The Leaders in Football gathering at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge last month provided a small but important anniversary: it was its 5th incarnation. And, in my view, it is an accomplishment well worth celebrating.
In a world full of over-stuffed football conferences with endlessly re-cycled speakers and over-sized B2B exhibitions, ‘Leaders’ (as the name predicted) has become the best-in-class. It has sold out every year since its inception.
I still recall the first one in 2008. It involved a gigantic effort to bring it to birth – and the willing co-operation of a wide network and broad circle of friends and family of James Worrall, the founder of Leaders and current CEO.
As I approached the entrance at Stamford Bridge on the opening morning, the entire ‘staff’ charged with registering visitors and servicing them seemed to consist of ‘mates of James’ who had given up their time and energy to make sure Leaders worked smoothly from the off.
Inside, it was full to bursting with almost everyone who was anyone in the football world. Conveniently and reliably located each year in west London, Leaders was easy for many to get to – just a couple of hours away from anywhere in Western Europe, including of course Switzerland, where so many of football’s governing bodies were based – and it proved instantly popular with the great movers & shakers of the global game.
And the winds of fate often blew fortuitously. Almost every year when Leaders was in session, a major football story would break. As the inevitable media frenzy began, every journalist and TV crew in London discovered that the people they wanted to interview were all – very conveniently – gathered together at Stamford Bridge. Leaders found its brand in the forefront of stories leading the national TV news, year after year.
Little did we all know back in October, 2008, just how much the world was going to change. The collapse of Lehman Brothers (just a couple of weeks before the first Leaders event) signalled a global economic crunch which remains with us today.
It was probably the most difficult time to launch a new business venture, but Leaders has stood the test of hard times, and evolved into a complex conference with branching streams focussing on key topics like Sponsorship and Digital Sport.
But some themes in football remain spookily the same. This is the 154th Leader column I have written since I started on 21st April, 2009, and when I looked back to see which topic I was writing about that week, it turned out to be……. Hillsborough.
It was just a few days after the twentieth anniversary of that dreadful day, and still there was no sight of any ‘justice’ for the dead. Thank god times can change.
The next column I wrote, a week later, was on a much lighter theme. It was entitled, ‘Liverpool FC 20, Manchester United 10’, and it reflected on the strange work of a Presbyterian Minister in Belfast who had gone round a local cemetery counting up the number of headstones which featured football in their Dedication. The Minister drew up a ‘league table’ of the clubs mentioned, and guess who was top?
A few columns later, it was all about the launch of England’s bid to stage the World Cup in 2018……. As we all know, you win some; you lose some. That’s football.
But Leaders has proved a winner year after year. Happy Birthday, guys!
Dr Rogan Taylor is the Director of the Football Industry Group at the University of Liverpool. He is also a writer and broadcaster, with five football books and numerous radio and TV contributions. He has acted as a special adviser to The FA, The Premier League and Premier League Clubs.
The views of our regular columnists are independent, and as such do not represent those of Leaders in Football.