A (sad) tale of one football club
As you have likely noticed, my absence on here has been… considerable. The reason is simple: having a full-time job required more of my time and energy than I thought it would. So, having just left my place of employment, I thought a summary of my time there, both as an excuse for not writing more and maybe a life lesson of sorts, was due.
First things first: I was lucky enough to find a job a) just two months after returning from London b) one really close to my ideal place of employment. Or so I thought at the time.
The puzzle looked to have fallen into place: a job at a football club, not just any, but capital-based and, let’s just say, at a top team. Mercifully, there are enough of those in Moscow, making it harder to nail down should someone decide to track me down and sue for disparaging a good reputation of a company (something I highly doubt anyone’s going to bother with). But I’ll keep the names out of this piece, just in case.
Admittedly, I didn’t quite land where I wanted to at first (commercial department and not PR/media), but this is a minor complaint in the grand scheme of things and not really relevant to the picture I’ll try to paint here. Plus, if anything, I should be grateful for having such a first place of employment on my CV and to certain people who made it possible. And make no mistake, I am thankful to a handful of individuals, just not all the people I have met during my time here.
I’ll go on and break the piece in large chunks for easier comprehension of some of the problems which I think are plaguing the club.
Delusions of grandeur
The club, famous and successful once, hasn’t been so much in the last 15 years or so. However, the assumption it has some kind of higher moral ground persisted, and not just among supporters. The staff, especially in the higher positions, thought, and still do, that just being decorated does the trick and gives them the right to snub other clubs’ experience for that reason alone.
While being snobbish is hardly nice, this directly harms work processes too. Other teams do good work in different fields, which should be acknowledged and adopted, in some cases, not frowned upon just because they are not us.
This has become a recurring theme and I think it has been present long before I joined. I can therefore totally understand why so many rivals’ fans hate both the club and everything connected with it and why they applaud every failure, of which there have been many inside the last 18 months alone.
Looking from the outside in, I thought I was joining a big company, at least in terms of manpower. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and just a couple of months in I had the broad strokes of a clearly unhealthy picture.
First thing I noticed was the number of people (myself included) who didn’t work on a contract here. Most had a ‘kind of’ contract which strictly speaking the legislation allows, but which is usually reserved not for office workers, but for contractors and the like. People who come in, do a specific job, get paid and leave. Office workers have a workplace and a set of duties they carry out every day and get paid at the end of the month.
The fact quite a bit of the workforce was made up of de jure contractors, but de facto office workers set the alarm bells ringing. Why, I hear you ask? Simples! A proper contract gets you job security, medical insurance and paid annual leave. A contractor is the direct opposite: easy to fire, no insurance, no leave. And I suspect fewer taxes for the company to pay, but I’m not entirely sure here.
And even with the ‘contractors’ the office was, and remains, severely understaffed. It’s not uncommon to have one person carrying a workload of two or three people. We have ONE graphic designer, for example, and it took her years to get an assistant on the outsource. We have ONE advertising guy. At a football club. When I quit the commercial department, my functions were split between three people.
Despite all that, no one seems in any particular hurry to hire further people or at least offer the contractors permanent terms. Or hell, even index the salaries annually, to make up for the inflation shortfall. The reason? Penny-pinching. And it’s so commonplace it deserves a separate entry.
The phrase “we don’t have the budget for that” has become a running gag here. But that’s because it’s mired in truth. A colleague of mine has been with the club for almost ten years. Does he have a contract? No.
We have recently seen a big staff overhaul, which started when a new CEO took over. In the space of a few short months tens of people left the club because the new policy was “saving where we can.” So, people were made redundant to save some money.
The idea is so absurd it’s laughable, for two reasons: no thought was given to what it is the fired people were doing and staff salaries are a drop in the ocean compared to the players’ monthly remuneration, for instance. It’s definitely not the biggest part of a football club’s budget.
But what we do have money for, apparently, are huge salaries of the people the new CEO and vice-president brought in. Instead of thinking about run-of-the-mill staffers, who we severely lack, however, he came in with a bunch of ‘higher management’ type of people. Those who’ll oversee work on comfy 6-digit numbers, but whose salaries have no correlation with the actual quality they bring. And that’s where the whole idea stops being funny and becomes downright hypocritical. Which brings me to my next point.
Quality is of no concern… at least not anymore
Working at the media department, I sat in the same room with people who, basically, represented the club on- and offline. Writing copy for the website, taking care of social network media channels, coming up with YouTube video ideas and bringing them to life, talking to the press, etc… A couple of recent events made me realise at least some of the people on their shiny new salaries actually care very little for the quality of the content, if at all.
One of my basic responsibilities was translating the main website into English. Recently I was asked to put an article there with mistakes in it. When I pointed out the mistakes, mistakes my superior added to my initial text, I was rudely asked to still put it on the website. For no good reason whatsoever than because it was HER text. And she couldn’t make any mistakes now, could she?
We have had, for months, a social media manager, who seems to make mistakes in posts on Twitter or Instagram on a daily basis. Aside from lacking the urgency needed to disseminate the content published on the website, he is massively error-prone and at times hard to reach if problems arise. Yet he’s still here and I suspect that’s because no one really cares to find someone better. It takes time and effort to talk to potential candidates. Why bother if there’s someone working already?
What is genuinely frightening is not just a high level of tolerance to frequent mistakes, but insistence on being right when you clearly aren’t – as shown by the case above. Strong people admit they can’t possibly know everything, they own up to mistakes. My superiors think they are infallible.
All the factors above have contributed to people leaving in packs. Some were fired, of course, but a lot left of their own accord – and that didn’t set off any alarms with the new management structure. No one cares. When I notified my superior, I’d be leaving two weeks in advance, he just nodded along and asked me where I’m going to work after. He wasn’t even bothered enough to ask me why I was leaving.
But that’s alright, for two reasons: I knew the second he stonewalled me I made the right decision and I also knew I can write about my reasons here. And, above all, leaving aside the incompetence of some, no thought as to the medium to long-term future and caring more about earning big than actually doing things for the common good, I’m disgusted with the attitude shown to the many employees, or former employees, here.
The way some of them were fired without compensation and had their office passes blocked the same day, how they were forced out in some cases (forced into writing off on their resignation of their own will) and the way no one gave a second thought what they were doing and who is going to do it in their absence, are all gut-wrenching.
I’m furious not because a lot of them I had good relations with, but rather because so many were competent and, almost always, necessary to ensure the club runs smoothly. Some worked here for 5-6 years, some for a decade or more. They were all treated like trash for doing little wrong, apart from “being there with the regime that failed”.
And I’m sad to leave some of my colleagues behind, exactly for the reasons described above: they are competent people, good-natured too in some cases, and I fear they will not survive much longer in such a poisonous environment. Because their superiors don’t view them as valuable assets, but rather as leftovers from the previous order, an order they try to distance themselves from, but which may ultimately turn out more successful than the current one.
Russian Gooner. No, it’s not always cold in my home country 🙂
A staunch Arsenal supporter since 2004. Started writing about the Gunners in 2013.
Currently in London to get a degree in journalism.