The business of football
How three small firms make money out of the beautiful game
Hat, Scarf Or A Badge
Such is his devotion to Liverpool FC, since going to his first match at Anfield in 1976, season ticket-holder Mike Deane has only missed two home games. He grew up nearby and still lives in the area. “I’m an engineer, but a few years ago I began designing T-shirts for myself and other Liverpool fans I know,” he remembers.
“They were totally different to any official LFC T-shirts. I enjoy coming up with the designs, but it was just a hobby. But people were often asking where they could buy the T-shirts, so we knew there was demand. Michelle, my wife, had been made redundant, so we decided to launch the business, Hat, Scarf Or A Badge (HSOAB). Michelle runs it, I do the design work,” Mike says.
As Michelle explains, in 2016 they opened a shop within walking distance of the Kop at Anfield. “It’s very much a part-time business,” she adds. “We’re only open on matchdays for three hours before kick-off and an hour after the game has finished. We’re entirely independent, selling only our own unique t-shirts, badges, hats and scarves, mainly for Liverpool fans. Most of our sales are made online via our website to fans all over the world and we’re active on social media.”
Mike and Michelle’s T-shirts have a cult following among Liverpool fans from the city. A host of former Liverpool players and celebrity Reds fans have been pictured wearing HSOAB T-shirts. Mike says the biggest buzz he gets is seeing people at the match wearing his T-shirts, but they’ve also appeared on TV.
“We’d dropped our daughter off at a concert in Newcastle,” says Mike. “We were sat eating in a restaurant, then my phone started pinging like mad. People were texting to tell me that [TV pundit, ex-Liverpool defender and local legend] Jamie Carragher was wearing one of our T-shirts live on Monday Night Football on SKY Sports,” he smiles.
“I’d seen him in Liverpool a few weeks previously coming out of a gym. I ran back to the car to grab a T-shirt and took a picture of him holding it up. I gave him it and he put it in his bag, but I never imagined he’d wear it on TV. I love Liverpool and design, so it’s really great to be able to combine both.”
All Star Football Academy
Christian Fox is an ex-professional footballer who played for York City from 1999 until 2004. “My career highlight was actually being offered a professional contract, after all the hard work and sacrifices. Another was playing against Manchester United in 2000, a side that included all of the greats – Keane, Beckham, Giggs and Scholes,” he recalls.
In 2014, Christian set up the All Star Football Academy, which offers professional football coaching to boys and girls aged from three years old. It has franchises in Yorkshire and Cheshire, but Christian wants to grow the network. “We intend to recruit ambitious people who want to run their own football coaching business. Our franchise fee is £4,900, which is very competitive, because some companies charge £10,000-£25,000 for a similar package.”
Christian combines running his business with managing local side, Selby Town FC. “The hours fit around each other smoothly and I really enjoy the challenge of both roles,” says Christian. When asked why his business is successful, he replies: “We offer high-quality coaching that’s competitively priced. Our sessions are fun and we have a great team of people working for us.
“Also, we operate in areas where demand is strong, and we’ve invested in our brand and promotional advertising. We use social media a lot and have some great sponsors who support us and share our vision, which enables us to offer kids great experiences and opportunities. We don’t promise players that they’ll become professional footballers, but we do promise fun and development. Everyone appreciates that.”
Christian says football is all he’s known from a young age, so he’s never considered a career outside of the game. “I always intended to go down the coaching route after I’d finished playing. I love coaching all age groups, but especially children, because no day is the same. And you get a real sense of achievement when you see kids develop – not only as footballers – but also, just as importantly to us – as people.”
Brian Johnson owns Edinburgh-based Almondvale Programmes, which sells football programmes via catalogue and his shop close to Hibernian FC’s Easter Road stadium. “I’ve always collected football programmes, I have a passion for them and I love football. I started the business from home in about 2000,” he recalls. “I was made redundant from my job at an auctioneer’s and I just thought I’d try to make some money selling football programmes.
“In 2003 I decided to open my shop – my wife got sick of piles of programmes around the house,” he smiles. “I’m a Hibs fan and I close the shop 15 minutes before kick-off so I can go to the game, I’m a season ticket holder.”
Brian says sourcing rare programmes is what he enjoys most about running his business. “I have tens of thousands of programmes in my own collection, but I don’t have any problem selling the rare stuff, because I never lose sight of the fact that I’m running a business,” he stresses.
“I also enjoy meeting collectors – my customers come from all over the UK.” The 1956 European Cup final programme (Real Madrid v Reims – the first ever final in the true pan-European football competition) is the most valuable item Brian has sold. It went at auction for £5,500.
Collecting football programmes remains popular and business is good for Brian. “Earning money from football, something I love so much, is amazing,” he adds. “I really enjoy it, but it’s stressful at times and it requires a lot of hard work, people don’t always appreciate that. When the shop is closed, I’m still contacting other dealers, clubs and customers, dealing with enquiries and fulfilling orders. It’s a never-ending job,” he smiles.