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Fans of Chelsea FC are used to the ways of the club's larger-than-life chairman, Ken Bates. But now they have a bean-counter to contend with.

Bates has recruited a new managing director in the shape of Trevor Birch, previously head of Ernst & Young’s northern corporate restructuring office.

It is rare enough for a partner in a Big Five firm to make the leap into the world of commerce. Even more so when the chosen destination is a football club with a mixed record of success.

With a straight face, Birch describes his brief in his old job as ‘specialising in under-performing companies’.

But while Birch, 44, might have given up the cosiness of a partnership, the move is not as strange as it might seem. He began his career as a professional footballer, playing for Liverpool FC, Shrewsbury Town FC and Chester FC. Realising he was never going to become a star, he enrolled at polytechnic, earned a first class degree, then joined Arthur Young in Liverpool.

Birch ultimately ended up reporting to Alan Bloom, although mercifully avoided being dragged into the Railtrack scrum.

In joining Chelsea, his twin interests – football and business – come together. Bates has assembled an impressive collection of assets, including hotels, nightclubs, restaurants, a health club, a travel agency and a television business. Millions have been poured into redeveloping the Stamford Bridge ground.

The location has struggled to shake off its somewhat forlorn reputation.

Birch’s challenge lies in making the venue work harder – sucking in guests and paying customers – to top up revenues from football matches.

Friends might consider Birch to be slightly unhinged in volunteering to work for Chelsea, but he thinks the rewards of getting back to his football roots make it all worthwhile. With football the way it is, he’ll be hoping he doesn’t wake up one morning to find Alan Bloom grilling him about his balance sheet.

  • Jon Ashworth is business features editor at The Times.

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