My Working Day: David Sullivan

A day in the life of the former newspaper publisher and West Ham chairman  

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Welsh businessman David Sullivan is the joint-chairman of West Ham United who formerly owned the Daily and Sunday Sport.

Less well known is that he also produced a series of pornographic movies in the 70s – an industry he has now returned to as producer of gangster film Rise of the Krays.

We spoke to the man who was a millionaire by 25 to find out what a day in the life of a football chairman is like.

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How does your working day begin?
I get up, sit down at the computer for about 8am and just look at the stock market. I see what emails I’ve had since about midnight and just sit there, answering the phone; that’s my day. I stop at about midday for a bit of exercise, do half an hour on the treadmill, have a bath and a quick bite for lunch. Then I get back to it.

How much busier is your day during the transfer window?
It’s crazy because I’m also busy with all my different businesses. I spend most of my time on the football though. You get offered about a hundred players a week and their agents drive you nuts. Generally, people want crazy money for average championship players.

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An important part of your job is decision-making – do you find it stressful?
Yeah, I had four hours sleep last night because I couldn’t switch off. You’ve got to prepare yourself for the worst-case scenario and hope it doesn’t happen. If you’re an optimist all the time, nothing works out. I’ve got a degree in economics, but part of it was mathematics and statistics – so a lot of the time I’m being logical, statistical and analytical. I don’t worry unnecessarily.

How does buying and selling players work?
Although I do the buying, the predominant decision maker is the manager. If he doesn’t want somebody, you’ll support him – particularly if he’s new. The longer the manager’s there, the more you can get involved to sell; if you’re going to cock up, you might as well cock up yourself.

What’s the best and worst thing about being a football chairman?
The worst thing is losing and the best thing is winning. I hate to say it but that’s the reality.

How would you describe your working relationship with fellow chairman David Gold?
It’s very amicable. We think very similarly. We don’t ever disagree on a decision – if one of us didn’t want to do something, neither of us would do it.

What’s the key difference between you and other football chairmen?
We genuinely support the club that we’re chairmen of. We’re British, which is a declining thing. We’re not in it for the money at all – we have no desire to sell the club or take a profit. We’re not some guy from America who’s just an venture capitalist who sees a football club as an opportunist investment; we’re just very ordinary people working very hard.

Do you find time to unwind?
Yeah, I watch a lot of TV – I like anything that’s British, though I enjoy Boardwalk Empire. I watch virtually everything – films too. That’s my escape. I can’t concentrate to watch it all in one go though. I have to keep stopping.

The David Sullivan-produced 'Rise of the Krays'

Do you watch a lot of football when you're at home?
If West Ham aren't playing, I don’t. In the main, I just like games with West Ham or teams we’ll be playing. I don’t want to watch Match of the Day if we’ve lost. It’s horrible.

Do you have a Fantasy Football team?
Even though I'm playing the real thing, I don’t even understand how it works. Whoever invented it, though, you've got to take your hat off to them. I’m not good at games generally because I feel like people get stressed out over something so unimportant – the real world is what’s important. Games are just a bit of fun.  

Which characteristics would you say have got you to where you are today?
I’d say hard work, persistence, perseverance and common sense. I’m omnipotent in life. It’s a British disease for people to say, “It wasn’t meant to be” when things go wrong; what you actually should be saying is, “We haven’t got what we want – how do we get it? Let’s go again.” 

Rise of the Krays will be released on DVD & Blu-ray on 31 August. You can pre-order it here.


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