Play-off final was impetus for City success, says the man who saved the club


DAVID Bernstein enjoyed a small moment of adulation while walking along Manchester's Peter Street earlier this month.

The former Manchester City chairman - who was instrumental in the club's move from Maine Road to the City of Manchester Stadium in 2003 - was called over by a taxi driver.

"Mr Bernstein, you won't remember me, but I drove you somewhere just after you signed the stadium deal," the driver told David.

"You told me then the deal would be the making of the club - and you were right. I want to thank you for everything you have done."

That kind of praise is not a rarity when David, who was also chairman of the Football Association from 2011 until 2013, returns to Manchester.

There is little doubt that City, who have won the Premier League title twice in the past four seasons, as well as an FA Cup and two League Cups, would not be in the position they are now had they not left their dilapidated Maine Road ground.

"The City fans have always been absolutely fabulous with me - and that is worth everything," David said.

David was chairman from 1998 until 2003, which proved to be a tumultuous time in the club's history.

He took charge a few weeks before City were relegated to the third tier of English football for the first time.

The first-half of the 1998/99 campaign proved a struggle and it was only City's resurgent second-half of the season which saw them reach the play-off final against Gillingham at Wembley.

Trailing 2-0 as the game entered injury time, Kevin Horlock and Paul Dickov scored to force extra-time and then a dramatic penalty shoot-out which City won.

"I remember we were poor until Christmas and then on Boxing Day we beat Stoke City 2-1 at home," David recalled.

"It was so important for us to be promoted. I honestly believe if we had not been, the stadium deal would have faded away.

"I remember sitting at Wembley and looking up at the giant scoreboard which read 'Gillingham 2-0 Manchester City'.

"I just thought, 'What are we going to do?'. Without hesitation, that game was the most important in the club's history.

"City would not be where they are now - that game was the impetus."

David replaced City hero Francis Lee as chairman and brought in financial director Alistair McIntosh and director Chris Bird.

He said: "We swept the club from top to bottom and gave it a proper infrastructure. Alistair and Chris were of great help to me."

As well as the new stadium, now known as the Etihad, in Eastlands, David was also behind City moving to a new training ground at Carrington.

David's passion for City began at a young age.

Born in St Helens in 1943, his Londoner parents owned a womenswear shop in the town.

David was three when his parents decided to move back south.

"I found myself devoted to City around 1954," he explained. "I am not sure why, perhaps it was the colour of their shirts and the size of their stadium!"

In fact, the 1956 FA Cup final, when City beat Birmingham City 3-1, coincided with David's barmitzvah.

And, during the reception at the Bernstein family home, a young David insisted the television was on so he could watch the game.

After completing his A-levels at Christ's College, Finchley, he went straight into accountancy and qualified at 22.

A partner in a firm by the time he was 26, he later joined West End accountancy firm Bright Grahame Murray.

"It had a lot of public company clients, but no expertise in dealing with them," David said.

"I had large firm experience and I dealt with audits, investigations and the world of public companies, which gave me a good grounding.

"I was basically a consigliere and held the hands of major entrepreneurs."

One of those entrepreneurs was Stephen Rubin, chief executive of the Pentland Group, which owned a large part of Reebok.

David was asked to strategise the group's developments and find acquisitions. He helped the company buy Speedo, Elise and Berghaus.

David was a regular at City's matches in the capital, including the 1969 FA Cup final, where they beat Leicester City 1-0, and the 1976 League Cup final, which saw City overcome Newcastle United 2-1.

He was also at Wembley for the 1981 FA Cup final defeat to Tottenham.

"It was the worst day of my sporting life," David recalled. "Myself and one of my sons sat on the steps at Wembley, crying. I only got over it thanks to the Gillingham game."

Ironically, David's wife, Gill, is a lifelong Tottenham fan. They originally met at their local tennis club and David asked her out while on the Tube.

The couple, who have four children and 11 grandchildren, will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in November.

David joined the board at City in the autumn of 1994, after being introduced to Francis Lee by a mutual acquaintance.

City went through five managers in four years by the time David became chairman.

"I found a club short on management and organisation," the 72-year-old explained.

"The administration was like something from the 19th century and I think we moved the club forward 100 years.

"I was asked to take over by the shareholders when Francis left."

Joe Royle was named manager weeks earlier, but it was too late to save the club from plummeting into Division Two.

"When I became chairman, I set out a recovery programme for the club in a two-page spread in the Manchester Evening News," he told me.

"At the time, there was always something going wrong at City. People described us as the Theatre of Comedy.

"It was, of course, a difficult time for the fans, who were incredibly upset at what was going on. I saw the chance to be chairman a tremendous opportunity, though."

Royle presided over two successful campaigns, which saw City regain their place in the Premier League.

