While Roman Abramovich has changed the face of football since becoming the owner of Chelsea football club, just a short stroll down the road, Cliff Crown is just as positive and ambitious having been appointed chairman of League One side Brentford. He hopes to deliver his own lasting legacy at Griffin Park.
The 56-year-old took up the role in June and says, ahead of this weekend’s kick-off to the new season, he hopes the side can earn promotion to the Championship – and further – as well as seeing them move into a new stadium.
A chartered accountant by trade, Crown became the accountant of the club’s owner, Matthew Benham. Once he acquired a majority stake in the club last June, and with Crown attending board meetings on his behalf, he was formally invited to join the Board. Having been on the board for the past 12 months, club chairman Greg Dyke was offered the job of chairman of the FA. Crown put himself forward, the Board put it to the vote and he was duly elected unopposed.
Describing his new job as a dream, he says: “As a football fan and someone who has been involved in football at various levels for 50 years, it’s almost beyond my wildest dreams to become chairman of a football club. Over the past couple of years, I’ve got more involved with Brentford, attending home and away games and got to know the people behind the scenes. It’s been a very enjoyable time and that’s why I wanted to become chairman. I think I can offer a lot to the club in terms of my business experience and to help it ensure it is run properly.”
He added: “The club owner is very keen for us to get promoted to the Championship – we came very close last year. We’re a good and young squad, there are a lot of players in their 20s, there is a lot of potential and we’re going to push very hard for automatic promotion. There has been a steady growth, we won the League Two title in 2009, we established ourselves in League One over the past three years, so the natural progression is we want to finish champions, or worst-case in second and go up automatically.”
The club’s immediate plans include moving to a new stadium. He explains: “We bought a plot of land last June, submitted our plans at the end of May, and if we get planning permission would look to build a 20,000 new stadium ready for August 2016. It’s a tight timetable, but we know what we need to do.”
Undaunted by following in Dyke’s footsteps, he says: “Everybody knows Greg, he’s a great character, lovely man and a really good chairman for the club. He’s great with the media and he’ll be a very hard act to follow, but I’ll give it my best shot.
“I see my role as being the guardian for the fans for the club. The Championship is our immediate goal and, after that, the Premier League beckons. Everybody knows the value of getting to the Premier League. It’s a massive financial prize and one that with proper management can put Brentford in a position where we will be financially secure for many years.”
An Arsenal season ticket holder, his new role means he won’t be able to visit the Emirates Stadium as much as he’d like. The father-of-three describes himself as a “traditionalist”. Now living in Radlett (he grew up in the same road as Stanmore Shul), he was a keen footballer in his youth, playing for Stanmore Jewish Youth club and continuing to play 5-a-side football until last year. He also managed Brady Macccabi’s U13, 14 and 15 sides in the Watford Friendly League, a club for which his son now plays. And while he’s always on the lookout for exciting new players, there haven’t been any Israeli players yet. “We’ve got a pretty good scouting network and are on the lookout for good quality players, if we can find someone who happens to be Israeli, we will certainly bear that in mind.”
He has attended several football league meetings and the annual chairman’s conference in Portugal – describing it as “very interesting” – and is now looking forward to the new season’s kick-off on Saturday – Brentford goes to Port Vale.
He says: “Following the end of last season [when it lost in the play-off final at Wembley to Yeovil] there was huge disappointment and in terms of picking everyone up, it was hard initially. But the boys had a holiday and came back refreshed. We made a couple of good signings, strengthened the squad, have had some really good pre-season friendlies and are now ready to go.”