Football Management

Commentary on the management of over 160 English football clubs by Dr John Beech, winner of the FSF Writer of the Year Award 2009/10 Twitter: @JohnBeech Curator of! Football Finance

Archive for January, 2011

The Olympic stadium, the small matter of distance, and the Premier League

Posted by John Beech on January 21, 2011

By the time you read this, it may well be that the post-2012 fate of the Olympic stadium has been decided, with the decision going to one contentious bid rather than the other (I won’t rehearse the pros and cons of Tottenham and West Ham, taking a detour via Crystal Palace – they have been very well summarised by Paul Kelso in The Daily Telegraph).  What does interest me is how either can in fact move there without breaking Premier League rules.

West Ham are currently the closer of the two to the Olympic Stadium, although not as close as Leyton Orient – see Google Maps and enter ‘football stadium London’; Spurs are pin G and West Ham pin F; Orient are the red dot just above Leyton; a scale of distance is shown at the bottom left).

If West Ham or Spurs are to make the move, it’s worth looking at the Premier League rules (the Premier League handbook 2010/11 is downloadable here) on club moves.  In the section on Ground Criteria on page 152 you will find the following:

Ground Registration

5. Each Club shall register its ground with the Secretary and no Club shall remove to another ground without first obtaining the written consent of the Board, such consent not to be unreasonably withheld.

6. In considering whether to give any such consent, the Board shall have regard to all the circumstances of the case and shall not consent unless reasonably satisfied that such consent:

6.1 would be consistent with the objects of the Company as set out in the Memorandum;

6.2 would be appropriate having in mind the relationship (if any) between the locality with which by its name or otherwise the applicant Club is traditionally associated and that in which such Club proposes to establish its ground;

6.3 would not adversely affect such Club’s Officials, Players, supporters, shareholders,sponsors and others having an interest in its activities;

6.4 would not have an adverse effect on Visiting Clubs;

6.5 would not adversely affect Clubs (or Football League clubs) having their registered grounds in the immediate vicinity of the proposed location; and

6.6 would enhance the reputation of the League and promote the game of association football generally.

(The emboldening of para 6.5 is my own little mischief)

The corresponding Rules of the Football League (thus applicable to Orient, and either currently Premier League club should they be relegated before a move takes place) state:

13.6 Each Club shall register its ground with the Executive and no Club shall remove to another ground without first obtaining the written consent of the Board, such consent not to be unreasonably withheld.

13.7 In considering whether to give any such consent, the Board shall have regard to all the circumstances of the case and shall not grant consent unless it is reasonably satisfied that such consent:

13.7.1 would be consistent with the objects of The League as set out in the Memorandum of Association;

13.7.2 would be appropriate having in mind the relationship (if any) between the locality with which by its name or otherwise the applicant Club is traditionally associated and that in which such Club proposes to establish its ground;

13.7.3 would not adversely affect such Club’s Officials, players, supporters, shareholders, sponsors and others having an interest in its activities;

13.7.4 would not have an adverse effect on visiting Clubs;

13.7.5 would not adversely affect Clubs having their registered grounds in the immediate vicinity of the proposed location; and

13.7.6 would enhance the reputation of The League and promote the game of association football generally.

Virtually the same as it happens.

Now, much would hang on the interpretation of ‘immediate vicinity‘ I grant you, but I would have thought that the average fan on the top of a Clapham, or perhaps even Clapton, omnibus might just see the Olympic stadium as in the immediate vicinity of Brisbane Road.  (Yes, I appreciate they themselves moved from Clapton, but that was in 1937 and I haven’t heard any complaints about this recently).

If either Spurs or West Ham move, it would be a headlong rush towards one another as well as towards Orient.  Currently they are less than seven miles apart as the crow flies.  Orient is just three miles from Upton Park and just under four from White Hart Lane.

Will any of this geography be taken into account?  My guess is that it won’t.  The Premier League will enforce their own rules with their usual opportunistic pragmatism driven by a revenues motive.  Mind you, the same Premier League document states on page 9:

The Chairman’s Charter sets out our commitment to run Premier League football to the highest possible standards and with integrity.

