Beware of Groupies Bearing Gifts

Cautionary Advice for all Clubs and Societies

After dinner comic Bob “the Cat” Bevan, who received an MBE for his services to charity two years ago, has spent a lifetime serving on committees and company boards, most of which needed funds. But sponsors are not always what they seem. He has seen the good, the bad and the truly ugly.

My first committee was over 40 years’ ago, on selection for my old boys’ football club. Our secretary, an undertaker and a wonderful man called George Croucher, would not get involved in the meetings except for keeping the minutes. When I asked him why he never offered an opinion during the various arguments, suggesting that his wise head would be a modifying influence, he said something which I’ve never forgotten. “Young Bob,” he said. “I am just a servant of the members.”

It is a principle I have followed ever since and that is how your club should be run.
Fifteen years ago I became President of the local Cricket Club.

I started to get involved and we’ve raised nearly £250,000 to buy a long lease on the ground and build a pavilion to replace the portakabin they’ve used for years. We now have some 200 Juniors and probably nearly 400 people involved, one way or another.

We had a kind of benefactor. Someone always there when he’s needed. Who has provided a springboard to the next step on more than one occasion.

Yet he is in the background. Most members don’t even know him, or even that he exists. Shamefully we only made him a Vice-President as an afterthought this year. He wants no power, no say in what we do. He is just a genuinely good guy.

When we got a major grant, it meant we could finish all our work and start to pay back some members’ interest-free loans. I filled up when I heard the news. Then he was one of the first people I called and his reaction was to tear up his £10,000 interest-free loan agreement. I filled up again.

But he didn’t want it broadcast. No fuss. No publicity. Unless it is helpful to the club.

Sadly not all benefactors are like him. There was a man recently in another sport. He poured money into dozens of football clubs. I know because he took adverts in the press to tell everyone how wonderful he was. And he wanted a say on just about every subject. And if he didn’t get what he wanted he would threaten to take his toys away again.

I’ve seen all this before. A football club in the South-East, where I had shares, secured a new sponsor. They were so grateful they put him and his friends on the board. Suddenly they had power. Next thing you know the freehold of the ground is in the ownership of a shipping company in Gibraltar and untouchable.

And there are always suspicions, perhaps unfounded, perhaps not, in many sports clubs that junior selection is based not solely on the talent of the youngsters and, in part, on the donation level of some wealthy parents.
But back to our man funding dozens of sports clubs. He suddenly got the hump and pulled out of them all. You don’t hear of him at all now. Many of those clubs who had come to depend on him faced real problems. Some perhaps fatal in time

So don’t be taken in by some of these people. The damage they do far outweighs whatever initial benefits they bring. Be careful if you offer them membership. Members have rights. If that can’t be avoided, don’t let them in on any governing body. Or at least make sure that their money carries no strings before it’s too late.

They are especially noticeable in show business and celebrity-linked charities. They lack the talent of those they admire so hanging out with the stars is the next best thing. There is nothing wrong with that and many organisations benefit from their generosity and enjoy their company. More often than not they are really nice people looking to do some good with their money. Just like our man in my village. These are not the ones about which I warn you.

It is those with the large cheque books who want something back. And that something is power and influence. They lust for it. “Everyone has their price” is their motto. Sadly they’re right. Nearly everyone does have their price and as these “evil groupies” get into an organisation they can spread a cancer which can eventually destroy the whole fabric of a club or society.

They soon identify and marginalise those few who are not prepared to be bought. They do this by spreading unkind and false rumours, often during an expensive meal funded by them. Invariably there is no truth in these hints and whispers but the seed is planted. They assume, nearly always rightly, that people tend to believe these lies and do not ask for evidence to prove the truth of what they are being told.

These “evil groupies” also assume, again rightly, that none of their targets can afford to take them on legally or in any other way.

And they spread their largesse abroad. Some sponsorship here, a gift or two there. In extreme cases they might even host a function in a major venue. Large numbers go along. Not all are taken in. Some go for the free meal and laugh behind the Groupies’ backs at their stupidity for spending all their money. Others become even more convinced just how wonderful these people must be. They even start to believe the rumours and turn against life-long friends.

It’s called Divide and Rule.

Sometimes a religious theme will be thrown into the mix. A good move. Even the doubters will stop short of criticising someone’s stated beliefs. But their actions will soon raise doubts among the brighter members about their genuine religious values.

Not many stop to ask the reason for the big events. Not being too active behind the scenes, they won’t work out that this is being done to get them or a friend elected. Or to stop one of the non-converts getting in  

Even less do they stop and think how much more good could be done if all that money had been given to the charity or club funds rather than poured down members’ necks. But the Groupies are not really interested in the organisation or its good causes, however much they might claim they are. All they want is to come out on top and to wield the enormous power their money can bring.

Eventually the good guys get fed up and leave. Then the Groupies look for new targets and soon they have more and more power and run the whole thing with a few well-taken-care-of members who are seduced by the endless praise and handouts and the little power they are allowed. Whether these people are willing or unwitting acolytes is immaterial to the Groupies. Unless they defect to the good guys. Then God help them.

One day the Groupies will be bored and move on to something else where they can be glorified anew, leaving a sorry mess behind them which has become dependant on their funding.

This is a pattern of behaviour to look out for.  So if there is someone in your organisation who fits partly or, God forbid, wholly into the description outlined above, get the good guys together and root them out before it’s too late.


Grumpy old goalies


Bob 'The Cat' Bevan