PROFILE

Alex was in a league of his own after blueprint

BY SIMON YAFFE

THE Sunday Times labelled Alex Fynn the "spiritual godfather" of the Premier League.

Such was his influence, that the Football Association commissioned him to write the commercial section in its Blueprint of the Future of Football.

That led to a Founder Members Agreement, signed on July 17, 1991 by the game's top-flight clubs to set up the FA Premier League - much to the anger of the Football League.

Alex's clout in what subsequently became the richest league on the planet is a world away from his formative years in north-west London.

Born into a family of Russian descent, his East End-raised father was principal tenor at the Sadler's Wells Opera and the Carl Rose Opera Company under the Italianised name of Benvenuto Finelli.

Alex, whose uncle was writer Ralph Finn, attended Christ's College, Finchley, where he was taught by former Tottenham Hotspur and England international George Robb.

After what Alex describes as a "spectacularly unsuccessful spell in advertising," he joined Saatchi and Saatchi in his late 20s.

The advertising agency was founded in 1970 by the Iraq-born Jewish brothers Maurice and Charles Saatchi and went on to become one of the biggest in the world.

He recalled: "Rather than Smart Alex, I was a Smart Alec.

"I went to school with Charles, but my getting the job at Saatchi and Saatchi had nothing to do with it.

"My appointment could have been considered a liability at first because people may have thought it was down to nepotism.

"I was comparatively honest, very boring and Jewish. They needed an executive with those qualities."

Alex said the 20 years he spent at Saatchi and Saatchi were the "best working years of my life".

He explained: "If you knew what you were doing, you were left to get on with it.

"It was not a hire and fire place. You found your level."

Alex worked with such prestigious clients as Proctor and Gamble, Cunard and Rowntree.

He was also responsible for the Health Education Council's famous anti-smoking campaigns and the pregnant man advertisement which promoted contraception.

Alex said: "Some wanted to be entertained and flattered, but that wasn't my remit. I was more about candour and commitment."

He rose to become one of the agency's vice-chairmen, but then matters took a downward turn.

"The agency was hitting a financial obstacle or two," Alex explained.

"My long service was an embarrassment to the bosses and also I was quite close to Maurice and Charles, as well as Tim Bell, who ran the company.

"Because I was two years into a five-year contract, I was marginalised and put to one side."

Alex eventually left - but he had his experience in football to fall back on.

In the 1980s, he was contacted by Tottenham's Jewish owner Irving Scholar, who wanted to market the club properly.

Alex recalled: "Irving was much-maligned, but he was the first to recognise the commercial significance of football.

"David Dein, who was at Arsenal, gets a lot of the credit for recognising the beginning of the commercialisation of football, but Irving was the visionary, although that is not to denigrate David Dein."

Under Alex's guidance, Tottenham released the first advertisement for league football when they broadcast a commercial which announced their first match of the 1983-84 season against Coventry City.

"The commercial's USP was 'Spurs are fielding 40,000 against Coventry City. Make sure you're one of the team'," Alex explained.

"The idea was to make the supporters part of the whole ethos of the club.

"The advertising stopped when Tottenham became rubbish and I thought I cannot promote an unsuccessful product!"

Alex went on to advise clubs such as Southampton, West Ham United, Fulham, Manchester United, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers and Celtic, as well as Turkish side Galatasaray and the Polish Football Association.

It was in 1991 that the FA was threatened by the Football League, which wanted a power-sharing agreement.

Alex was an adviser on the negotiation of the sale of the television broadcasting rights for the FA, which led to the award of the first BSkyB contract.

The first Premier League season began in 1992.

He said: "The FA was, at its best, incompetent, and self-serving. I supported the idea of the Premier League because I thought it would be good for the clubs and the England national team.

"There was research done, too, and the majority of fans thought it would be a good idea.

"I told the FA to start the Premier League with 18 clubs and they started with 22.

"The broadcasting rights went to Sky, when the FA could have had a golden share, but they did not implement it.

"They took more notice of the powerful club's chairmen whose vested interests were in their own clubs.

"The Premier League was flavour of the year at one time and everyone thought they had the answer to everything.

"Today, the Premier League is not an English league, it is a global one.

"As a result, England will never win the World Cup or the European Championships. Now, I feel terrible about it.

"I showed the FA how to reorganise football and they could not do it."

He also thinks modern football would not have happened without Scholar, Dein, Edward Freeman (who turned Manchester United into a business in the early 1990s) and ex-Manchester City and Football Association chairman David Bernstein.

Despite being raised in north London, a hotbed of Tottenham and Arsenal support, Alex is not a fan of any club.

He believes some teams and players "belong to all of us".

Yet he has written about Arsenal more than any other club.

The latest is an updated version of his 2011 book Arsenal: The Making of a Modern Superclub (Vision Sport Press).

Alex, who played junior Jewish football with former Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein, believes the Gunners would not be the force they are today without him, Anthony Spencer and Danny Fiszman.

Alex continued: "The difference between Arsenal and their top rivals is a lack of ambition

"Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, for example, will all speculate to accumulate.

"Arsenal have been dragged into this kind of thing kicking and screaming.

"There is still a gap in terms of their spending, despite Arsenal having the largest cash reserve in the Premier League.

"Dein was the driving force behind Arsenal - he was the one who found Arsene Wenger.

"Spencer located the land on which the club built The Emirates Stadium and Fiszman, the club's largest shareholder, led the building of the new stadium."

Alex, who is married to Rhoda, regards "us Jews as an endangered species".

"I have adopted the New Testament when it comes to my thoughts on being Jewish," he said.

"I do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If I am a good man, it is because I am Jewish. If I try to do one random good deed per day it is because I am Jewish."

Football Writers Association member Alex, who now lectures at colleges and universities on football and business, is also a father to two daughters, Tamara and Danielle, and has two grandchildren.

Tamara has autism and is looked after by the London-based Jewish charity, Kisharon.

Alex has experienced antisemitism during his career.

"A director of a football club once said to me, 'it's people like David Dein who give you Jews a bad name'," Alex recalled.

"I was just rude in return, but my reaction should have been more forceful.

"A lot of the northern football clubs had chairmen and directors who were antisemitic.

"At one Premier League meeting, I heard that Dein and Fiszman arrived late and one chairman said, 'Here comes the Jews'.

"One of my favourite stories involves Ken Friar, the former Arsenal secretary, who was not Jewish.

"He was speaking to the-then Chief Rabbi, Lord Jakobovits, about how many Jews there were in Britain.

"Ken answered: 'Two or three million?'.

"The Chief Rabbi said, 'no, around 300,000', to which Ken replied, 'my God, I know them all'."

Jewish Telegraph readers can buy Arsenal: The Making of a Modern Superclub at a special discounted price of 6. Visit www.visionsp.co.uk and enter the discount code AW.

 
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