How a soccer-mad Californian kicked off today's megarich global sports machine

CNET | 8/8/2019 | Richard Trenholm
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Among the super-rich, a high-profile sports team is a must-have accessory. Lucrative English soccer clubs are a prime target for Russian oligarchs, Qatari princes and American entertainment empires. But when the first foreign owner to ever buy an English team arrived 35 years ago, he brought more than his wallet. He brought his boots.

Today, 15 of the 20 clubs in the English Premier League, which kicked off a new season last weekend, are the property of megarich backers from the US, Asia and the Middle East. Legendary clubs like Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United, family-owned for generations, are now just another asset in portfolios of NFL, NBA and even esports franchises.

Spending - Spree - Oligarch - Roman - Abramovich

This international spending spree started when Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea FC in 2003, but the largely forgotten first step toward today's globalized era occurred way back in 1984. Football clubs were traditionally owned by local businessmen until California lawyer Bruce Osterman bought Tranmere Rovers, a proud but impoverished team in the unemployment-lashed north of England.

"The game as a whole was at its nadir," remembers Mark Palios, who played for Tranmere in those dark days of the 1980s. "Gates were low, there was hooliganism, there was a complete lack of investment. It was a sick industry."

Footnote - History - Story - Conflict - Passion

What followed is more than a quirky footnote in sporting history -- it's a story of conflict between passion and business that any fan of any team in any country will recognize. Palios played an unexpected secret role in the ensuing drama -- only to face a horribly familiar crisis threatening the club three decades later.

Mark Palios played for Tranmere in the 1970s and 1980s, taking an unexpected role in the drama behind the scenes -- before returning to the club 30 years later.

Former - Tranmere - Player - Ken - Bracewell

Former Tranmere player Ken Bracewell was coaching a professional team...
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