Wealthy Premier League owners have excelled in selfishness

Tottenham’s owner has a £100m yacht and lives as a tax exile in the Bahamas, while Mike Ashley has betrayed Newcastle’s charity foundation… they have excelled themselves in the selfish stakes by furloughing staff – and Liverpool’s U-turn came too late

  • Newcastle and Tottenham are among the top-flight clubs to furlough staff
  • Liverpool backtracked on their decision following fierce criticism from fans 
  • Clubs will call upon taxpayers’ money through government’s job scheme
  • Spurs and Newcastle both have billionaire owners who could easily foot the bill 
  • It shows they’re all morally bankrupt with personal profit their only concern 

John W. Henry. Joe Lewis. Mike Ashley. Three billionaire owners of Premier League football clubs. Yet, on the evidence of the past week, three men who would call by a foodbank to top up their weekly shop.

At least in the case of Henry he has decided against helping himself, even if he was chased back through the door amid a chorus of disapproval.

But in seeking to take advantage of the government’s coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the respective owners of Liverpool, Spurs and Newcastle have shamefully exposed the opportunistic and capitalist morals that, in all probability, made them very wealthy in the first place.

Few were surprised when Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley (left) announced his club would be the first in the Premier League to put non-playing staff on furlough 

Tottenham owner Joe Lewis (right) sits with chairman Daniel Levy – Spurs were the second of the Premier League clubs to announce the furloughing of non-playing staff

 Liverpool and their owner John W Henry have backtracked on their decision to furlough staff

And why have they done this? Well, because they can. It’s an open goal, so to speak. Free money. And that is their currency, quite literally.

Yes, it is meant for others – those in greater need – but why look a gift horse in the mouth? Better still to saddle up and ride straight to the bank.

Ashley and Newcastle were the pacesetters, Lewis and Spurs took their lead before Henry and Liverpool emerged in the final furlong – sorry, furlough – to take first prize in this year’s running of the Selfish Stakes.

The subsequent backlash against American businessman Henry and his Fenway Sports Group caused them to reverse their intention – for which they deserve some credit – but the horse had bolted when it comes to reputational damage.

The gates of Anfield are locked as the coronavirus pandemic brings football to a standstill 

Henry owns the reigning European champions alongside his partner in Fenway Sports Group, Tom Werner (right). The group also owns the Boston Red Sox baseball team


When an employee is placed on furlough they are temporarily put on a leave of absence and not paid, although they remain on the payroll, meaning that they do not lose their job.

This could be because there is no work for these employees, or that the company is not able to afford to pay them, because of the effects of the coronavirus crisis.

In the United Kingdom, the Government is offering to pay 80 per cent of a furloughed employee’s wages, up to £2,500 per month, until they are able to resume their job full time.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will last for at least three months from March 1.

It was estimated they would save £500,000 per month having initially announced that 200 non-playing staff were to be placed on furlough at the taxpayers’ expense. Remember, for a moment, that Henry is worth around £1.9billion and Liverpool announced profits of £42million just last month.

And what of Spurs? Lewis is said to own a yacht worth in excess of £100m. His personal fortune is around £4.3bn and he lives as a tax exile in the Bahamas. Spurs will be taking around £1.4m per month from the taxpayer to fund their furloughed employees.

Doesn’t sit right, does it? Not when these owners can comfortably afford to support their own staff through this crisis and – in doing so – avoid dipping their already-gilded gloves into the public purse.

Newcastle make much of the excellent work their charity foundation does in the community, much of it with foodbanks. However, the very values at the core of such initiatives – goodwill and generosity towards less fortunate others – have been betrayed by an owner’s act of self-interest.

It is worth noting that among Newcastle’s furloughed staff were the foundation workers who, the previous week, were delivering much-needed supplies to said foodbanks, one of which is the largest in the UK.

Spurs owner Lewis has an estimated personal fortune of £4.3bn and lives in the Bahamas 

The £100m+ superyacht, Aviva, owned by Lewis moored on the Thames in London in 2018

The billionaire’s 322-foot long yacht passes Tower Bridge on a visit to London in July 2018

Ashley will argue that his club runs to far tighter margins than the likes of Liverpool – and he is right – but he still had a decision to make. He could, in the short term at least, have funded the salaries of his non-playing staff and thus protected the government fund intended to preserve the fabric of a society that is in danger of being torn apart.

But, as in the case of Henry and Lewis and other billionaire owners who are no doubt considering a similar course, along came temptation and a window to exploit.

Liverpool felt the full force of their attempted cash grab this week. In asking us – the taxpayer – to help them, they miscalculated the cost of such a move on just about every level.

But perhaps it is that the only line a lot of these owners really care about is the one at the bottom of the balance sheet. In that regard, they will be a few quid better off at the end of the month. In the eyes of the rest of us, however, they are all the poorer for it.

Financially sound, yet morally bankrupt, you might say.

Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct retail empire will take a sizeable hit during the coronavirus crisis


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