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Farewell Deadly Doug

Farewell Deadly Doug

🕔12.Oct 2018

So, farewell Deadly Doug. I doubt professional football will see his like again, writes Andy Howell.

I knew Doug from quite an early age and although our encounters became less frequent as the years rolled on they were always memorable. Doug was a one off. He was a larger than life character and, of course, there was the Doug ego. (Did you know that Doug invented the bicycle kick while he was with Tranmere Rovers?)

Doug retained the ability to poke humour at is own expense. Most encounters with Doug were characterised by warmth and humour. Those who came into contact with Doug regularly or worked with him, will have many, many, stories to tell about him. I thought I would share one of mine.

When I was a Councillor, back in prehistoric days, Birmingham was bidding to become the European Capital of Culture. I was despatched off to talk to Doug to make sure the Villa was ‘onside’. (It was a tough assignment but somebody had to do it.)

It was Friday afternoon in the summer when Football clubs are at their most sleepy. I arrived to be told that the Chairman was expecting me in the Boardroom. Doug was sitting at the end of a long boardroom table, in front of him he had one of those plastic stacking boxes that you stack children’s toys in. Come in, come in beckoned the Chairman. Doug was always ‘The Chairman’. I’m signing the cheques. Come and take a look.

Doug was indeed signing a load of cheques — I sign each cheque personally you know. Here have a look. I browsed though the cheque requisitions that had been prepared for him. Many of these cheques were for quite mundane events. Some carried with them a nice touch. I remember one cheque which was a refund to a widow who’s husband — a season ticket holder — had died half way through the season.

Doug there’s some mistake I ventured. He looked up puzzled and rather worried. I can’t find a cheque for £10 million (at the time we needed a new striker). It took a while for him to realise I was gently poking fun at him. Then he put down his pen and started talking to me about the way he saw ‘The Villa’.

Whatever anybody thought of him, he said, the buck stopped with him; he was ultimately responsible for everything at Villa Park. As he saw it, it was his responsibility to ensure that the club was financially stable and sustainable.

He referenced Leeds United which, during that summer, were investing massively to back new manager David O’Leary in their quest for Champion’s League football. Doug put it very bluntly. If Leeds didn’t make the Champion’s League in the coming seasons they would be totally screwed. They didn’t and Doug was right.

Relegation followed and Leeds fans have endured a torrid time in the second flight under numerous owners and managers. A typical Doug touch followed Leeds demise as he picked up the highly-rated David O’Leary as Villa manager.

Many Villa fans will remember the lighter and funnier side of Doug. There was the new stand that he named after himself. There were his regular forays onto the pitch at half time which oddly ceased when results were going the wrong way.

But Doug was a serious entrepreneur and businessman, albeit one who enjoyed the personal PR spotlight, evident early on when he used to front his travel company’s TV adds. He bought all of these skills to the Villa.

When he sold to Randy Lerner in 2006 he left a club in remarkable financial health. He had spent a long time looking for the right buyer who he thought would build on his legacy of stability. At Villa Park the buck did stop with Doug and, perhaps because if this, it is not that surprising that many supporters now look back his time in charge as something of a golden era.

RIP Doug Ellis.

Andy Howell is a former deputy leader of Birmingham city council (Labour). 

Pic: courtesy avfc.co.uk

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