We will ensure that our Clubs:

• Behave with the utmost good faith and honesty to each other, do not unjustly criticise or disparage one another and maintain confidences.
• Will comply with the laws of the game and take all reasonable steps to ensure that the Manager, his staff and Players accept and observe the authority and decisions of Match Officials at all times.
• Follow Premier League and FA Rules not only to the letter but also to their spirit, and will ensure that our Clubs and Officials are fully aware of such rules and that we have effective procedures to implement the same.
• Will respect the contractual obligations and responsibilities of each other’s employees and not seek to breach these or to make illegal approaches.
• Will discharge their financial responsibilities and obligations to each other promptly and fully and not seek to avoid them.
• Will seek to resolve differences between each other without recourse to law.

But of course!

UPDATE 25 January 2012

The Premier League have announced that they would not consider a move by either West Ham or by Tottenham to be a breach of their rules (A).

Posted in Football League, Governance, Premier League, Stadium | Tagged: , , , | 40 Comments »

The joy that was, and may yet again be, the Abbey Stadium

Posted by John Beech on January 18, 2011

Perhaps not the obvious stadium to refer to as a ‘joy’, but it has a special place in my personal history.  My very first football-related memory is of being driven along the Newmarket Road as a child aged about 4 years and suddenly catching sight of this enticing building.  Yes, it was oddly enticing.  Frequent family visits to my grandmother’s in Cambridge had no doubt made me blasé about the wonders of mediaeval architecture.  Here though was a truly intriguing building – what could be its purpose?  I should perhaps mention that my earliest years were spent in the rural Surrey/Hampshire borders, and, to be honest, Haslemere Recreation Ground just didn’t cut it.

This must have been in the very early fifties, who knows, perhaps just even in the ‘Abbey United’ era.  Certainly they still played in the Eastern Counties League, and it was to be roughly twenty years before they followed in the path of Headington United (now known as Oxford United) to the heights of the Football League in 1970, replacing Bradford Park Avenue.

In 1992 they made it to 5th place in what is now the Championship, but the last decade has been less kind to the club.

One strength of the club was owning their stadium.  That is, until the fall to the Conference in 2005, alongside going into Administration, brought a not untypical sell-and-lease-back scenario for the Abbey (1), the sale being to Bideawhile, a company owned by one of the club’s directors.

In a less typical dimension to this, ten years ago the fans formed a Supporters Trust, Cambridge Fans United (2), and, by 2003, the Trust had raised £100,000 and was the club’s third largest shareholder (3).

In April 2005 the club, on the strength of a proposed loan from Dr Johnny Hon, a club director, made an offer of £2.2m to buy the Abbey back again, but Bideawhile, whose director John Howard was still Vice Chairman of the club, refused the offer (Bideawhile had bought the ground for £1.92m at the end of the previous November incidentally).  As Cambridge Fans United director Brian Attmore said at the time “This is a kick in the teeth for all our supporters.  It puts United’s future in the real jeopardy. It is for the whole board to determine what is right for the club and not for one individual with his own commercial agenda. This is precisely the conflict of interest we feared would happen.” (4)  Bideawhile ignored a petition signed by 3,000 fans (5), stating that they had “long term plans to help the U’s relocate to a new community stadium.“.  Ah, relocation.

Long term?  Well, 13 days later Bideawhile (what an ironic name) announced that “Football will be played at Abbey Stadium for 50 years, unless the directors and shareholders feel the best thing is to relocate. The ground is safe in the short-term, no matter what people may think.” (6)

Less than a week later the club filed for Administration (7).  Dr Johnny Hon had resigned as a director (8) a fortnight before

By November the club had managed to agree a CVA, but not without the involvement of then Sports Minister Richard Caborn (8).

