Archive for July, 2009
Posted by John Beech on July 17, 2009
Maintaining the work/life balance is always hard, especially as following English football management (and mis-management) is a 24/7 activity (OK, 16/7 to be more accurate). It is not, however, a 16/7/52 activity – for a fortnight a year, life has to get 100% of my attention I’m told, and that fortnight begins this weekend.
I expect to resume regular postings on Monday 3rd. August, and plan to put up some postings summarising the season just gone.
This will also mean that any comments will remain unmoderated until then, so please be patient.
What a time to go on holiday though! Far too many clubs in trouble – what will I be returning to? What news of takeovers at Portsmouth and Newcastle, and HMRC’s winding-up orders? Roll on the 3rd!!
Late extra: Not to mention goings on at Chester City – see my update comment at the bottom of Developments at Chester City.
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Posted by John Beech on July 16, 2009
According to the Liverpool Post, Everton Chairman Bill Kenwright “laments club debt despite record turnover” (1). It’s tempting to shout ‘Mr Micawber!’ at him, with a dash of ‘The Emperor’s got no clothes!’, but, while that may be sound yet obvious advice, the problem of debt in a Premier League club deserves deeper analysis.
Details of Everton’s financial position emerged at a Shareholders’ Forum last night, which the club reported live on its website (2), a welcome change from the usual culture of secrecy (see ) that surrounds so many clubs.
The basic financial details (bearing in mind that the accounts are still subject to audit, so there might be some corrections to come) are:
- Annual turnover now a record figure of almost £80 million, up 5.3% on 2007/08 and up 55% on 2006/07
- Commercial income up from £6.7m to £7.4m
- A wages bill of £49m, up slightly from the previous year’s £44.5m, but only 62% of turnover, one of the better percentages achieved by a Premier League club
On the face of it, all seems healthy, but:
- Debt levels have increased by £16m over the last three years
This is good cause for lamentation!
There are a number of reasons why football clubs, in general, can find themselves in this position:
- They fail to concern themselves with long-term debt, focusing only on operating profit or loss.
- The drive for success on the pitch clouds financial judgment, and unrealistic aspirations result in the risky strategy of borrowing money on the assumption that improved playing performance will allow the money to be repaid, an assumption which may turn out to be unfounded.
- Rather than try and manage costs against projected revenues, they automatically see the solution as getting more investment, which is unsustainable as a business model.
Readers are invited to add their own examples of clubs which make all three mistakes, although a rather shorter list would be one of those which make none of them.
Behind these three reasons lies a deeper reason. Clubs do not of course operate as normal businesses. Because they operate in league structures, their businesses strategies are to a large extent shaped by the strategies followed by the other members of the league they play in. If other clubs pay silly money for and to players, there is little option but to follow suit, and the vicious downward spiral is reinforced.
Unless the constant inflation of both transfer fees and payers’ wages is tackled at the league level, and specifically at the level of the highest tier in the league structure, there is going to be a lot more weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, not to mention lamentation.
Posted in Costs, Debts, Governance, Revenues, Transfers, Wages | Tagged: Costs, Debts, Governance, Revenues | Leave a Comment »
Posted by John Beech on July 15, 2009
Taking the season as beginning on 1 August 2008, HMRC have petitioned courts for winding up orders against the following clubs (dates refer to publication in The London Gazette):
7 August – Merthyr Tydfil
17 September – Margate
8 January – Fisher Athletic
15 January – Northwich Victoria
23 April – Merthyr Tydfil
7 May – Hyde United
28 May – Accrington Stanley
18 June – Margate
6 July – Harlow Town
9 July – King’s Lynn
Of these, Harlow Town is a bit of mystery to me. The case is due to be heard next Wednesday, but I can find no reports of what lies behind it, the size of the debt in particular. The club’s website (1) produces a ‘Server not found’ error message. Does anyone know what is going on?
While the numbers are small, it is difficult to resist the view that HMRC is starting to get tough, notwithstanding their granting Bournemouth further time to pay (see previous posting).
