Power’s trip to the dugout

Town chairman Lee Power is making a trip into the dugout following Mark Cooper’s dismissal. Ron Smith explores the novelty of boardroom interference pitchside…

Following the sacking of Mark Cooper, Swindon Town chairman Lee Power is to take temporary charge of first team affairs – starting on Tuesday evening when Town host Oldham Athletic.

Speaking to the BBC, Power defended his decision to take charge of the first-team and confirmed he will help coach Luke Williams pick the team: “I know people will see the chairman taking over and think ‘what is going on down there?’, but I played for 12 years in every division there is England and up in Scotland. If I wasn’t the owner, or the chairman, no-one would say anything. It’s an unusual situation as I am the only former player who owns a football club.”

Town’s chairman decision to become caretaker manager and to help Williams select the XI, brings to the fore an open secret that he, not Cooper, dictated team selection and player recruitment. It’s therefore no surprise that Lee Power wants to be hands-on and considers he, as a former professional footballer, is best placed to steer Town towards a respectable league position.

Power has confirmed his reign won’t long-term appointment. His status as a Tax Exile, limited to 93 days in the UK, doesn’t enable day-to-day coaching. Lee confirmed that he’ll be taking a more backseat role “as soon as the right person comes along and I would like to think that would be in the next two-three games max.”

While a football chairman in the dugout is unusual, Lee Power has form. While as chairman of Cambridge United, then in the Conference National in September 2006, Power acted as caretaker manager following the sacking of Rob Newman. This wasn’t short-term, as he remained in the dugout for 12 games, winning four, drawing three and five defeats.

Elsewhere, the most infamous and successful chairman manager in English football was Ron Noades. After selling Crystal Palace he became chairman, and subsequently also first team manager of recently relegated Division Three side Brentford from July 1998. Noades immediately took the Bees to promotion as champions at the first attempt, earning the chairman the Manager of the Year Award, before ending both roles in 2000.

Another example is Graham Turner. While manager at Hereford United, Turner purchased the majority shareholding to save the club in 1997. Turner remained manager, chairman, director of football and majority shareholder of Hereford United until the end of the 2009–2010 season leading the Bulls through promotion and relegation between Conference National and League One and back again.

Closer to home, there’s also an example at the County Ground of boardroom interference. After the sacking of Maurice Lindley in April 1955 the Swindon Town Board took a bit too much of an active interest in match selection. In the interim period, the Board preferred to pick the team themselves – harking back to the Amateur era.

Town’s Management Committee consisted of the three longest serving directors, plus one other director on a rota basis with input from the Club trainers. This was only meant to be temporary, however the selection of the team by Committee ended up lasting until October 1956, for a total of 61 league games over three seasons.

With no manager, Town finished bottom of the Football League for the first and only time in 1955/56. Swindon used Suffering the indignity of having to be re-elected, although the ‘old pals act’ ensured Town soundly beat Peterborough United by 42 votes to eight. The start of the following season saw no improvement. Town were 23rd with 4 wins and 9 defeats from 13 games, when finally Bert Head accepted perhaps the toughest task any Town manager has ever, or will face.

So while examples of chairman at pitchside are rare, Power is probably the only chairman in history to have managed two separate Football League sides as caretaker. In many ways he’s an ideal candidate given his experience as a professional, however his spell at Cambridge United demonstrated only average results. With injuries engulfing the Town squad, the next two or three games under Power’s explicit management will demonstrate to us how poorly, or otherwise Mark Cooper was performing.

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