The following month there was talk of a possible groundshare and even merger with Cambridge City (9), who had managed to climb as high as the Conference South in 2004, but most would agree were the junior of the two sides – perhaps a ‘Bristol Rovers’ to a ‘Bristol City’.  While no doubt this would have been anathema to both sets of fans, it would have made good economic sense.  I’ve advocated ‘thinking the unthinkable’ before, and Cambridge is, in my opinion, better served by one bigger rather than two smaller clubs .  Or perhaps that should, by then, be three – Histon were to win the Southern League that season, and who, as I write, are bottom of the Conference National.

August 2006 saw some shakedowns in the board room  (10), (11), (12).  The new Chairman, Lee Power, said the club would look at another attempt to buy the ground back from Bideawhile (13).  The pressure of having to pay rent was beginning to tell, and by December the club was turning to its directors who were guarantors (14).  In March a new (US) investor appeared on the scene (15).

Early in 2009 there was another flurry of activity with board room appointments (16) and (17).  ‘Stability’ remained the mantra if not the reality.  Finances remained a strain, and in July manager Gary Brabin left (18).  George Rolls, by then the Chairman, explained “There have been disagreements between Gary and myself which have festered over the summer. Gary has pressed the issue to sign more players, when we can’t.”  Brabin’s successor, Martin Ling, lasted roughly a week, having signed a three-year contract (19), the club citing “irreconcilable differences between Martin Ling and chairman George Rolls“.  The next day Rolls quit the club (20), as did Vice Chairman Terry Baker.  Rolls declared “Lots of fans won’t want to hear this but I’m sure I’ll be back one day owning the club. I made a lot of bad decisions but it hasn’t put me off. Yes it wasn’t good business and I had no other option but to stand down. I’ve got no regrets, just happy memories.  I’m not going to cry over anything.  I’ll be back there.” (21)  I suspect most fans would hope not.  Martin Ling would presumably hope not; he was promptly reappointed Manager (22).  Rolls meanwhile was firing off as if in an exit interview, warning of a £900,000 shortfall in revenues:”They have to start living within their means. It’s a sad day for me if the club wants to keep gambling all the time. I kept forewarning the fans cuts would have to take place. If it meant upsetting managers along the way because they were over budget and trying to sign people, I’ll take that, I interfered. But I’m sure the fans would rather have me interfere than six months’ time the club go into administration.” (23)

In a surprise turn of events (well, to me at least!) this time last year, who should come on board at the Abbey Stadium but Gareth Baldwin, late of Histon! (24)  Showing a multiplicity of ’till I die’ approaches is of course the norm for players, but such a switch at board level between two local rivals is somewhat rarer.  In this case it turns out, he ‘admitted’ “a lifelong love of United” (25).  Gosh, he must have been tortured during his time at Histon.  Shortly his wife became Secretary at Cambridge United, a role she had previously held at, where else, Histon (26).

A bombshell at the end of February was the news that Bideawhile – remember, the company owned by United’s then Vice Chairman John Howard who had bought the stadium for £1.92m in December 2004 had sold the ground to Grosvenor Estates for, wait for it, £3.5m (27).  And no, that’s not a typo.  Be warned – there’s a name to watch out for if appointed as a director in a club near you: J-O-H-N H-O-W-A-R-D.  The Supporters’ Trust were, to be fair, given the opportunity to match the £3.5m bid, in a time frame of, er, 18 days! (28).  John Howard had finally stepped down, at the request of the rest of the board, because of his blatant conflict of interests in August 2006 (29).

Sadly, if not unsurprisingly, they failed to manage that, but they did raise over £1m in that very short period (30).

[Definitely a new paragraph, just to give you time to let that sink in…]

That brings us more or less up to date, save for the news at the beginning of this month that Cambridge United itself is up for sale (31).  Baldwin has expressed an interest in buying the club (32), as have those mythical beasties (forgive my cynicism, but I am a Pompey fan) ‘foreign investors’ (33).