To put these in a broader context, other petitioners have been:
7 August – Leyton (NOT Leyton Orient) – Collyer Bristow LLP
3 December – Merthyr Tydfil – Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council
9 December – Bournemouth – Portner
30 January – Darwen – ING Lease (UK)
13 February – Burscough – Hurlston Brooke
9 March – Hinckley United – 1st Class Hygiene
23 March – Hinckley United – EON
30 March – Northwich Victoris – DWF LLP
15 April – Hornchurch FC (2005) – Portakabin
Posted in HMRC, Insolvency | Tagged: HMRC, Insolvency | Leave a Comment »
Posted by John Beech on July 15, 2009
Bournemouth have been under a transfer embargo from the Football League for a year. The reasons for this were stated on 11 July by Vice Chairman Jeff Mostyn (1) to be:
- the club’s debts to other football clubs
- a ‘nominal’ debt to the Football League itself
All of these arose under the previous ownership, but the incoming owners will have been fully aware of them.
In the same report Mostyn is quoted as saying “The league believes that, if you are not meeting your financial obligations, bringing in new players, at whatever cost, is adding to your commitments and will make any repayment of debt more difficult, if not impossible. However difficult it is to stomach, it is hard to disagree with the philosophy.”
Not only do I find it hard to disagree with the philosophy, but I have no difficulty stomaching it. What does Mostyn mean by “however difficult to stomach“? Does he mean that is his consortium, the club’s new owners, should be allowed to take on new financial commitments before clearing tax debts to the government?
He also said “In order to get the league to consider lifting the current embargo, we needed to demonstrate that we had an agreement in place with HMRC and I was able to satisfy them on this point.” The wording here is interesting – apparently having an agreement in place is sufficient; the debts do not have to actually be cleared for the embargo to be lifted.
Notwithstanding any objection I might wish to voice as a taxpayer, the position the club’s owners are adopting do not augur well for its future financial stability. Eddie Mitchell, incoming Chairman, told BBC Radio Solent on 23 June “I’ve just got to take a view that it’s got to be run like a business to give the club some stability over a period of time” (2).
Coming in to a club which has been struggling financially since going into Administration back in 1997 (with debts which included £450,000 in unpaid VAT and PAYE [The Independent, 30 January 1997]) inevitably means prioritising payments. To his credit, Mitchell stated that paying unpaid wages would be top of his priorities. Actually paying taxes does not appear to be his second priority however.
Two possibilities occur to me. Either the consortium took over the club with insufficient funds to be able to put the club back on a sound financial footing – rather worrying given the club has already had to fight this last season impeded by the docking of 17 points last season for failing to exit Administration into a CVA – or the consortium gives spending money a higher priority than paying overdue taxes. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will not be amused. They may have just given the club more time to pay (3), but Bournemouth must surely be drinking in the last chance saloon.
Posted in Debts, Governance, Insolvency, Wages | Tagged: Debts, Insolvency, Points deduction, Wages | 1 Comment »
Posted by John Beech on July 14, 2009
Down in Bournemouth (League 2), things look at last to be on the up. Recently a consortium led by Adam Murry bought the club, ending a long period of uncertainty when Paul Baker was trying with increasing desperation. New Chairman, it was announced on 22 June, is one Eddie Mitchell, and the new board of directors includes Mitchell’s brother-in-law Neill Blake (1).
One possible impediment to this set-up was the fact that Eddie Mitchell was better known locally as the owner of nearby Dorchester Town. Mitchell had acquired the majority share-holding in Dorchester Town as recently as the summer of 2007, but had announced his intention to bid for Bournemouth within a week of that club going into Administration in February 2008 (2).
This move to Bournemouth was clearly a matter for concern at Dorchester, where an annual loss of £276,711 had been announced on 18 June, and a debt of £203,130 to Mitchell’s property company Seven Developments was declared (3).
On 23 June, Mitchell said of Dorchester Town “I’m still committed and I’ve every intention of remaining committed” (4). Quite how this could be was not at the time made clear.
However, yesterday The Mirror broke an interesting story – Eddie had handed ownership of Dorchester Town over to his two sons, Tom (aged 21) and Josh (aged 18) (5). As Josh put it “We used to play Football Manager on PCs in our shed at home, now we are playing it for real – it is completely bizarre”.
