Birch ready for hard work ahead
Swansea City’s new chairman Trevor Birch is under no illusion that he has “a lot of work to do” at the Liberty Stadium to get the club back on track, but has vowed to remain “unfazed by the challenge ahead”.
The 61-year-old officially took up his position at the club’s helm yesterday with the Swans still trying to come to terms, on and off the field, with life outside the lucrative top-flight.
The successor to long-standing chairman, Huw Jenkins, Birch has been given complete day-to-day control of all football and business matters by majority owners Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien.
A highly experienced and well-respected executive, Birch, a former professional footballer and qualified chartered accountant, intends to use all his experience from chief executive roles at the likes of Chelsea, Everton, Leeds United, Sheffield United and Derby County to guide the Swans back on course.
“I know there is a lot of hard work to do, but I am unfazed by the challenge ahead,’’ declared Birch, who also carried out vital rebuilding roles at Portsmouth and Hearts.
“Life after the Premier League is never easy and Swansea is not alone in having to deal with the financial realities of relegation from the top flight. The history of Championship football is littered with clubs that have struggled to cope with the enormous drop in revenues between the two leagues. The latest Premier League media rights deal has made the chasm even bigger with the drop in revenue on relegation of around £70m.
“Even with relegation clauses in player contracts it is still incredibly difficult to balance the books without removing high earners from the payroll quickly. And, as we’ve seen all too often, that is not easy to do, especially when results aren’t going in your favour on the pitch.
“So, we must return to basics, deal with the legacy player contracts and review our off-field operations which after seven years in the Premier League obviously has grown to support the club in that endeavour.
"Unfortunately, our revenues will not support that cost base which has led the club to start a tough consultation process regarding current staffing levels. And it is tough because these people are the heart and soul of the club and, as in all the other clubs that have had to make economies on relegation, they are the ones that do suffer unduly as a result of the huge difficulties in balancing the playing staff budget quickly.
“We also have to get stability back with the stakeholder group as well as on the pitch, and I look forward to continuing to work with the Supporters' Trust to ensure we're all moving in the same direction. We have a much greater chance of success if we’re all working together.
“There is no hiding from the fact that it may take some time to take the necessary steps to re-balance the books and some hard decisions lie ahead, but we need to do it to ensure the long-term future of this proud football club and its loyal supporters.
“That’s the reason I am here. I have experienced some of the same challenges at other clubs, albeit each one had its own unique situation and characteristics, and I am ready for this new challenge.’’
While Birch initially built his reputation in the financial services sector as a senior partner with big-hitting industry leaders such as Ernst & Young, Deloitte, BDO International and Duff & Phelps, the fact that he also comes with a footballing background as a player (Shrewsbury and Chester) and a top executive was regarded as a huge bonus for the club.
"While I am a professional executive, at heart I'm a football man and a football supporter,’’ added Birch. “I think I understand and have empathy with what the traditions of a football club should be.
“I will not favour any one side of the boardroom. I will establish my own individual views of the different aspects and issues at the club – and I will always try and do the right thing to get things done.
“I have visited Swansea a number of times over the years to watch football and have always thought the supporters here were tremendous and created a very special atmosphere.
“It’s a club I have always looked upon with great respect and fondness; one with a strong belief in its culture and clear football philosophy – and one I wholeheartedly subscribe to.
“That philosophy should overarch all decisions we need to make, but also within a sound financial structure. And, from what I’ve seen under Graham (Potter) already this season, there is a real determination and commitment to achieve that on the pitch.
“In the past the club has achieved that. It was run lean and mean while also building a fantastic reputation for the football it played. In fact, what it achieved was amazing. It became a poster club for how to run a football club based on a rock-solid football philosophy.
“Unfortunately, it’s gone slightly awry in the last few years. So now, as has been said already, we need to press the reset button; return to that philosophy and start building on those foundations again.
“Football clubs, even the biggest of them, continually have to reinvent themselves. Football is a constant cycle of highs and lows - and now I want to help build Swansea City back up again.’’