Last night Cambridge Fans United decided they too would seek to buy the club (my source for this is Twitter – I’ll post a link in ‘Comments’ once the minutes of the meeting are online).  Present at the meeting was Kevin Rye of Supporters Direct.  He offered me the following thoughts:

Cambridge United fans need to recognise that they’re at something of a crossroads.

“To my mind they have three choices:

  • they could either take the chance with the same, tired model of ownership where a small group of directors including CFU continue to keep the ship afloat every year but basically manage long-term decline; this hasn’t worked already, despite the best efforts of those concerned;
  • or they could wait for the mythical white knight to appear – the less said about that the better;
  • the final, and only real option left on the table, is community and supporter ownership; yes, it seems scary to some people, but the chance to create a vibrant, outward looking club, harnessing the energies, talent, collective wisdom – and finances – of the several thousand CUFC fans out there is surely too good an opportunity to turn down.

Cambridge Fans United certainly are in with a chance. They have existed for ten years and have recently raised £1m at very short notice.  May joy yet again be found at the Abbey Stadium.

Food for thought there for Plymouth Argyle fans…  And indeed for fans at any club that hasn’t yet established a Supporters’ Trust.  Plymouth fans have now done so (34), I appreciate, and good luck to the Argyle Fans’ Trust, but how different their position might have been with ten year’s experience behind them.


Posted in Assets, Benefactors, Insolvency, Investors, Ownership, Stadium, Trusts | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

FIFA’s largesse

Posted by John Beech on January 6, 2011

Before I return to more usual topics (I’m working on a posting on a nonleague club), it’s worth picking up on something Paul Geiss raised in a comment on my last post.  Some details emerged today of the monies paid to various countries to provide “a share of the benefits from the successful staging of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™” (1)

Figures are based on a total per player basis and are intended to go the club the player comes from.  One player attracts $1600 per day if at the World Cup, whether he actually plays or not.  As Blatter puts it, “We are pleased that we can share the success of the 2010 FIFA World Cup with the clubs by providing them a share of the benefits of our flagship event, in particular to recognise their efforts in the development of young players

Unfortunately the data is not entirely transparent as FIFA has only released on a country-by-country basis.  Only the data for the top five clubs, from (exactly?) 400 clubs to benefit, is given. The FIFA announcement concludes with the following: “Furthermore, a number of clubs who are not playing in their national top division will also receive a share in the payments, whilst a number of clubs from Member Associations whose representative team did not participate in the final competition, will also benefit from such payments.

I’ve repeated the data below, with a couple of extra columns – the countries’ regional body, a conversion of the FIFA dollar payment to sterling, and an indication of the wealth of the recipient countries (GDP per capita)

