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My love of Tottenham Hotspur, the north London football club better known in our household as “The Mighty Spurs”, can only be described as irrational.
The team is one of the most exasperating in the UK Premier League, routinely throwing away two-goal leads, seemingly firing talented managers on a whim and selling star players in favour of questionable replacements.
Why put up with such a club?
Perhaps because one of my earliest memories is seeing the Spurs victory bus when Tottenham won the FA Cup in 1991, the last time our players have lifted that trophy.
My first trip to a match at the White Hart Lane stadium was equally memorable: aged four, with my dad and about 35,000 other fans, we were temporarily evacuated before the game due to an IRA bomb scare. True to form, we lost the match, a League Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest, by two goals to one.
Since then I have developed a large network of Spurs-supporting friends, relatives and colleagues who understand the highs and lows of backing such a volatile club.
Many spend hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds on tickets to games each year (season tickets cost up to £1,895), in the hope that Spurs will finally secure some silverware or a Champion’s League place.
Their optimism about the club’s chances often borders on the delusional, but they become a lot more rational when discussing its financial position.
Two Tottenham supporters admitted they bought Spurs shares several years ago, but had their fingers burnt when the club delisted from the Alternative Investment Market in 2012. They bought the shares for sentimental reasons, in the hope of being invited to annual meetings or having a say in club strategy and potentially making a profit. None of the above happened.
When the club pulled out of Aim, small shareholders were presented with a choice of either selling their shares at a low price (40p each), or attempting to sell their holdings at a later date through a complicated trading mechanism.
Small shareholders in many other Premiership sides have similarly seen their clubs exit the stock market in recent years, including Aston Villa (2006), Charlton Athletic (2006) and Newcastle United (2007), as well as Scottish club Rangers in April this year.
Darius McDermott, managing director of Chelsea Financial Services, the fund research company, believes football enthusiasts should treat investing in the industry with extreme caution.
“Investment in sport is passion first, profit later,” says the Chelsea FC fan. “You can make money, but few do it consistently and there have generally been more losers than winners.”
Yet there are signs that football clubs are finally better managing their finances. In the 2013-14 season, for example, the collective pre-tax profits registered by Premier League clubs were positive for the first time in 15 years, according to recent Deloitte research. The consultancy described the £187m of pre-tax profits, largely the result of lucrative broadcasting deals, as a “landmark turning point”.
Yet it is hard to feel confident about investing in football. Several football-focused funds have been launched, but none has been successful. The most recent was co-launched in 2014 by Terry Venables, the former England manager, which was targeting a 12 per cent annual return. Cavendish Asset Management, the company running the fund from the Caribbean tax haven of Anguilla, had its license revoked by the local regulator just one month after the fund opened to investors.
The share price performance of the teams that remain publicly traded is also very mixed. Italian club Juventus, listed on the Borsa Italiana, has seen its share price more than halve over the past five years to €0.27, while rival team AS Roma’s has dropped by nearly a third to €0.65.
By contrast the share price of Germany’s Borussia Dortmund has nearly quadrupled to €4.06 over the same period, while Manchester United’s share price has risen by nearly a third to $18 since it listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2012.
Several renowned fund managers, including Crispin Odey, the hedge fund mogul, and Nick Train, Finsbury Growth and Income Trust manager, have taken big stakes in some of these teams, but McDermott remains sceptical about the benefits. “Some [football] stocks have had good periods, but it is very cyclical,” he says.
I’m tempted to agree. Being a Spurs fan is stressful enough, without worrying about my team’s stock market performance as well. If I am drawn to bet on the game, I will just spend the occasional £5 at Ladbrokes.
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