‘He knows the club’: An infuriating, imaginary conversation

‘He knows the club.’

It falls out of the pundit before they can stop it. It is a popular go-to cliche, often parroted by fans when talking of a former player returning as a manager. But what does it mean? Let’s take a look via the medium of a rhetorical Q & A.

Obviously, this has been prompted by this nonsense.


Everyone knows a club. There isn’t a professional club in the UK most of us don’t know exists. So can we all be the manager of any of them?

No. Of course not.

Okay so you have to have played for the club to ‘know’ it?

Definitely, Jeff.

Stop calling me Jeff. Does it matter how many times you played for them?

More is better.

Ah, so you know the club more, the more you play for it?


Okay, so what is there to know? The lay-out of the building? Where the toilets are? The staff in the office? The cleaners?

They know the club right down to the tea lady; they know it inside and out.

So a club should appoint a manager because, having played for the club, he may know some of the existing backroom staff?

It’s all part of knowing the DNA of the club.

DNA? How does a club have DNA?

It’s what the club is all about.

So clubs don’t evolve. They are always the same? Due to having a pre-set DNA?

They evolve if it’s in their DNA.

Are you sure? Okay, so the ex-player uniquely implicitly understands all of this?

Yeah, because he knows the club.’

But how does that help how he organises the team? How does it help with tactics, transfers and man-management?

He knows the tradition and culture of the club.

But all fans of a club, at all levels, are similarly cognisant of those things. The editor of the local paper’s sports section probably does too. By your theory, they could all manage the club.

No. They’ve not played for the club, so they don’t know the club.

What if the club now has different owners to when he played for them?

Makes no difference. He still knows the club.

So you can still know the club even if everything about the club has changed and the club now isn’t the club it was?


Due to knowing the tea lady and the DNA?


Name me a former player who went on to be a great manager at the same club.

Frank Lampard?


No, sorry, Jeff. Err…Howard Kendall?

He’s a good shout actually, though wasn’t any good when he went back and he knew the club even more at that point. Anyone else?

Kenny Dalglish.

Yeah, another good call, though again, wasn’t that good when he went back, bulging with know-the-club knowledge. There are hundreds, probably thousands of unremarkable ex-players who go on to unsuccessfully manage one of their former clubs.

That doesn’t matter though.

Why not?

Because I’ve not thought about any of this. I’ve not worked it out and I don’t have any facts to prove my point.

You know that almost every club that wins anything does so with a manager who never played for the club? So why is it said knowing the club is a good thing, or even a thing at all?

Because – and this is crucial so I’m going to say it slowly – I’m paid to say something about football, so I’ve got to say something. This is something. Words what I say. Can I have my money now, please?

I thought it was the triumph of romance and lies over facts and truth?

Might be. Mostly it’s just me saying the first thing that comes into my head in a voice which suggests it is profound insight. And nodding, Jeff. I do a lot of nodding to confirm that what I’m saying is very insightful indeed.

Yeah, that doesn’t help.

It doesn’t matter. You can say any old shite about football and they still pay you.

Well, it does sound like ‘knows the club’ has some meaning, but it doesn’t. Knowing the club both literally, culturally or metaphysically, is not unique to an ex-player and there is no statistic we can point to that suggests the ex-player of a club consistently does better than a non-ex-player. So even if knowing the club exists in some sort of way, which it doesn’t, or at least not uniquely for a former player, it doesn’t mean they will be the best appointment. There are hundreds of examples of an ex-player being rubbish at managing their former clubs, despite supposedly knowing the club. It is a meaningless expression. This week it was said about Wayne Rooney.

Ah Rooney, he’d be a good appointment for Everton.


He knows that club, doesn’t he? Knows it inside and out, down to the tea lady.

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