Thoughts and issues regarding the past and present of a great football club by "The Chronicler".

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Chronicler's Chronicle - Part 4

Part 4: My Time as Club Historian

Everyone said that I had been handed a ‘Dream Job’. Well, there are two main kinds of dreams, and, unfortunately, this one somehow became something approaching a nightmare. After the progress made in 2007, it all turned (unnecessarily) sour.

Despite the not miniscule health hiccoughs encountered in the previous few months, my entry to the job was bouyed by enthusiasm to get finished the job that had been left over from the previous December, and also to promote the history of one of the greatest clubs in the country.

My enthusiasm was also due to the fact that I had been led to believe that the club was very happy to take me on board and not least (I had been told) to get my involvement in the development of the anticipated museum.

It was something of a surprise on first arriving, therefore, when Lee Preece (to whom I was reporting as my line manager), having given me a friendly “welcome”, said to me in deep seriousness: “I trust you will not cross me in your time here?” This utterance immediately seemed to draw a line between my previous state of consultant and my new position as employee.

I did not ask him what he meant by that, but simply reassured him his fears were not grounded; I was there to do a job and was not there for one-upmanship. But it did seem to infer that perhaps Lee had put his head on the block by arguing the case for recruiting me. That the senior management did not seem interested in my arrival (yet “heritage” is a brand value) further surprised me a little – even some colleagues thought that Randy Lerner should have seen me with regard to discussing his plans for the heritage.

Indeed, the very singular experience I had of meeting Randy Lerner was but an accidental and passing situation. A few weeks after my arrival, I happened to bump into Paul Faulkner and Randy as they were coming out of the lift in the North Stand. Paul muttered something into Randy’s ear, there was a brief handshake, and they were off. Even though they did not seem to be in a particular hurry, hardly a word had been spoken and there was no follow up to ‘the meeting’.

From these simple scenarios, it might be seen that matters were not as perhaps as ‘good’ as they should have been, despite pretences that had indicated otherwise. Further, there were a number of significant issues which had not been made clear when I joined the club and which led to misunderstandings and disagreement and, indeed, to my enforced and ill-conceived exit.

What constituted those issues I had intended to go into in detail in further chapters, but it would not have been elevating reading. And, following the occurrence of the huge tragedy in Japan, I am thinking that in the total scheme of things, “what’s the point?”; I hope that it does not become necessary to go into all that. Some, as it is, would accuse me of trying to win cheap brownie points on this matter, but that has been far from my real purpose.

The overriding matter is that the facts relating to my dismissal were heard by the Employment Tribunal and they came to an unequivocal conclusion in my favour. Not only that, but their findings were detailed and clear - there was no mere 'technical issue'. On Ian Robathan’s blog site I made a statement about the case and invited Villa to work in partnership relating to future historical projects. Instead, the club simply stated in the Birmingham Mail (in complete denial of the Tribunal’s decision and also my suggestion), "We stand by our decision to dismiss Mr Lerwill."

It could be that the club’s senior management may have had second thoughts and asked themselves what history has to do with roping in enough cash to pay the club’s bills. Perhaps also my vocal enthusiasm became a bit much for those not motivated by 60 years of support sometimes warmed only by a cup of Bovril. Perhaps there are other factions that have put their oar in.

The dismissal matter still has to go back to the tribunal for a financial award in my favour, and this will take place on the 28th. However, this has been a costly process for me and it remains to be seen how much nett benefit will come my way. In any case, the trauma to my wife and to myself as a result of this happening cannot be replaced by money.

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