But they lasted just one season in the top flight and the affable Royle was replaced by Kevin Keegan, who had resigned as England manager nine months earlier.

"Kevin saw it as an opportunity to manage a great club," David said. "I got on extremely well with Joe and the two years we had together were the best two years I have had in football.

"It was sad he had to go, but I enjoyed working with him enormously. Kevin was more difficult to work with - he could be erratic in his behaviour."

Keegan, who helped City to promotion in 2001, demanded that the club sign former England international Robbie Fowler from Leeds United.

"I felt Fowler's best days were behind him," David continued.

"Kevin managed to convince my directors that we should go ahead and do it - I think he was a little starry-eyed.

"I ran a tight ship and I was not prepared to be second-guessed.

"I was not prepared to lead if I could not do it with the level of authority I'd had up until then.

"The Fowler deal was compounded by similar issues and I felt the strong structure we had created was breaking apart. I left with a heavy heart."

David stepped down as chairman in March, 2003, just five months before City played their first game in their new stadium.

"We managed to do a fantastic deal, a little like West Ham United have done with their move to the Olympic Stadium," he said.

"The negotiations were not as difficult as they might have been and that is a tribute to (Manchester City Council chief executive) Sir Howard Bernstein."

David, who was succeeded by John Wardle, remained a shareholder and said he was "devastated" when Thai businessman Thaksin Shinawatra bought City in 2007.

"I was close to buying a 10 per cent Sky stake in the club, but I could not follow it through with a full takeover," he recalled.

"I didn't want to be seen as an aggrieved ex-chairman, but I thought Shinawatra was totally unsatisfactory - I was proven right.

"He bought out the shareholders and made a large profit, but he did nothing to improve the club."

Shinawatra sold City a year later to the Abu Dhabi Group, which has since yielded much success.

David's time at City was paralleled by a successful business career and he served as chairman of a number of companies, including French Connection, Ted Baker and Carluccio's.

He had been on the Wembley Stadium Board for three years before being appointed its chairman in 2008.

The world-famous venue had been knocked down in 2000 and replaced with a state-of-the-art stadium which opened in 2007.

David had chaired the operations committee while the new Wembley was being built.

His work was noted by the highest echelons of the FA, who appointed him to succeed Lord Triesman as its chairman in early 2011.

He was asked by Prime Minister David Cameron to lead a report on discrimination in football and got the Premier League, Football League, the Professional Footballers' Association and the League Managers Association to sign off on the report which was submitted to the PM with 100 recommendations on how to deal with the issues.

"I think my time as FA chairman was a success," David said.

"The efficiency side we did well and our relationships improved with all manner of bodies, including the media."

David also called for reform at FIFA and was critical of many of the organisation's practices.

"Giving the World Cup to Qatar in 2020 was unbelievable - and to move it from the summer to the winter beggars belief," he said.

"I stood up at the FIFA Congress in 2012 in front of 2,000 people and spoke out against its electoral system. The election for its presidency was more like the coronation of Sepp Blatter.

"FIFA had called an emergency meeting to try to talk me out of it, but I resisted the pressure.

"I had a view and I was going to express it. Blatter ran a ship which left a lot to be desired, to put it nicely."

One of David's proudest moments as FA chief was taking the England squad and staff to Auschwitz during Euro 2012, which was held in Poland and Ukraine.

Before they went, the England squad and staff were addressed by two Holocaust survivors, Ben Helfgott and Zigi Shipper.

The FA, together with the Holocaust Education Trust, produced a related DVD, which was sent out to schools around the country.

"It is a great legacy and I can tell you that some of the players went back to Auschwitz privately to visit," David revealed.

An age-limit policy forced him to step down from the post in 2013 and he has since been appointed chairman of the British Red Cross.

David, who was appointed a CBE in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to football, had a brief sojourn back into football in March when he was appointed on to the board at Aston Villa as part of a boardroom shake up.

The club, which was taken over on Wednesday by the Recon Group owned by Dr Tony Jiantong Xia, has been relegated to the Championship after a wretched campaign.

David resigned his post a little after a month. He explained: "The club couldn't deliver the mandate as committed to me, as in I would run the football side of the club. I was disappointed as it is a great club in need of major surgery."

Speaking before this week's takeover, he said the club would "never prosper" under Randy Lerner.

A regular visitor to Israel, he said he feels "increasingly stronger about the country and about my Jewish heritage" as he gets older.

As for City, he remains a devoted fan and recalled with pleasure the reception he received when the club played Chelsea in the 2012 Community Shield, at Villa Park.

"I went on to the pitch as FA chairman and the whole stand in front of me rose and sang: 'There's only one David Bernstein'. I was so thrilled.

"Those relationships I have with City's fans mean an awful lot to me."

© 2016 Jewish Telegraph