Alex Horne, Finance director, The FA[QQ] To suggest that the beautiful game has had its ups and downs lately is perhaps an understatement. The gleefully reported and woefully handled love triangle of Mark Palios, Sven Goran Eriksson and Faria Alam; the premature exit from Euro 2004 by a hugely disappointing England team; but on the bright side, last week saw the lighting of the new Wembley Stadium arch to celebrate the start of England’s Germany 2006 campaign.
Football – it’s a funny old game. But for 32-year-old accountant Alex Horne, it is much more than that. As finance director and company secretary of the Football Association, Horne holds the purse strings of the world’s most popular game. But there’s no doubt that the summer of 2004 has been an experience he won’t forget. He describes the four weeks following Palios’ departure as ‘the most frustrating and most exciting four weeks of my professional life to date’.
This is no surprise. The first meeting he organised as company secretary was the secret meeting convened to decide the fate of the England manager, held at the Leonard Hotel in London. ‘That was all my idea,’ says Horne. ‘We were never trying to keep it secret for long, because that’s just unreasonable.’
But while a 300-strong media scrum outside his first-floor office window must have been cause for amusement, Horne has more pressing matters in his in tray.
Top of his list is the financial health of the FA. High profile, well-publicised and roundly criticised projects, such as the new Wembley Stadium and the National Football Centre, almost crippled the association.
When combined with a significant fall in income from broadcasting deals, Horne has been thrust into a fire-fighting position.
‘One of the problems this organisation has is that it’s never been very good at forecasting cash,’ he says. ‘They undertook two massive projects in the National Football Centre and Wembley Stadium.’
At the time both projects were dreamt up, they would have been financially viable because the FA had signed massive broadcasting deals, but this is no longer the case. ‘The new TV deal is significantly down from the last time, so that really bites next year,’ says Horne. ‘The turnover this year I expect to be order of magnitude £200m. 2005? Order of magnitude £160m-£165m.’
Horne is going through every department to see where money can be saved and how things can de done more efficiently. It involves looking at existing contracts, reviewing purchasing methods, changing service levels. But all the projects have one thing in common – to put the FA ‘on a more even keel’.
And while there is no doubt that Wembley will be built, the future of the National Football Centre in Burton-on-Trent looks a lot less certain. ‘The National Football Centre remains on hold because it is completely a funding decision,’ says Horne. ‘I’m not going to fund it out of normal cash flow, because that’s not appropriate. But we may still develop something there and fund it from normal capital funding. We are still looking at the business plans.’
‘There are a number of options that we might consider – joint ventures, that sort of thing,’ says Horne. He quashed any hopes of the centre being publicly owned, however. ‘I doubt it very much. I suppose you might persuade someone like UK Sport or the English Institute of Sport, but I don’t think they would like to lease it.’
He says that Palios was involved in an assessment of the project to determine whether a national centre is what the country needs and while his departure will no doubt lead to more delays, Horne says it is something ‘we will pick up on in his absence’. In reality, the ambitious plans are likely to be scaled down.
While at the FA helm, Palios brought in Horne to sort out the FA’s future finances. And Horne sees accurate cash forecasting as the secret. ‘It’s fundamentally essential,’ he says. ‘Cash is king. It’s all vanity, quite frankly, if you don’t have the cash to back it up.’
Initially this began with Horne looking just 13 weeks into the future: ‘Let’s get through that first.’ Then he would forecast for 18 months. So far so good. The FA has had no need of an overdraft facility arranged with Barclays Bank, and has £40m in the bank.
When Palios and Horne took up their roles, the FA’s financial outlook was any anything but rosy. ‘When we arrived, potentially we had a £30m gap – it was for a matter of days – but it existed,’ says Horne. ‘We wanted to pay our final instalment into Wembley and we had to wait two or three days for money to come in from the BBC and BSkyB.
Through Palios’ contacts at Barclays bank, the association was able to arrange a short term loan that ‘bridged the gap’.
Ultimately, Horne sees himself taking on a general management role. He enjoyed taking on more responsibility immediately after Palios’ departure and says that a chief executive role appeals.
By the 2006 World Cup, he hopes to have the medium term financial future of the FA on solid ground. Wembley will be built and operational, the National Football Centre decisions will be made and sponsorship deals with the FA sorted until 2010. Then – and only then – would he consider his next move.
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