Country Continental body FIFA payment $1 = £0.647 GDP / capita
England UEFA $5,952,133.30 £3,851,030.25 $35,052.92
Germany UEFA $4,740,666.70 £3,067,211.35 $35,930.37
Italy UEFA $3,880,666.70 £2,510,791.35 $29,417.92
Spain UEFA $3,699,066.70 £2,393,296.15 $29,651.70
France UEFA $2,202,666.70 £1,425,125.35 $34,092.26
Netherlands UEFA $1,858,266.70 £1,202,298.55 $40,777.34
Japan AFC $1,199,866.70 £776,313.75 $33,828.07
Mexico CONACAF $1,175,866.70 £760,785.75 $14,265.99
Portugal UEFA $1,141,866.70 £738,787.75 $23,113.86
Greece UEFA $945,066.70 £611,458.15 $28,833.71
North Korea AFC $932,000.00 £603,004.00
Argentina CONMEBOL $758,266.70 £490,598.55 $15,603.13
South Korea AFC $714,266.70 £462,130.55 $29,790.89
Honduras CONCACAF $692,000.00 £447,724.00 $4,404.70
Russia UEFA $690,400.00 £446,688.80 $15,806.88
South Africa CAF $662,666.70 £428,745.35 $10,505.33
Turkey UEFA $600,533.30 £388,545.05 $13,392.16
Chile CONMEBOL $540,666.70 £349,811.35 $14,982.25
New Zealand OFC $533,600.00 £345,239.20 $27,420.22
Switzerland UEFA $490,666.70 £317,461.35 $41,765.28
Scotland UEFA $449,466.70 £290,804.95 $35,052.92
Denmark UEFA $445,866.70 £288,475.75 $36,763.96
USA CONCACAF $423,200.00 £273,810.40 $47,131.95
Belgium UEFA $387,733.30 £250,863.45 $36,274.55
Brazil CONMEBOL $298,800.00 £193,323.60 $11,289.25
Paraguay CONMEBOL $258,400.00 £167,184.80 $4,915.42
Israel UEFA $224,933.30 £145,531.85 $29,404.74
Australia AFC $223,866.70 £144,841.75 $39,692.06
Ghana CAF $222,000.00 £143,634.00 $1,609.50
Slovakia UEFA $198,000.00 £128,106.00 $22,267.31
Romania UEFA $190,000.00 £122,930.00 $11,766.54
Uruguay CONMEBOL $186,000.00 £120,342.00 $14,341.94
Serbia UEFA $164,000.00 £106,108.00 $10,808.06
Norway UEFA $159,866.70 £103,433.75 $53,439.67
Algeria CAF $134,400.00 £86,956.80 $7,103.61
Slovenia UEFA $123,200.00 £79,710.40 $27,899.57
Poland UEFA $105,066.70 £67,978.15 $18,836.87
Colombia CONMEBOL $96,800.00 £62,629.60 $9,445.22
Ukraine UEFA $88,000.00 £56,936.00 $6,655.54
China AFC $85,200.00 £55,124.40 $7,517.72
UAE AFC $74,533.30 £48,223.05 $36,973.44
Sweden UEFA $55,866.70 £36,145.75 $37,775.40
Saudi Arabia AFC $52,800.00 £34,161.60 $23,742.69
Czech Republic UEFA $51,466.70 £33,298.95 $24,986.85
Ivory Coast CAF $48,000.00 £31,056.00 $1,686.78
Cameroon CAF $46,400.00 £30,020.80 $2,165.14
Ecuador CONMEBOL $40,533.30 £26,225.05 $7,951.87
Qatar AFC $40,133.30 £25,966.25 $88,232.51
Egypt CAF $39,466.70 £25,534.95 $6,367.43
Bulgaria UEFA $29,866.70 £19,323.75 $12,052.37
Cyprus UEFA $28,800.00 £18,633.60 $28,044.92
Canada CONCACAF $28,133.30 £18,202.25 $39,033.69
Austria UEFA $25,200.00 £16,304.40 $39,454.01
Hungary UEFA $24,000.00 £15,528.00 $18,815.88
Wales UEFA $9,866.70 £6,383.75 $35,052.92

[Countries in italics did not reach the Finals in South Africa.
GDP per capita figures are IMF estimates for 2010, of which home countries data is UK data]

This distribution would be a complete fail as an attempt to redistribute FIFA’s income from 2010 on a needs basis. Broadly, the rich get richer.

The fact that England tops the list is a reflection of the international make-up of Premier League squads rather than recognition of their efforts in the development of young players, as Blatter would have us believe.

Clubs in New Zealand, the sole OFC recipient, pick up just under £350,000; African clubs pick up just over three quarters of a million pounds; clubs in the two Americas share roughly the same amount, £1.4m heading southwards to CONMEBOL and £1.5m northwards to CONCACAF (roughly half of that heading for Mexican clubs), just over two million heads to Asia and the rest goes to UEFA clubs, in 29 of the 53 UEFA nations.  ‘How much is the European share’ you ask.  Well, it’s a total of just under eighteen and three quarter million pounds, which is three quarters of the money.

It’s interesting to see who the ‘furthermore’ countries are, selected on some unspecified basis.  Biggest gainer in this group is Russia, with just under £450,000.  Russia?  Now they’ve come up in FIFA press releases recently if I remember rightly.  As has Qatar, who pick up £26,000.  Bet that’ll make a big difference to Qatari clubs.  Qatar, by the way, has the highest GDP per capita in the world.

