It may be more common in professions such as the music industry, television or media or in the entrepreneurial field, but by and large it is a rarity.
But Accountancy Age recently met up with a financial controller who is so in love with his job that he would willingly turn down other prospective employers even if they were to more than double his salary. Enter Mike Cheston, 39 years old and fiercely loyal, not to mention a lifelong supporter of football’s Premier League Mersey giants Everton Football Club.
‘You cannot put a value on the pleasure I get from this job. It is the best job I’ll ever have. I wouldn’t work for Liverpool or Manchester United even if they approached me and offered to double my salary.
‘The thought of watching this club from a distance is unbearable,’ he says.
‘I never played football when I was younger. I was hopeless at it. But I fell in love with the club at a young age and have retained that ever since.’
Cheston has been with his current employer since February 1992 when – as an auditor for a Birkenhead firm which boasted Everton as one of its clients – he casually approached the then club and company secretary to find out if there were any jobs going.
As it turned out the club was looking for some additional financial assistance and within three weeks of offering his services he received a call.
The rest, as they say, is history. He joined as an internal auditor but moved into the controller’s seat in the autumn of 1994. He has remained there ever since.
And certainly his time at the club has been eventful. Before he joined he stood religiously on the terraces watching with glee as the club enjoyed arguably its most successful period during the 1980s. The club won the League Championship, FA Cup and Cup Winners Cup.
Since he joined he has witnessed from within two rights issues, two takeovers, a due diligence and watched as the players flirted with relegation during two panic-stricken seasons.
Cheston, a certified accountant, has worked mostly in audit since December 1989. He studied at London’s Wandsworth College and funded his own studies.
The fact that he had to pay his own way was a driving force for passing his exams at the first opportunity – to minimise the overheads he was accumulating studying.
‘I didn’t want the course to drag on and my idea was to pass the exams first time. Luckily I did. I remember I had to take a loan from my bank manager to get through the course,’ he says.
‘Once I qualified I paid off the loan. It would have been very difficult to have continued as a full-time student or to have studied while holding down a job.’
The club is looking to move ground, and it is widely recognised its home Goodison Park is no longer suitable for the ever increasing revenues that are available through corporate sales and non-football related functions.
Until recently Everton was recognised as one of the biggest teams in the UK. However in recent years it has been overtaken and now there are many who believe the only way it can force its way back on to the Deloitte & Touche Rich List is to expand its commercial capabilities. There has been much debate in the blue half of Liverpool as to whether the best way forward for the club would be to redevelop its Goodison Park ground or to concentrate on developing a purpose built stadium. It is thought the club has put in a bid to acquire land in the King’s Dock region of the city.
Full details of the King’s Dock bid are expected to be released later this month. The club has been busying itself by speaking to interested parties in an attempt to raise funds for the redevelopment or ground move.
But being the financial controller of a football club is a unique experience, not least because with the job comes a raft of pressures not associated with typical corporate companies.
The financial performance of the club is a gamble. It is almost impossible to plan for any particular, as it is always unknown.
‘From day one to the next we cannot make definitive plans as we don’t know if we will be knocked out of a cup or if our star players will get injured. In this industry you need a lot of luck.
‘One crazy goal against you is all it takes to knock you out of the cup and with it the financial rewards,’ Cheston adds.
‘Ultimately our business is to do well in the Premier League and people have to get behind that idea. From this we have to try to come up with some financial logic and try to get a team which produces good results on the pitch.’
‘I have no control on the pitch so the financial performance of the club is to an extent out of my hands. The emotiveness of the customers is also something everyone at the club has to deal with and which is unlike any other industry.’
Indeed Cheston learnt early on in his Everton career to keep quiet about his role when he goes out socially due to fans stopping him in the street.
Despite his love of his job, it is a demanding one and it is not being helped by the many issues surrounding the club and football in general.
One shadow which is being cast over the European football scene is the imminent decision on whether or not the transfer system is to be scrapped.
If the end result is that the current system does go it is feared players will no longer be a valuable commodity on the balance sheet – they will be free to move clubs whenever they wish without the club receiving any form of compensation in the form of a transfer fee. Financial Reporting Standard 10 has also caused debate among the footballing fraternity. As obscure and esoteric as FRS 10 might be, it has had its effect on the nation’s favourite sport.
Relating to intangible assets, FRS 10 allows clubs to amortise the cost of a player over the term of his contract instead of putting it all on the balance sheet in the year of purchase. Instead of #10m being noted as a loss in the year a player is bought, #2m can now, for example, be depreciated each year of his five-year contract. It is not hugely significant but it does mean a rosier glow of health for the books of some clubs.
‘I believe there are as many flaws as there are advantages to FRS 10.
There is no true reflection of players’ true values in the balance sheet.’
He says FRS 10 is also misleading because youth players are not valued on the balance sheet, while players who have had their contracts renegotiated are not always valued the same as their real market value. ‘The insurance value of a player is higher and more realistic than the method used under FRS 10,’ says Cheston.
‘Players always have a value and I cannot ever see a situation where clubs do not have to pay a transfer fee. There has been so much opposition including from Tony Blair to the proposed EU move. But we will just have to wait and see what is decided,’ he adds.
Whatever happens you can guarantee Cheston will still be deeply in love with his job.
‘The hours we work are long and we are expected to work at short notice.
We work Sundays, all Bank Holidays, which are the typical days for fixtures.
It is demanding and sometimes I think people do not realise the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes,’ he stresses. He adds: ‘Match days tend to be when I get a lot of paperwork done before I take a seat in the stand to watch the game. ‘After the match at about 5pm I’m back in the office. My work only just begins when the match finishes.’
And this, one suspects, is when Cheston falls in love with his job once again.
Everton FC official site www.evertonfc.com
USING E-BUSINESS TO REACH OUT TO SUPPORTERS
Backroom staff at Everton decided over the last few years it was necessary to overhaul their financial capabilities and find out more about their fans.
The club drew up a plan and shopped around for a provider to meet their needs. It finally chose Great Plains eEnterprise, implemented with help from Advantage Business Systems.
In addition to providing a financial infrastructure throughout the club, eEnterprise’s web capabilities are enabling Everton to build relationships with fans all over the world and interact more effectively with UK supporters.
Mike Cheston explains why Everton rethought its information systems strategy.
‘When a fan comes to the club, first they buy a ticket; then maybe something from the shop, and possibly something to eat. That’s three purchases, but until now we weren’t collecting information about them, or the customer.’
Everton had a clear vision of the future. Cheston adds: ‘We wanted to be able to collect a customer’s details just once, and then use that information to give them a more streamlined service. We wanted, too, to give them credit for loyalty – if we had tickets to allocate for special events, it is good to give preference to our regular supporters. We also wanted to be able to contact our customers proactively, acknowledging their support and telling them what else we offer.’
The realisation of that vision meant better integration of information.
The club had to replace fragmented customer files with a central customer database. Combined with a web presence, that database would help Everton deal with local and international customers, both local and international, and accumulate additional information about them.
Staff realised a system designed specifically for e-business could save them time and aggravation. Advantage offered a fully-integrated ‘dotcommerce module that would give Everton’s web site e-tail capability.
Before, buying on-line meant sending an e-mail. With the new system, customers can complete their purchase, including payment, on the web site.
The order automatically updates accounting and inventory records, and if the customer is new they’re added to its customer database.
Everton can now accumulate a store of customer information – information that can be used not only for individual mailings but also to target community and PR initiatives.
Internally, the club will use web technology to disseminate financial information beyond the boundaries of the finance department. Overall, e-business is making the operation more transparent to management and more controllable.
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