HE ADVANCES WITH WOLVES
Farms and football clubs both need capital, careful management and more than a little luck to succeed. No one knows this better than the chairman of Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Tessa Gates met him on the pitch at Molineux
IT is a very hot day and, despite the prolonged midsummer heatwave, the pitch at Wolverhampton Wanderers home ground looks like emerald velvet.
Knowing that within a fortnight studded boots will be ripping into it on the first match of the season must be enough to make the groundsmen weep. Even the club chairman Jonathan Hayward, who farms 486ha (1200 acres) at Cornhill on Tweed, Northumberland, seems reluctant to mar its perfect surface as we walk gingerly on to it.
All around, bright yellow seats, enough for 28,500 fans, glisten in the sun and even though the only sound is of a Harris hawk, brought in to keep the pigeons out, it is easy to imagine the roar of the crowd and feel the ghostly tingle of excitement in the air.
Yes, the stadium with three new stands and a fourth refurbished, is looking good as are this First Division teams prospects but it was a different story a few years ago when Mr Haywards father, Sir Jack Hayward, bought the club.
In 1986 Wolves were kicking their heels in the Fourth Divison as the club went into receivership for the second time in the 80s. Support had dwindled dramatically and the club, which had been a founder member of the football league 98 years earlier, was on the brink of extinction. Sir Jack secured 100% of the clubs shares and pumped in £15m.
"Sir Jack was born in Wolverhampton and has always been football orientated. We used to have tremendous family feuds because I was a Manchester United fan, although I keep quiet about that now," jokes Mr Hayward, who became vice-chairman of Wolves in 1990 and chairman two years later.
His father made his fortune specialising in property development in Freeport, Grand Bahamas, and was knighted for his services to the British Empire and his charitable donations. He bought Lundy Island for the National Trust, put £1m into the building of a hospital at Port Stanley after the Falklands War and brought Brunels iron ship SS Gt Britain back from the Falklands so it could be restored, among other things.
Ask Mr Hayward why Sir Jack put money into Wolves and he laughs. "He says he thinks he is just a step away from the men in white jackets. Actually he loves building things and gets a tremendous kick out of seeing this stadium. Being a bricks and mortar man in the past it gives him more pleasure than spending money on a new player who might break a leg and then not play all season," explains Mr Hayward.
"We do have to fight against jealousy of what Sir Jack has put in here but clubs dont get promotion on the basis of a pretty stadium, it still centres on those three points on a Saturday afternoon. We need to get into the Premier League both for the fans and the finances," continues Mr Haywood.
Just like farming, football is very much a business as well as a way of life and Mr Hayward splits his time between the two enterprises. He has a mainly arable farm and a herd of Highland cattle at Eastlearmouth, the farm he moved to in 1984. An underground irrigation system (a similar one is installed in the pitch) has allowed him to diversify into growing 40ha (100 acres) of potatoes and 20ha (50 acres) of broccoli in its light, sandy loam and these are marketed through a growers co-operative in Fife.
"Travelling between the farm and Wolverhampton is a bit of a pain and we have thought of moving but my family really love the farm." Mr Hayward is married to Fiona and has a 12-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son.
He trained at the Royal College of Agriculture but his real ambition was to play cricket for Sussex. For two years he played in the countys second eleven. "Then we mutually agreed they didnt need my services," he says, "and I started farming. My first farm was 200 acres of grass in Sussex and after five years we had done all we could there, so I looked for another in the Home Counties.
"At that time there was lot of money coming out of the City into agriculture and even with considerable resources it seemed that for every £1 I had someone else had two. By coincidence someone suggested I look up north around the Berwick area and we took a recce and fell in love with it and this particular farm. At the time it wasnt fashionable to go north and we were getting twice the land for the money compared with the south, and good quality land at that, so we took the plunge."
At that time becoming chairman of Wolves, which takes up to three days a week year round, wasnt among his plans. "I find it stimulating to be caught between the two businesses and enjoy the difference in cultures," admits Mr Hayward. "The club is so hyper and so pressurised that if you didnt have somewhere to get away from it you would go dotty. For supporters the club is their life."
He recognises he doesnt spend enough time on the farm. "Last Christmas I was given a map of the farm by one of the tractor drivers and that about sums up the situation. Fortunately I have a very good farm manager, Andrew Lumley. Everything would fall to bits without him. The arable is easier than the livestock side, which requires more input and I sometimes worry that might suffer but I have a very good stockman."
At the club, too, he has managers that report to him. "There are three management areas, football, corporate and commercial, and administration. I am the chief executive of these three areas and report to the board," explains Mr Hayward. At Molineux, which has a staff of 168, there is a restaurant open seven days a week, a fitness centre with 700 members and more waiting, conference and banqueting centre and more ideas are being developed.
"We have spent a considerable amount of money in the past few years for a club that is not in the Premier League. Our average gate is 26,000 and there is great expectation from the fans. People dont want to support a loser. Last season we had a lot of injury and many of the players we paid a lot for didnt play.
"The playing side is so much out of your hands and your knowledge, I try not to interfere with it too much. At 3pm when the whistle goes there is no way you can influence success – unlike other businesses – a ball goes inches one side or another."
He gets very uptight on match days. "The scenario in the boardroom is that you are all being polite but are really worried and anxious and this builds up all through the match. It is very unhealthy," says Mr Hayward, who plays many sports himself. "When we win there is absolute elation, not so when we lose. The first thing I do is telephone my father and that is great when we win but try explaining to someone 4000 miles away why we have lost. It is not easy.
"In the context of life football is not important but in the context of 30,000 Wolves supporters it is very important and without them the club would not exist.
"Sir Jack and myself see ourselves as custodians of their club and, although it sounds glib, we want Molineux to be at the heart of the community."