As the football season gets set to enter its final stages, the serious business, both competitive and financial, is now kicking off for the top contenders at the summit of British football.
The many millions of pounds on offer to successful clubs through prize money, endorsements, sponsorship, brand awareness, merchandising and, of course, television money, has never been greater, raising the pressure and stakes for all individuals involved in football.
Unfortunately, this point was brought home to Liverpool football club in cruel fashion at the end of last October, when team manager Gerard Houllier was suddenly taken ill with heart problems during a half-time team talk.
Amazingly, however, Houllier has increasingly become involved in the club again in recent weeks. He is set to return to the club full-time, hopefully in a matter of weeks, to drive the team as it looks to add the Premiership and Champions League titles to the five trophies Liverpool have won in the last 12 months.
Despite Manchester United’s dominance during the nineties, Liverpool is the most successful football club in Britain. It has won the league championship 18 times, (although not since the formation of the Premiership), the European Cup four times (pre-Champions League), the FA Cup six times, the League Cup six times, and so the list goes on. But amid the amazing highs, the club has also been beset by deep lows, including the Heysel and Hillsborough tragedies which left fans dead – and a never to be forgotten sense of hurt.
But it is perhaps through adversity that Liverpool has never lost its sense of community, humour and atmosphere despite football finances being far removed from the average supporter.
It is this spirit of community on the terraces that emanates from every corner of Anfield, the home of Liverpool, which particularly thrills Rick Parry, a locally raised, unashamed fan, former chartered accountant and now club chief executive.
‘We’ve worked hard to retain our community spirit and not become detached,’ he says. ‘This can be demonstrated by the fact, that unlike some of our rivals, we are privately owned, not a plc.’
Arguably one of the most famous and quoted consultants in Britain, the youthful 46-year-old exudes calm authority, yet has retained an affable and modest demeanour.
The twinkle in the eye and the boyish enthusiasm and passion for his club and job do not remain under the surface for long however.
In his three-and-a-half years as chief executive, Parry has seen the club make great strides to regain its position at football’s head table. Aside from the five trophies won in that time, he has set and seen a four-year plan come into being with manager Gerard Houllier, described as ‘the boss’ by Parry.
He reveals: ‘We drew up a plan, with the aim of reaching the (lucrative) Champions League by the end of that period. In fact we have managed to achieve that target a year early.’
So where does the club go from here?
Parry is pleased with achievements so far, but adds: ‘The aim for everyone here is to win the Premier League and Champions League, we have a good chance this year of doing very well.’
A married father of three, Parry completed his mathematics degree at the nearby University of Liverpool, before joining Arthur Young McClelland Moores in the city as a trainee chartered accountant in 1976. He qualified there three years later.
He then spent a number of years in the leisure industry as a financial controller, before rejoining his former firm, by then known as Arthur Young (later to become Ernst & Young) in 1983 as a management consultant.
His impressive CV shows that he prepared Manchester’s bid for the 1992 Olympic games in 1985 and later advised the Birmingham Olympic Games council on financial matters. ‘My time at the firm was invaluable, and it allowed me to work in the sectors I love: the leisure and sports industries,’ he adds.
In 1991, Parry was recruited from E&Y to become chief executive of the Premier League, a position he held for six years. It was during this spell that Parry has made the biggest impression on the world of sport.
Developing the premier league
He oversaw the development of the Premier League as it is today, and negotiated a deal that shook football to its foundations. Parry brokered a deal, which eventually went to BSkyB and the BBC for a then record £214m over five years.
This deal can not be underestimated as the whole game was revolutionised.
Massive investment began to be pumped into stadia, attendances began to soar, and major international stars began to be attracted to the UK.
During his last 12 months in the role, his negotiating magic came up trumps again, after he managed to clinch another record television deal – after accepting a £700m package, again with BSkyB and the BBC for broadcasting rights.
‘I’ve never really get a chance to think about it,’ he says. ‘I rarely have time on my hands to do so. I suppose it is something I will look back on proudly when I retire, but not too much until then,’ he adds in his typically modest way.
Instead, Parry prefers to concentrate – when possible – on taking in the strides the club has made over the last few seasons, in terms of both on and off-pitch success.
‘When we had that magical three months when we won three cups, everything was moving so fast with the amount of travelling the whole team was doing and the number of games coming in quick succession, and it meant that we didn’t have a chance to fully appreciate the magnitude of what we had done at the time.’
Parry’s has continued to flex his commercial muscles at Liverpool, where he sold a 10% share of the club for £20m. As part of the deal to give the club cash to invest in players, Granada, has also embarked on ways to further boost the club’s branding through channels such as the internet and pay-per-view television.
‘We are determined to retain our sense of community, but must not lose sight of the massive commercial opportunities for a club this size, and so we shall continue to explore the possibilities,’ he adds.
A winner off the pitch
So, Parry, the man who only came runner-up as Accountant of the Year in Accountancy Age’s Awards for Excellence a few years back, has since gone on to be a winner, with no suggestion this streak is about to end.
Despite Liverpool winning a raft of trophies recently, he says he would not hesitate to fund further player acquisitions.
He added: ‘Our next aim is to win the Premiership. In order to be a top club in Europe you must spend money. In football if your aim is merely to be mediocre, then you will be.’