Football Rich List 2003: What's changed?

Just when you thought you could get through January without hearing about finances, out comes FourFourTwo’s Football Rich List.The vagaries of economics have become a necessarily popular conversational subject, but the list has become an annual talking point since its debut in December 2003. It all seems so long ago.In some ways, things haven’t changed much: David Beckham was the richest player, the economy was attempting to recover from a burst bubble and a strange foreigner was underwriting a famous but underachieving club.

Becks' bank balance boosted by Madrid move in 2003

But in 2003, Chelsea had only just started taking leaves from the chequebook of Roman Abramovich (1st on the list with £5.5bn) and it was the dotcom bubble that had grabbed headlines. Back then, buying property was seen as a risk-free enterprise and the only Arabs known to most football fans were Dundee United fans.

Barely a decade into the Premiership era, players had started to earn serious wages but there were only nine players on the list (for comparison, there were 14 in 2008 and there’s a few more on the new one).Why was this? As our editorial noted, “Some players may make a huge amount of money in annual earnings, but turning that into serious wealth is another matter entirely.” Which is why entrepreneurs like Steve McManaman (98th, £12m) and Robbie Fowler (85th, £18m) were the exception.Indeed, the two Scousers – then both of Manchester City (who had only moved out of Maine Road that year) – were congratulated for “building up a property portfolio” and making an “investment that will provide rental income.” Let’s hope for their sake it didn’t include any of the hundreds of buy-to-lets standing empty across Manchester.

Man City's pair of property tycoons

Speculation was afoot elsewhere in Manchester too. Malcolm Glazer was already on the list (in 5th, worth £650m) but only as a minority Manchester United shareholder behind John Magnier (14th, £500m) and JP McManus (16th, £300m).

However, the Coolmore kids were at odds with Sir Alex Ferguson (92nd, £15m) and, as we noted in Glazer’s entry, “What alarms United’s board is that he refuses all overtures to discuss his long-term plans – he could afford to take over the club or play the long game and make a killing on United’s inevitable final takeover.”That inevitable takeover removed several names from the Rich List: not just Magnier and McManus but a veritable Who’s He? of shareholders: Harry Dobson (12th, £460m), John de Mol (8th, £600m) and some bloke called Martin Edwards (53rd, £108m).Not that it’s only Old Trafford where the bums on the boardroom seats have changed. Back in 2003, a pre-Apprentice Alan Sugar (7th, £609m) was still a Spurs stakeholder, as was Polys “brother of EasyJet Stelios” Haji-Ioannou (21st, £250m). Villa were represented by Doug Ellis (74th, £20m) and serial investor Jack Petchey (19th, £263m). David Dein (59th, £35m) was still at Arsenal, the Sunderland chairman was Bob Murray (67th, £25m) while Newcastle were helmed by Douglas Hall (49th, £50m) and Freddie & Bruce Shepherd (67th, £25m).

Deadly Doug eyes up next managerial victim

All these men have left as, in the Abramovich aftermath, English clubs have been a common (and welcoming) target for rich new owners, wherever they come from. But the 2003 list also contains warnings from history about how new owners don’t always provide happy endings.

Stockport owner Brian Kennedy (24th, £155m) was described as “a man to watch,” and he certainly was: 18 months and a £4m transfer fund later, he sold County to a Supporter’s Trust amid widespread grumbling. Firoz Kassam (35th, £90m) sold Oxford United to a trust but retains ownership of the stadium which is still officially named after him. Ron Noades (61st, £30m) still owned Brentford (again, later to be taken over by fans); while chairman, he had cut out the middleman and made himself manager. And Darlington chairman George Reynolds (54th, £40m) ended up in prison. So, all those reading the list and begging for a sugar daddy: be careful what you wish for…


For the full Rich List, see FourFourTwo magazine, out now. If quoting, credit FourFourTwo magazine and link to

The new issue of the magazine includes exclusive interviews with Robinho, Dimitar Berbatov, Russell Brand and Woking boss Phil Gilchrist, among many others.


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