Tom, who plays for Dorchester Town, clarified today how things would be run: “It is an exciting development but although the club will now be in mine and my brother’s name my main interest is still playing football. I have enjoyed my time here over the past year and a half and I do not want it to be any different so I am just focusing on the season ahead and continuing to push myself in terms of trying to cement a first-team place. As for the other side of it, it will be Josh who will be more involved in the boardroom than me. I won’t do much on that side at all” (6). Bizarre is certainly the word, although Dorchester Town fans can be assured that Josh is not entirely without experience – Eddie points out that “he has worked on the car park at the club for the best part of nine months and has also done quite a bit of stewarding”.
Shuffling ownership around the family has of course been in the news recently with the Vaughans of Chester City (7). Is the FA happy with these developments? Will they intervene? I’m not holding my breath.
Posted in Governance, Ownership | Tagged: Governance, Ownership | 3 Comments »
Posted by John Beech on July 13, 2009
There is a definite uncertainty about AFC Liverpool.
No, I’m not referring to either their financial situation or their progress on the pitch. I’m referring to their sense of their own identity.
In my earlier posting on The fate of resurrectionist clubs (1), I looked at FC United of Manchester although their predecessor was alive and not doing too badly in fact, thank you very much, but not at AFC Liverpool. Why did I make a distinction between the two AFCs?
Their births were in similar sets of circumstances but with significantly different motivations. FC United of Manchester was established as a political statement of disapproval at the Glazer takeover of Manchester United. AFC Liverpool was also formed in protest, at the level of pricing of season tickets at Liverpool.
Gregg Roughley of The Guardian dubbed AFC Liverpool ‘Liverpool’s little brother’ (2), and the cosiness of the relationship between the two club provides a basis for this soubriquet. At the time AFC Liverpool was formed, it was made clear that the dispute with Liverpool FC was simply over ticket pricing and was not a statement against Hicks and Gillett (3). Liverpool FC have never been anything other than supportive, and their website carries news of AFC Liverpool, usually in glowing terms, recording ‘triumphs’ (4, then search under ‘AFC’).
The position AFC Liverpool adopted in relation to Liverpool FC was understandable when they were formed, but is it still appropriate today? The FAQ page of the AFC Liverpool website (5), and the ‘About AFC Liverpool’ page (6) make clear that the relationship is still totally benign. The latter even sees the club now stating “We see ourselves very much as part of the LFC family – LFC’s little brother”. Are they secretly hoping for some return to Anfield as a prodigal little brother?
If they were indeed ‘LFC’s little brother’, it strikes me that it would be grossly unfair that the ‘Liverpool family’ is allowed two clubs in the pyramid, with AFC Liverpool denying another club a place in the Vodkat League.
The reality is that AFC are not Liverpool FC’s little brother, nor are they part of a notional ‘Liverpool family’. The sooner they establish their own identity and shake-off their surrogacy pose the better. It is unhealthy and does not bode well for their future. They should perhaps learn a lesson from history – Liverpool FC hardly ‘feel part of the Everton family or Everton’s little brother’ even if initially they wanted to (7).
Posted in Identity, Uncategorized | Tagged: Identity | Leave a Comment »
Posted by John Beech on July 10, 2009
Roughly twenty years ago Ilkeston faced a classic problem for lower league clubs. The owner of the Manor Ground where they played, Erewash Borough Council, had decided to sell the land to a Scottish supermarket chain (1).
Into the frame stepped a classic saviour – Paul Millership. Millership was a local man with a strong feeling for the town and its community. He financed a move to a new larger site and a fine new stadium, and Ilkeston lived on at the New Manor Ground (2).
Success on the pitch was varied. They yoyoed around in the various divisions of the Southern League after a brief spell in the West Midlands League.
Paul Millership’s death in November 2007, at the comparatively early age of 59, introduced considerable uncertainty for the club, but in May 2008 another ‘local lad made good’, Chek Whyte, moved in as owner of the club. Whyte rang the changes quickly, and manger Nigel Jemson rapidly leaving the club (3). This last season has seen joint managers Rob Scott and Paul Hurst bring success in the Northern Premier League play-offs, and Ilkeston are due to debut in the Conference North next month.
As can often be the case, a successful run led to departures, and Scott and Hurst have moved on (4).
As if that were not enough uncertainty as they enter a new tier in the pyramid, Ilkeston will now have to face that the situation that their benefactor is himself in financial trouble. Whyte, who has appeared on the television series Secret Millionaire, is today reported as facing bankruptcy with debts of £30m (5). The direct impact on the club is not yet clear.
