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INTERVIEW: Second part of our interview with businessman Andrew Lapping

26 April 2015

The second part of the official website interview with Andrew Lapping

In the second part of our interview with businessman Andrew Lapping we talked more about the restructure at board level, his motivation for seeking to invest in Carlisle United and his previous experience within the football industry north of the border at Motherwell.

Looking back at the distribution of shares within the Holdings Company, that’s all clear and understandable, both as it was and how it will be following the restructure. But what does it all mean to the minor shareholders who hold in the region of 7% of the shares in 1921 Ltd?

There’s no change for them. If anything I would argue we’re making their shareholding much stronger. The 93%, which is owned by the Holdings Company at the moment, has largely been driven and controlled by the Jenkins family. I’ve said all along that I think it’s unfair that the Jenkins family have had to bear that burden. It’s dangerous for all shareholders to be dependent on one individual. My strategy has been to deleverage the reliance on that one individual and make the club a more stable proposition going forward. With that in mind, if I was one of the 7% shareholders I’d be pleased with the course we are on at the moment, because we’re looking at a business which is going to be in a much more stable position.

In terms of key decisions – the obvious and best example to use is the removal and appointment of the first team manager – in the past the 1921 Ltd board has been heavily involved in that process, mostly because it is closely aligned with the Holdings Company board, as we speak. How will the restructure affect those key decision making processes going forward?

I see the Holdings Company board being more akin to a board of trustees which looks after the long term interests of the football franchise. They will take and make decisions which affect Brunton Park, Blue Yonder, fund raising and that kind of stuff. Underneath that the 1921 Ltd board, which will include the MD and the commercial manager, will be accountable to the Holdings Company board. If there is a change of personnel required on the playing side I would expect the MD of the 1921 Ltd board to make that recommendation. The Holdings Company board would then make a decision based on those recommendations and the advice we take. I see this as being a new structure with a lot of accountability at every level. That should mean we have drive and ambition across every area of the business as well. I definitely see this as the way forward because it’s no different to how other businesses run. There is a board of non-executive directors who are there to make the executive board accountable for their actions. 

It sounds like this will take up a fair chunk of your time, at least initially, but it comes across as something you’re really looking forward to getting your teeth into? 

The next few months will be busy, that’s correct, but once everything is in place the day to day running will be with the new executive team and their staff. There is a transition needed from old to new, but that’s been the case all along. We’re not looking for wholesale change just for the sake of it. The period of transition and succession will go forward from here, and I’m looking forward to getting it over the line and then taking a step or two back. 

Has it been a smoother or more difficult process than you expected? 

I do this for a living, so I know the kinds of things you can encounter, and you find with the football club there are some entrenched positions, largely borne out of the travails we’ve had over the last few years. There also tends to be more emotion involved with football than you find in other lines of business. It’s difficult to answer the question either way because there have been stumbles here and there but, having said that, I’m pleased with where we’ve got to. I’ve had to be patient because the real challenge was in getting everyone to sit round the table. I could see the current state of play really wasn’t sustainable and, to be fair to the United Trust, they put a lot of faith in me and in what I was saying. I can’t speak highly enough of their committee for the support and help they’ve given me. The current board of directors have also been very receptive to my thoughts and proposals throughout the process. As I say, the challenge was to bring all of the respective positions into one room and then get them to agree that we could actually find a way to move forward together. Looking back, I think that was achieved in a relatively short period of time, and particularly when you think about all of the troubles the club has had in the past. This is a new dawn and I’m very pleased that we’re here and ready to move it all on. 

What was the defining moment for you that made you go from a position of thinking about stepping in to help, to actually taking that step? 

I was in a board meeting in Midsomer Norton last May, in Somerset, and I decided to go to the Crawley match. I took the decision to get a taxi from Midsomer Norton to Crawley without doing the necessary research. I hadn’t realised the journey was about 200 miles. I set off at 3 o’clock in this taxi, had a bit of fun in the M25 traffic, and arrived at the ground 10 minutes before kick off. I was glad I made it. We had 229 Carlisle supporters there and they chanted for the full 90 minutes. The Crawley fans showed their appreciation for what our fans were doing, a bit like when Portsmouth came up here a few weeks ago, but there was an air of resignation when it was still 0-0 at full time. We knew we were going down but we were also proud that we’d been there and done our bit. I was staying at a fairly basic Bed and Breakfast and, as the implications of the relegation sank in, I started to think about the fact that this wasn’t where I wanted my football club to be. I sent a text to John Nixon to let him know I’d like to chat about possibly helping out ... and here we are. So, the Bed and Breakfast after the Crawley game appears to have been my seminal moment. It is something I’d thought about before, but the journey down there, the result to confirm our relegation, and subsequently spending a night in a grotty B&B brought it all to a tipping point. 

Have you had to ask yourself why you’ve decided to get involved at any point?

No, not all. Not once. Not even when we were looking at relegation again this season. I’ve been a Carlisle fan for 47 years now. It’s actually 47 years last week since I saw my first game. I’ve seen it all with this club since then. We’ve had amazing times and we’ve been to the depths of despair. Throughout all that I’ve never once questioned my support for this football club. I was born in Carlisle and I think that brings support of Carlisle United with it, almost by default. All my business colleagues know I’m a big fan and I don’t think I’ve ever questioned why that’s the case. I much prefer supporting my local side than chasing glory with Manchester United, or something like that. I do actually go to watch Arsenal matches because my daughter is a huge fan of them. She appreciates football at that level so we do go to watch a bit of quality football whenever she suggests it. 

Again, on the business side of it, has the experience you’ve had with Motherwell helped with this process?

Looking back at the Motherwell situation now, the mistakes which were made early on were largely because the thoughts of everyone at the club were that they could compete with Celtic and Rangers. That was a mistake which proved costly because of the money spent by the club as they tried to match the Old Firm. It ended up being money thrown down the drain. I was instrumental in putting the club into administration because it was chasing a dream which was never going to happen and losing money hand over foot along the way. Putting the club into admin, and working with Terry Butcher and the likes at the time, really showed me how to sort out and then successfully run a football club. It’s all about running it as a business. Post-administration that club has never looked back. They’ve competed at the highest levels in Europe and I think they’ve achieved that because they’ve sorted out their financial situation a lot earlier than the rest of the SPL clubs have. Hearts, Hibs, Dundee United and Kilmarnock, and clubs like that, tended to be dominated by one individual who continually had to put money in to keep them going. In some cases they were also involved in the chase to catch Celtic and Rangers. Looking at all of that it has convinced me that football clubs across the board cannot continue to rely on one individual. Motherwell couldn’t rely on John Boyle, Dundee United couldn’t rely on Eddie Thompson, Hearts couldn’t rely on the Lithuanians and Hibs couldn’t rely on Tom Farmer. I think Motherwell is a very similar club to Carlisle in its demographic and support base, and I think clubs like this need to be run on a community based basis, where you have shared responsibility between local businessmen and the fans. I’ve learned a lot from the Motherwell experience and it’s all been very positive. 

The third part of this interview will appear on the official website on Monday.

For part one of this interview, click HERE.

For part three of this interview, click HERE.

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