I’m sure Sepp Blatter must know what he’s doing.

Posted in 2010, FIFA | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Lessons from South Africa

Posted by John Beech on January 5, 2011

If you are still ‘feeling the hurt’ of England’s failed bid for the 2018 World Cup (and perhaps thinking London 2012 will be a roaring success), you may well be interested in the results of a survey made by the National Department of Tourism (NDT) and South African Tourism (SAT) on the impact of the 2010 World Cup.  Apparently it  shows that “without a doubt that the event will have a lasting legacy in terms of the South African tourism industry” (1).

Now this doesn’t exactly come as a surprise.  It has long been established by Adam Blake, Professor of Economics & Econometrics at Bournemouth University’s School of Tourism, and others, that the Olympics, for example, can have a positive economic effect.  The impact varies though – generally it is fairly local, and, in terms of an ongoing tourism legacy, the less the destination is already an established tourism destination, the bigger the subsequent impact.

Undoubtedly there are some great headline statistics for South Africa.  See futebolfinance for a quick summary.  But as futebolfinance points out, “With a cost that was estimated at about 3,225 million Euros (see How much is a FIFA World Cup ), the benefits are clearly below costs, leaving just as big beneficiaries of the events, FIFA itself and the sponsoring companies that achieve a huge media exposure.”  South Africa’s Minister of Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk insists that “I have no doubt that South Africa is reaping the rewards of hosting the Cup.”  Well, he wouldn’t, would he?

All of this just reinforces my personal view that FIFA (and the IOC) have done an amazing PR job in managing to get countries queuing up to lose money while others reap the benefit.  In the case of FIFA, where Seb Blatter has made much of his desire to take the World Cup beyond its traditional host areas, it is abundantly clear that the number of possible new venues is going to be extremely limited.  Beyond Qatar, the ability to finance the hosting of a FIFA World Cup may be restricted to countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.  Is that really Blatter’s intention?  There is an obvious way of facilitating a wider range of hosts – cash-rich FIFA could subsidise the hosting.  Not that I’m holding my breath mind you…

Posted in 2010, 2012, 2018, FIFA | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

Lessons from Plymouth

Posted by John Beech on January 3, 2011

The car crash that Plymouth Argyle is on the verge of turning into is a strange case, yet many a club might well think that there but for the grace of god go they.

At the beginning of the nineties Dan McCauley had become Chairman, with his predecessor Peter Bloom becoming Vice Chairman.  While the club did not have a particularly stable decade on the pitch (three relegations in eight years; seven managers), the club was run reasonably stably, if unsustainably, on a traditional benefactor model.  Shortly before McCauley finally stood down in 2001, debts were reported to be £2.7m, with £1.8m owed to McCauley’s Rotolok Holdings.  He was also advocating a new stadium, the capacity of which was wound in from 23,000 to 18,000, but with scope to increase capacity.  As McCauley explained “An 18,000 all-seater stadium should be sufficient for us in the short-term. But it’s important to have flexibility in the design to cater for success when Plymouth Argyle move up through the leagues.”  ‘Sufficient’ is an odd choice of word – average seasonal attendances throughout the decade had peaked at just over 9,000 in 1994, but had fallen to around the 5,300 mark.  The sort of figure McCauley was speaking of had not been seen at Home Park on a regular basis since the fifties (1).

Reaching the age of 65 in 2001, McCauley found buyers he felt would be good for the club.  The new board was led by local businessmen Paul Stapleton and Peter Jones, and included the local MP Michael Foot, and two London-based businessmen, Nick Warren and Phil Gill, all Pilgrim fans.

[Sources for the above paragraphs are newspapers, mainly the Western Daily Herald, and are unavailable on the internet]

Under the new regime, stadium redevelopment proceeded, but hit a snag when the Council declined to carry on funding it (2).  Having already spent £2.6m, it felt that it was difficult to justify further expenditure.  Argyle Vice Chairman Peter Jones rather ungraciously argued “People should not forget the council are the freeholder of the stadium. Given the fact that a revamped stadium will bring in more people, more income and more rent, they should be prepared to put in a proportion of the £5m we need.

