistence that he gave so much money to the club. And if his story about stocking the book is cloudy, then I’ll leave you to think about that.
Ultimately though, in the traditional national media - after a summer of Albion discontent through the Poyet and defecation incidents - the only coverage we’re getting at the moment is more derision, and it doesn’t get more derisory than when it’s from the Daily Mail. Does it matter? Who knows. Possibly. In terms of building a global and successful brand then perhaps, but do we as supporters really want that anyway? I know my stomach turns at the mention of the club being a brand.
Chapman epitomises those on the Albion board who ultimately helped save the club in its darkest day, yet feel they haven’t had any credit for it. I mean, it’s an easy position to take - if I spend £5 on someone’s lunch at work, I expect some credit for it. But when the club have decided to pass up on a load of money by not stocking the book, then telling alleged little blue and white lies - Knight himself took to the Argus this Monday to sell his book, I mean, refute the allegations. It's only going to stoke the fires of interest, and sell more books that the Albion are not taking a cut from. Let’s face it, if the club were to make money through the selling of a load of books, we could help pay towards Leroy Lita’s wages - or at least his weekly Ocado bill.
Overall, it’s an odd response from the club - a dignified silence may have been better received so should we question Barber, the ex-head of global PR at Ogilvy & Mather? Or is this all part of the plan? And if it is part of a plan, what plan? What is the club trying to achieve here?
And one last thought, wouldn’t it be great if Chapman said those simply because he wants his old mucker Dick to sell more books? Chapman does indeed use the end of his Argus jottings to admit that his involvement will only stir things further: “I suppose allowing what might look like a little spat with the club to go unchecked, while it further increases media and public interest in the book, certainly doesn’t hurt sales either!” Probably not, but when you’re dealing with public relations people…