From a sunny outpost of the Roman empire
While in St Barts, on my hols - yes thanks, had a lovely time - I was returning one day to my hotel, Eden Rock, when I noticed this rather nice little football stadium, with a decent-looking stand, handsome entrance. Yet the island has a population of only 8,000 and is a tourist enclave, not a place where you'd expect much football to be played or watched.
There were lots of workmen around. I could see the pitch had been dug up and they were ready to lay rolls of what looked like some sort of artificial turf. Good idea, in a hot and dry island where real grass is hard to grow and water. I talked to a workman and he told me who had put up the money - Mr Abramovich.
Yes, the owner of Chelsea, a household face here in the UK, at least to football fans - though we have still to hear him speak - but not known in
St Barts, until he arrived last year and paid a reported £60m for a holiday home.Another workman, more of a boss figure, said that Roman Abramovich had put money into 200 or so little football clubs, all over the world, just to help them out, without any fuss or publicity.
I got back to Blighty in time to turn on the telly and see the second leg of the Man United v Man City Carling Cup semi. In the crowd at Old Trafford, I noticed all these fans - clearly United supporters - wearing green and gold scarves. Heh up, I thought, are my eyes going, is it jet lag? Man U are red, City are blue, so what's with the green and gold? Have some Norwich City fans infiltrated?
I never heard the commentator explaining these scarves, so I didn't find out the reason till the next day, when the excellent Richard Williams in the
Guardian wrote that they were part of a protest campaign. Green and gold were the colours of Newton Heath, formed in 1878, a team of railway workers that later turned into Manchester United. Now, a group of supporters has produced these green and gold scarves, along with shirts and T-shirts, which they intend to wear, instead of red, until the Glazers give up Man United: the protesters allege they have stolen the soul of the club.
In 2005, the Glazers borrowed hundreds of millions from banks and hedge funds in order to buy the Man United shares, then loaded the
club with debts. The club has since had to pay close to £400m in interest and other fees. Man United could therefore easily come a cropper, financially, should they stop winning on the field, in Europe and the Prem, and could well collapse like Leeds United did.
Until now, I've never had much of an opinion, either way, about Abramovich, though it did seem bizarre when he arrived - what was his game, what was he after, is there something devious going on, some ulterior motive, pouring all these millions into Chelsea? So far, as far as we know, it has not been for his own financial gain. He has not been paying himself a fortune; nor has he tried to make a quick buck by selling out and leaving the club burdened with debts.
It was the little football pitch in St Barts that made me think, hmm, could he be a goody after all? If so, well done, Roman.