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Deadly Doug by Doug Ellis

Release date: 27th November, 2005
Publisher: Blake Publishing

List Price: £17.99
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A little over a decade ago, only the most committed football supporters knew the names of club chairmen other than their own.

Sure, there were wannabe owners such as Michael Knighton who famously strode onto the Old Trafford pitch in a Manchester United kit and played keepy-uppy all the way to the Stretford End before lashing the ball into the back of the net. The fans loved it, but Knighton's only problem was that he didn't have the cash with which to buy the club.

Then, of course, there were more established chairmen who appeared to have been there for centuries, people like Peter Hill-Wood at Arsenal and Bob Lord at Burnley, yet although their names were known, less than 1% of football supporters would recognise them in the street.

As with most things associated with the beautiful game, Sky changed everything. Today, most supporters can not only name, but identify chairmen at clubs as far apart as Newcastle and Portsmouth, together with everyone in between.

Doug Ellis, who has been at the helm at Aston Villa since 1968, has witnessed this period of colossal change first-hand, although it came as a surprise to your reviewer to learn that he had previously been a director at Birmingham City for three years. Ellis is the archetypal self-made man, a travel agent who built an enormously successful business while retaining a passion for football - he alternated between visiting Villa Park and St Andrews each Saturday afternoon when he finished work, but eventually ended up as chairman at what was a run-down Aston Villa.

His description of his first day in his new role gives an indication of what has since been achieved at Villa Park: "Window frames were rotting, large areas of what should have been valuable space were unused and in decay, the smell of failure and imminent financial ruin hung in the air÷When I opened the door of the directors' guests' tea room, the doorknob came off in my hand."

Ellis arrived at a club with total assets, including the ground, of £203,770, a massive overdraft and piles of unpaid bills. Today, he insists on seeing every cheque that leaves the stadium, a wise move given that Villa's wage bill now amounts to £75,000 a day! Little wonder that former Villa star and Sky pundit Andy Gray insists in his foreword that Ellis's greatest achievement has been maintaining the club's solvency.

'Deadly' has become renowned within the game for several reasons, not least of which is his apparent parsimony, but as he rightly points out, there is little use in spending money you do not have. Would that other club chairmen heeded such a simple lesson.

His track record with managers has contributed to his notoriety (he is currently on his thirteenth) and the book is packed with amusing and 'set-the-record-straight' anecdotes - inevitable, given that Tommy Docherty and Ron Atkinson have been among his highest-profile employees - as well as well-placed digs at earlier incumbents of the managerial chair. Yet as the man says, "The so-called 'deadly' reputation of mine doesn't seem to put big names off when there is an attractive vacancy on offer."

It's a fair point, one which suggests that as he is vehemently opposed to retirement, Doug Ellis is one chairman who will be around for a few more years yet. He continues to annoy some Villa supporters; others love him, but of course, everyone knows him.

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