Benefaction can undoubtedly mean ‘doing good’, and there are clear examples of this at Ilkeston from both Millership and Whyte, but it carries a clear risk too – financial dependency on a single source of unearned revenues, which may not prove limitless over time.
Posted in Benefactors, Stadium | Tagged: Benefactors, Stadium | 2 Comments »
Posted by John Beech on July 9, 2009
When a club goes into Administration and an Administrator is appointed, that Administrator has to recover his own costs from what monies he can raise from the club’s assets. Administrators do not come cheap.
Begbies Traynor are very much the stars of the football insolvency business – very much Champions League material in this particular business sector.
Clubs at which they have been appointed the Administrators include: Kingstonian (2001), Huddersfield Town (2003), Northwich Victoria (2004), Wrexham (2004), Farnborough Town (2006), Crawley Town (2006), Bournemouth (2008), Halifax Town (2008) and Southampton Leisure Holdings (2009). Gerald Krasner, one-time Chairman of Leeds United, has been one of their ‘star players’.
They have just announced annual profits of £7.2m, a jump from £5.7m in the previous financial year (1). Insolvency is of course a boom industry in times of recession.
For use in presentations I have a rather complex diagram showing the main cash flows in the football industry. It could just be that it needs an extra arrow, representing the flow of cash from clubs to insolvency practitioners.
Posted in Costs, Insolvency | Tagged: Costs, Insolvency | 3 Comments »
Posted by John Beech on July 9, 2009
I love stadiums, Victorian (Archie Leitch – what a hero!) or ultra-modern. I love them as buildings, as examples of grand architecture. But I am unsentimental about them otherwise – I do not share the typical British view that they can and must only be associated with one club. As someone who who works in a Business School that is not surprising – their utilisation rate is ludicrously low if they only earn serious money once a fortnight.
In Italy shared stadiums are far from unknown, and there are examples in Germany and Austria too. In Britain they have generally been restricted either to clubs playing different sports (football and rugby seem to pair up more often than other sports) or to lower League clubs sharing their stadium with a reserve team from a higher division. The proposal that Liverpool and Everton share a new stadium has been greeted with derision by their respective fans.
If you haven’t heard yet, you perhaps need to sit down: Oldham (League 1) and Rochdale (League 2) have held initial and informal talks about the possibility of sharing Oldham’s Boundary Park (1). Their grounds are less than seven miles apart, so any inconvenience to Rochdale fans would not be enormous. Stockport County is also mentioned in this particular context.
No doubt there will howls of protest from Outraged of Milnrow. Let the voice of protest just think about the big savings on costs, a vital issue in these times with so many clubs facing the possibility of insolvency. If it meant the difference between survival of the club or liquidation, would they still see a shared stadium as unthinkable? If it works at the San Siro, why couldn’t it be made to work here?
There is also the possibility of two clubs selling their stadiums and sharing a new stadium. Or would that really be thinking the unthinkable?
Posted in Costs, Stadium | Tagged: Costs, Stadium | 5 Comments »
Posted by John Beech on July 9, 2009
With the purchase of the club from the Administrators by the Liebherr consortium, headed by Markus Liebherr, an inglorious chapter of Southampton’s history finally draws to a close. Those who want a quick summary of the chapter, see the Southern Daily Echo‘s comprehensive timeline (1).
I say ‘finally’ because it seems so long ago that the holding company collapsed – in fact, it was only on 1st April that the Administrators moved in.
One apparent oddity was the fight that Mark Fry, Joint Administrator, put up to get the 10 point deduction removed because it was the holding company rather than the club itself which had gone into Administration. This argument was always spurious – if he took this line as the Administrator of the holding company, what business of his was this club-specific issue? Well, none in reality, but as the Administrator he was obliged to act in such a way as to try and save the holding company, which inevitably meant trying to put the club into best shape for a sale.
The club and the holding company were thus, as it was ruled by the Football League, a single economic entity. This precedent being established has , thank goodness, precluded a lot of paper shuffling by insolvent clubs to create organisational structures which would get through this ‘loophole’, a loophole which has never, Fry established unfortunately for his plans, existed.
