Accrington Stanley owner Andy Holt never wanted to run a football club. But he'll tell you all about it on Twitter
Andy Holt isn't like most football club owners. For a start, he would probably rather not be one.
"I didn't want to own a football club," the Accrington Stanley chairman and majority shareholder tells ESPN. "It was never the plan. The club was in dire straits. They couldn't pay the wages, but I saw how valuable it was to the local community, a community I've made a good life out of. We've benefitted from that community in my business. I went in because if somebody hadn't, it would go into liquidation."
Holt, a local businessman who made his fortune in the plastics industry, joined the Accrington board in 2015 and took control in 2016, when the club was on the verge of folding due to crippling debts. Holt cleared those debts and set about building a more sustainable club, one that could avoid the financial traps that previously sent them to the brink. He set out sensible budgets and has introduced new revenue-generating schemes and facilities, too; perhaps most importantly, he's done so because he recognises that football clubs, particularly ones like Accrington, are integral parts of the local community.
But what sets Holt apart most is that you can find out about all of this from just following him on Twitter. Probably the most active club owner on social media in the country, Holt answers the majority of questions that come his way, offers his opinions on most matters and gets into the odd argument with some rather high-profile figures too.
"I want our fans to understand the pros and cons of the decisions we make," he says, about his social media activity. "You couldn't do it if you were Manchester United, but I think it's important at our level. If you don't tell people what you're doing and why you're doing it, discontent increases. You've got to have communication.
"Communication has saved me and the club money because sometimes fans have said, 'Well actually, we don't value that change you were thinking of doing, so you're just wasting money.' They're teaching me. Don't forget some of these people have been there 50 years.
"I try to stay away from the football aspect, because that's where you get the biggest arguments. If you stick to just how the club operates, virtually every fan in the country sings from the same hymn sheet: they don't want ripping off for ticket prices, or beer, they want decent pies, they want stewards to treat them right. They want to feel part of it and understand what's going on."
Holt's tweets have landed him in some trouble with the football authorities -- "I'm going for the full set of badges, because I've only got to upset UEFA and FIFA and I've got the lot" -- but probably the most entertaining of his spats has been his ongoing quibbles with Gary Neville and the Salford City project.
Neville, along with brother Phil, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes, teamed up with businessman Peter Lim to inject what Holt considers to be unfair amounts of money into the National League club. They were joined by David Beckham this week, too. Holt has frequently tweeted his thoughts on the matter, accusing Salford of trying to "steal" a place in the Football League and challenging Neville to release their budgets, which has led to a number of spicy conversations between the two.
"What Gary and I represent is two opposite sides of the spectrum," Holt says, winding up for a lengthy answer when asked about the topic. "You fully expect him to have his 'You should be able to buy your way up, spend what you want' [perspective], because he comes from a Manchester United background.
"I come from an Accrington community background, so I'm looking for long-term, low-risk, growing a club, whereas he's looking for instant success, 'Bring in a billionaire, let's get out and lose some money and get the club in the Football League.'
"My attitude is, every one of those teams [who take that approach] is potentially denying a community club of a place in the league. We were a founder member of the league in 1888.
"They've got David Beckham on board now, and he's building Miami Vice over there, or whatever you call it. They're all doing it on different continents. We both look at the same thing and see a different picture."
This weekend Accrington face Derby County in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Derby aren't (yet) a Premier League club but they're about as glamourous as you can get without being part of the elite: they're managed by Frank Lampard, they've just signed Ashley Cole and their key players are loanees from Chelsea and Liverpool. Aside from also being owned by a local boy made good -- Mel Morris, in Derby's case -- the two clubs could hardly be more different.
A game like this is still hugely valuable for a club the size of Accrington.
"It does feel like a major event," says Holt, speaking as electric advertising boards were being installed at their stadium. "Without player transfers or cup runs, we turn over £2-2.5 million. From this match we're more or less guaranteed £200-220,000, and if we win £400,000. So we're talking 10 percent of our turnover."
That money will go back into the pot, back towards making sure Accrington are never in the state Holt found them again. And, crucially, back towards protecting something that is less a business but more a vital community asset. And that will continue even if, one day, this League One club make it to the Premier League.
"The big thing about running a football club," Holt says, "is that when you run a private business, you run it to generate profits and better yourself while being decent to staff. In a football club, you operate it for everyone else. If you operate it for yourself, you're guaranteed to fail.
"There's no point in us getting the club to a good state then someone else coming in and blowing it all in a year or two of madness. That might stop us from going higher, but we've got to make sure Accrington are still alive in 50 years, 100 years. If we do our job right, that can be achieved."