From Portsmouth's boardroom to football agent - the unlikely career choice reaping its rewards

John Kimbell once occupied the Fratton Park boardroom, featuring at the heart of crucial Pompey decisions.

Thursday, 23rd July 2020, 5:30 pm
Updated Thursday, 23rd July 2020, 5:43 pm
John Kimbell was on Pompey's board of directors when the club won the League Two title after victory over Cheltenham in May 2017. Picture: Joe Pepler

Now he has answered another calling in football – this time as a player agent.

The South stand season-ticket holder spent two-and-a-half years admitted into the Blues’ hierarchy.

It was a period which saw him involved in the managerial appointment of Paul Cook, while sat on the debate whether Michael Doyle should be sacked following his infamous dressing room spat with Christian Burgess.

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Following Tornante’s takeover, Kimbell departed Pompey’s board, before also stepping down from Portsmouth Supporters’ Trust involvement in October 2017.

Yet the lure to return to football has proven irresistible for the 44-year-old, who has a lengthy digital media background.

He has gathered up ex-Everton defender Alan Stubbs, former manager Ronnie Moore, and familiar Pompey faces Ashley Brown and Ian Darke to found Twelve Football Consulting.

Now, 12 months later, the Godalming-based company have 20 players on their books.

Blues fan John Kimbell has gone from Pompey's boardroom to being a football agent

He told The News: ‘At Pompey, there was a big thing about did we really need to work with agents as a football club? Yes you do, it’s part of the game.

‘It’s like a travel agent or a financial advisor or an estate agent. They are just a way of life.

‘You need people to act as a conduit between A and C. I am B – in the middle trying to sort things out.

‘After Pompey, I really missed being involved in football. I kind of got itchy feet at my company, Navigate Media, as I got older and more mature, so appointed a managing director, which enabled me to take a step back from that business.

‘I figured creating a football consultancy would be a good use of my skills and experience in football, but also in business.

‘It seemed a natural fit. Consultancy is essentially offering a set of skills and services to clients, players and clubs which is going to help them develop as individuals or entities.

‘The concept is to create a more virtuous agency, which means we do things slightly more transparent and honest, putting clients first.

‘There are a lot of agents out there who don’t really care about the client, it’s about where they can make money. Can they move a client on? Can they establish themselves in the market rather than their clients?

‘To become an agent, you don’t have to do anything other than register with the FA. So you pay your £500, get DBS checked and that’s it. You could do it this afternoon.

‘Hence it’s like a wild west market. You look at LinkedIn, you speak to these agents, and, with the greatest respect to them, many aren’t business people.

‘You’ve got footballers who become agents, fine I get that, but they are footballers and usually never really understand business. Then Joe Bloggs is an agent who loves football, but doesn’t get the business and doesn’t comprehend football, not really.

‘We looked at it and thought “How do we make ourselves different?”. Well, to be a more honest, straight-talking agency than most out there.’

Those signed up for Twelve include former Hearts defender Clevid Dikamona, and Kaine Sheppard, who last season represented Newcastle Jets in the A-League.

Others include ex-Crewe and Accrington Stanley midfielder Liam Nolan, more recently with FC Halifax Town, and Port Vale Academy pair Michael Lennon and Luke Chambers.

Kimbell also has on his books promising King’s Lynn defenders Ross Barrows and Alex Brown, and ex-Leyton Orient keeper Charlie Grainger.

Then there’s Matt Briggs who, at the age of 16 years and 68 days, became the Premier League’s youngest player in May 2007 while with Fulham.

Kimbell added: ‘A lot of the agents are all about high turnover of players, get them in, get them out, move them around, make money. Whereas we want to be with players and build them throughout their career.

‘We are not about getting big names in the Championship and Premier League. We understand that’s going to be hard for us because we don’t have that reputation.

‘So we’ve decided to go for a smaller select group of players we think have potential to go to a higher level.

‘The breeding ground is National League, National League North and South, and Northern Premier. All these teams are offering young talent the chance to come through – and that’s where we really see the opportunity for us.

‘There are those players who have fallen upon hard times and need the support of an agency who are genuinely going to look after them. There are a lot out there who have been absolutely messed about by agents over the years.

‘One of our successes has been Matt Briggs. He’s had a terrible time over the last two or three years with personal issues, seeing him in and out of clubs. He needs exactly the help we offer.

‘We are not going to sugarcoat anything and claim we can do this and that. We are about under-promising but over-delivering. It’s about being very realistic with them.

‘Matt ended up playing in Denmark last season, but personal reasons meant he had to come back. We were tasked with getting him out of his contract and fixing him up back over here.

‘Unfortunately the Danish club dragged their heels and he missed the transfer window, when he was lined up for a League Two move.

‘We’ve fixed him up with Dartford and hopefully he’ll play against Havant & Waterlooville on Saturday in the National League South play-offs.

‘We want to deal with players who are a certain calibre but, most importantly, have really good character.

‘Of course you need football skills and this, that and the other. But managers and heads of recruitment are looking for lads who have that commitment, desire and are decent people.’

Kimbell, whose fiance is Australian, has also launched an offshoot of Twelve in Australia, headed up by Alex Cisak, the one-time Pompey keeper.

He made a single loan appearance for the Blues in November 2012 before recalled by Northampton, yet has since retired to his native country and runs an Academy in Tasmania.

The ubiquitous Kimbell has also diversified, obtaining a Fifa Level 1 in coaching, while has a PFSA qualification in scouting, a process which involved an online course and then attending a weekend at Fulham.

And the 44-year-old is convinced he possesses the broad range of skills which can make a difference to a footballer’s career.

He said: ‘I remember going to an agents conference in London organised by Mesut Ozil’s agent, Dr Erkut Sogut, who runs Football Agent Education.

‘I went pretty much as a voyeur because I had a feeling what it was going to be like – and I was right.

‘I had never seen so many sharks in all my life, slick shiny suits just talking absolute nonsense to each other. That is exactly what we need to change.

‘We aren’t going to reinvent the wheel, but if we can make small changes and get ourselves a reputation for doing the right things the right way, then you build yourself into a trusted partner.

‘That day in London also made me appreciate and realise I was actually a bit further down the line in terms of the way we act, behave and interact with managers.

‘It has taken a lot of time, but I'm trying to speak to every head of recruitment or manager from the Championship down to National League North and South. It’s a slow process, but we’re getting there.

‘It is difficult to get through to some people, and some never return your call, but at least the attempt has been made to build that dialogue.

‘I don’t think many agents are doing that. We’re different.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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