Posted in Governance, Insolvency | Tagged: Governance, Insolvency | Leave a Comment »
Posted by John Beech on July 9, 2009
In a perhaps surprising about-turn, the Conference has allowed Farsley Celtic to play in the Conference North next season, with a 10 point deduction (1). The club and the Administrator received an email yesterday saying “In the specific and unique circumstances of the Club, where a member Club has entered into administration after the Annual General Meeting and prior to the start of the new season, the Directors have taken a decision which it feels will benefit all parties.” So, nothing to do with the FA reversing their decision on Northwich Victoria then.
By a somewhat perverse route, the right outcome seems to have been reached.
It is is possible that this is not the end of the saga however. Presumably at least one club will feel hard done by in failing to be promoted to the Conference North, and a new dispute may arise. The Football Conference must be coming familiar with this kind of dispute however.
Previous Farsley Celtic postings are at, in chronological order, (2), (3), (4) and (5).
Posted in Governance | Tagged: Governance | 1 Comment »
Posted by John Beech on July 9, 2009
A week ago I commented on the apparently harsh action the FA was taking against Halesowen Town of the Southern League Premier Division (1).
Now, with echoes of recent events at Merthyr Tydfil (2), it is reported that the Supporters Trust is threatening to force the club into Administration as they understand debt levels are of the order of £250,000, a very worryingly high level for a club at this level (3). From published club accounts, debts had already risen from £7,684 in May 2007 to £69,376 in 2008 (4).
With the club under a transfer embargo and facing the second FA ban of the season if it does not pay its football creditors, and ‘owner’/manager Morrell Maison personally under a ban imposed by the FA, it is hard to imagine how things could be any worse.
Administration and then attempted rescue by the fledgling Yeltz Trust seem the only viable option.
Posted in Debts, Governance, Insolvency, Ownership, Trusts | Tagged: Debts, Governance, Insolvency, Ownership, Supporters Trust | 1 Comment »
Posted by John Beech on July 8, 2009
This time it’s Rushden & Diamonds (1), for an as yet unspecified sum.
The club blames massive overheads on their stadium, sponsors not meeting their commitments, and little interest accruing out of capital invested. Hmmm.
The club’s stadium at Nene Park in Irthlingborough was opened in 1969 and comprised Irthlingborough Diamond’s ‘dowry’ at their ‘marriage’ to Rushden Town in 1992. It was then redeveloped, in a spirit of optimism for the future, and understandably, certainly at the time, incorporated conference and hospitality facilities. It is not so much that the overheads are the problem; it is the diminishing revenues with which to service the overheads that is the problem. An average gate of 4,457 in 2003/04 has dwindled to 1,609 in the season just finished, in no small part due to relegation back to the Conference in 2005 (figures from the invaluable website of the late Tony Kempster). That summer owner Max Giggs handed over control to the Supporters Trust, at just about the worst time for an incoming management team to take over. In short the Trust inherited a stadium that was over-specified for their needs (tell Darlington fans about that!). In 2006 the Trust handed over to Keith Cousins, a former Vice Chairman of Peterborough United, who injected funding.
Sponsors not meeting their obligations seems the most understandable of the stated reasons. Shirt sponsors are Haart estate agents; I can find no confirmation of my speculation that it refers to them, but their sector is not enjoying a healthy phase to say the least. (I’m happy to set the record straight if I am wrong in suggesting that it might be Haart that is being referred to.)
The reference to poor interest rates I find hard to make sense of. If the club has the kind of deposits that provide sufficient return in happier times to cover their tax liabilities, why can they not see off (or indeed have pre-empted) a winding-up order with a small dip into these deposits? Again, I would be happy to publish the comment of someone better informed on the club’s finances than me.
Whatever the circumstances and the reasons, it is a depressingly familiar tale of a club failing to pay taxes. When will they learn that HMRC is unforgiving?
