Steve Parish takes a look at the Manchester City chairman
Distinguishing features Prosperous businessman, nice sober suits. Not exactly self-effacing, but knows how to keep a low profile.
Habitat Local lad from St Helens who moved with his family to London as a youngster. Accountant with real business sense, which has got him where he is. Chairman of Blacks Leisure Group and a couple of other companies, though he stood down last year as chairman of French Connection (City’s sponsorship deal with Eidos having scotched the rumour that City might have FCUK emblazoned on their shirts). Not a major shareholder of the club (less than one per cent of shares) and, with other non-executive directors, has only just started taking a fee for services rendered – a change that was revealed rather than announced at the last AGM. No one seemed to mind – the labourer is worthy of his hire and all that, and Bernstein expects his fellow directors not just to turn up and vote but to be a “very strong working board”.
What use is he? A City supporter since in the 1950s, he offered help on the financial side to the club during the Francis Lee era, and was instrumental in bringing in new finance from David Makin and John Wardle. When Lee finally took the metaphorical dive off the roof of the Kippax (as he promised if City were relegated) Bernstein was installed as chairman. No one shareholder has a majority, and there were no obvious rivals. The debts and losses are diminishing, and the deal for the new stadium with the City Council (who were desperate for a permanent user after the Commonwealth Games) is regarded as a bit of a coup. The financial world likes him and he cut the deal with Sky for them to buy a 9.95 per cent stake.
Who remembers his birthday? After Peter Swales (the wilderness years) and Francis Lee (paradise lost) the Bernstein era is Paradise Regained. The “Cups for Cock-Ups” feel has been dispelled (if not quite eradicated on the pitch) and City fans are almost unanimously complimentary, though he’s not quite acquired the saintly status of, say, a Jack Walker putting in his own millions. Communication is good, with a fans’ forum and fans’ committee (and their suggestions are often adopted). There is an air of approachability about the club – and if Bernstein is a charmer, it’s started to rub off on the rest of the club. Insiders talk of a “transformation”.
Quote unquote From the dark days: “We accept that it is a business first, but when the football goes wrong it makes it very difficult. We had a difficult inheritance and have not been helped on the playing side. When that improves, everything else will.” Events have not (yet) left that quote a hostage to fortune. Without going out on a limb as Lee did for Alan Ball, Bernstein has a high regard for Joe Royle: “As far as I’m concerned he can have whatever he wants. He has done a fantastic job in resurrecting this club.”
From WSC 168 February 2001. What was happening this month