Nepotism attempts to rear its ugly head again
Posted by John Beech on November 13, 2009
Regular readers will recall how Eddie Mitchell was reported to be the author of several emails to Weymouth offering them £5,000 to take on his son Tom as a player (1). Mitchell dismissed the emails as an elaborate forgery. He, of course, had famously tried to leave his sons in charge at Dorchester Town when he bought Bournemouth (2), and has openly admitted “I’m not a passionate football fan – my son plays and that’s what drew me into football” (3).
Now there is a would-be club investor who is seemingly totally brazen in his motives. The Cambridge News reports “[Chairman] Tony Roach has revealed Histon have no financial agreement in place with businessman Raj Chodankar. But the Indian could invest in the club in the future if his son impresses during a forthcoming trial at the Glass World Stadium” (4)!
Back in July the club website had reported “International businessman Raj Chodankar is putting the finishing touches to various items of paperwork and the fine detail regarding joining the Board is expected to be completed within the next fourteen days” (5). Chodankar’s public profile is about as high as that of, for example, Suleiman al Fahim at Portsmouth.
What shocks me is not only the lack of empathy with the sporting ethic, but also that this should involve a club whose origins lie in the principled foundation of the Histon Institute and the donations of John Chivers (of jam fame).
To put this scenario into a context, it needs to be borne in mind that Histon are under pressure from, guess who, HMRC, who are owed £20,000 of VAT (of course, already HMRC’s, collected by the club but not yet forwarded), but also £11,000 owed to Cambridgeshire Constabulary. Allen Soraff, the club’s Finance Director, says “We’re very comfortable with the level of debt we’ve got and the arrangements we’ve got to clear it. We’ve made a significant payment to the police and what we owe to HM Revenue and Customs is a very small amount of money in relation to what other clubs owe. Arrangements are in place to pay it off and everything is under control” (6). That HMRC will rest easy simply because other clubs owe more seems unlikely.
Histon faces two particular problems. For those who are not familiar with the geography of East Anglia, Histon and Impington are a pair of villages with a combined population of approximately 10,000 only. They lie less than five miles from Cambridge, which has Cambridge United (Conference; ex-Football League) and Cambridge City (Southern League Premier Division). The city of Cambridge has a population of over 80,000 if the students are excluded. Histon might expect to be the ‘Tranmere’ of the trio of clubs, but that title falls currently, if not historically, to City. Comparison with Gretna and Carlisle United is tempting.
This issue of potential attendance links in with the second problem. Soraff has also said “The directors putting their hands in their pockets and paying the bills is going to be the key to turning the finances around. Even if you put 200 or 300 people on the gate, that brings in £3,000. The sort of money we need to run on the budgets we now have, there’s no question people like (chairman) Tony (Roach) and myself are going to be putting their hands in their pockets to get the club through it. I set a budget at the beginning of the season that didn’t need directors to put their own money in. But gates haven’t been at the level we hoped for, sponsorship hasn’t been at the level we hoped for, and TV revenue has disappeared“. There is an alternative to pressing on regardless with the same budget on a benefactor model, and it’s not rocket science – cut back on the budget to an appropriate level.
The route back to financial sustainability should not depend on the depths of directors’ pockets, nor indeed on the trial of the son of a potential benefactor.