Posted in Benefactors, Debts, Insolvency, Ownership, Revenues, Stadium, Trusts | Tagged: Benefactors, Debts, Insolvency, Ownership, Revenues, Stadium | 1 Comment »
Posted by John Beech on July 8, 2009
It is reported that Charlton Athletic are possibly the subject, again, of a takeover bid from the UAE (1) and (2), this in the context of recent annual losses of £11.5m (3), the selling of fixed assets (4), and relegation to League 1. Less than a week ago Plymouth Argyle (Championship) were taken over by a consortium with Japanese investors (5), and just over a week ago Notts County (League 2) submitted to a takeover also backed by Arab finance (6). Foreign ownership is clearly on the drive down the football pyramid. Not that this is an entirely new phenomenon – for example, in 2007 Swindon Town with Portuguese investors, as far back as 1999 with Terry Smith’s (USA) unfortunate involvement with Chester City, and, over twenty years ago, with Jerry Sherman’s (USA) positively disastrous involvement with Newport County – but foreign ownership is clearly no longer a characteristic of just Premier League clubs.
In the PL foreign ownership or investment is common place – Aston Villa (USA), Chelsea (Russia), Fulham (Egypt), Liverpool (USA), Manchester City (Thailand, then UAE), Manchester United (USA), Portsmouth (USA, Israel and possibly next UAE), Sunderland (Ireland, then USA) and West Ham (Iceland).
I don’t share the views of Phil ‘Let’s stick to good old English benefactors’ Gartside (7) though. His views are not in fact consistently hardline anti-foreign (8).
To me, all benefaction is potentially dangerous to a club – wallets are not infinitely deep and commitment may waver over time.
If there is a distinction to be made between foreign and domestic benefaction it is perhaps in the propensity to waver. Recent UAE investment plans have switched somewhat arbitrarily, in terms of commitment to a particular club, which suggests that the the traditional bond between local backer and club is inherently less strong when the backer is not a local boy made good.
It worries me when I read that the imminent (?) takeover of Southampton by a Swiss consortium involving the Liebherr family is in some way connected to the fact that there are already local links – Liebherr cranes in Southampton Docks (9). Per-lease! On that basis, the family would have the same commitment, or lack of it, to virtually any port city club!!
[See also my posting of 5 June]
Posted in Benefactors, Ownership | Tagged: Benefactors, Ownership | 1 Comment »
Posted by John Beech on July 7, 2009
In a comment to a posting yesterday (1) I referred to what I call ‘subbing the club’. At Aldershot Town fans have set up a player fund to aid the club (2) and have raised £40,000, which manager Gary Waddock has available to spend as he likes on transfer fees or wages.
At Stafford Rangers fans have also been ‘subbing the club’, but in a small but significantly different way. They have raised £50,000 to pay a debt in order to avoid the club going into Administration (3). Unlike at Aldershot Town, the money is in the form of loans.
Another variant happened earlier in the season at Weymouth, where the club offered a million shares at 50p each (4).
If a fan is in the position of being asked to sub the club, I would suggest they need to think about the following issues before they rush to empty their wallets:
- Is the money to be used to make a one-off payment (for example, repay a debt or pay a transfer fee) or will it be used to temporarily support the club’s usual cashflow problems (for example, to pay wages)?
The former may be something that a loyal fan is happy to do, but the latter is just propping up an unsustainable business model; it is only putting off the inevitable financial crash.
- Is it a gift, a loan, or buying a share?
The last two can make sense, but is gifting the right way of helping a club to learn to live within its means?
- Who owns the club? What are their motives?
Recently I have been looking at the range of people who might be termed ‘benefactors’ (5). It is worrying how ‘benefactors’ tend in the long run to be either ‘heroes’ or ‘zeroes’ – both their ability and their willingness to support the club financially can vary over time, rarely in either case increasingly. Bolstering a benefactor who is ‘on the turn’ can result in a delayed but bigger crash.
The role of the Supporters Trust in this is interesting, and the case of Merthyr Tydfil especially so. With wages not being paid and players having to pay their own travel expenses (6), the Supporters Trust raised and donated £30,000 (7). Enough was enough when the owner, Wyn Holloway, could not agree terms with the Trust over buying shares. In effect, this contributed in a small part to the club being forced into Administration (or at least the timing of it), and it is from Administration that the Trust plan to resurrect the club. (See  and ).
This pragmatic approach of being more concerned with the club’s mid- to long-term future rather than with fire-fighting in the short term is to be commended – it must have been emotionally a hard decision to make, and I admire their resolve . ‘Subbing the club’ should not be done as a knee-jerk reaction – long term survival under a sustainable business model is what really counts.
Posted in Benefactors, Fans, Insolvency, Trusts | Tagged: Benefactors, Fans, Insolvency | 2 Comments »