From a business perspective the early years of the noughties were a success.  In 2004 they announced a profit for the third year running (3), and by 2005 the seasonal average attendance had reached almost 16,500, following a return to Tier 2 for the first time since 1992.  The ground was purchased from the Council in December for £2.7m (4).

How then did things start to go wrong?  The management of players proved problematic. with continuing changes in who was manager.  The club managed to maintain their status in the Championship (until last summer, that is), but the fans started to drift away, attendances falling to just over the 10,000 mark on average.

In February 2008 the club recorded a record annual loss of £715,000 (5).  Not only were revenues down, but the club had locked itself into some rather expensive player contracts.  The wages/revenues ratio, which in 2001/02 had been at a very healthy 43.1%, had by 2007/08 risen to a rather unhealthy 74.4%.

In April 2008 the club announced a surprise new investor – Japan’s K&K Shonan Management Corporation, headed by Yasuaki Kagami who joined the Argyle board (6).

Argyle chairman Paul Stapleton, said: “We are excited about the future possible revenue streams from the Far East in particular and expanding the horizons of Plymouth Argyle. While this agreement has only just been concluded, it demonstrates the considerable appeal that Plymouth Argyle and our region has for companies with a global reach.”  I suspect that few outside Plymouth shared this optimism.

Japanese involvement increased when Yasuhiko Okudera was appointed Argyle’s President (7), and there was talk of Japanese players coming to Home Park (8).

By the summer of 2008 things were beginning to crumble; the transfer budget was reported as overspent (9).  By March 2009 non-playing jobs were at risk (10).

By the summer of that year there was talk of not only further investment from Japan but also of a takeover (11). Phill Gill sold his shares to Kagami (12), and by July Kagami held 38% of the shares, and his colleagues Sir Roy Gardner and Keith Todd joined the board with holdings of 13%, the trio thus holding a small majority.  The appearance of Gardner in particular, a former Chairman of Manchester United, raised hopes for some stabilisation.  Paul Stapleton said of Gardner “He’s going to bring a no-nonsense, common sense approach, and a business attitude to everything we do” (13).  The challenge was certainly there though – they had, for example, inherited a squad of over 30 players (14).

There was to be no magic wand.  In December that year the club was placed under a transfer embargo (15) for what the club dismissed as historic debts, and Kagami rode to the rescue with a loan [sic] of £1.5m (16).  Kagami was meantime being sued for £84,000 by former director Gill (17).

2010 opened badly, with the first of a series of winding-up petitions from HMRC (18).  In March there was the announcement that the club was to ‘sell off the family silverware’, the only recently acquired Home Park (19).  A ‘New World’ was heralded nevertheless (20), involving a 46,000 2018 World Cup stadium – rather than repeat my thoughts on this, see a posting I made at the time called Are we going stark stadium bonkers?.  The year’s financial figures, which featured a loss of £2.9m, were described by Gardner, with the kind of understatement that football club Chairmen specialise in, as ‘disappointing‘ (21).

The relegation to League 1 was a bitter pill to swallow given the already worrying state of finances.  Gardner however insisted that the new stadium was the way forward: “A new stadium is an essential part of our forward-planning and reflects the scale of ambition at the club” (22).  Oh dear, the A-word (ambition).  Perhaps the R-word (reality) might have been more appropriate.

The scale of ambition was certainly enormous – last August the board announced plans for a £150m redevelopment of Home Park (23)!  The following day, it emerged that the club had not paid their long-serving announcer since late in the previous season (24).

Things have just progressed from bad to worse since then, and I will assume that any reader who reached this point is already familiar with the failed 2018 bid, the further winding-up petitions from HMRC, and the worrying appearance of Peter Ridsdale.  I will spare you a repetition of his experiences at Leeds United and at Cardiff City (but see here if you want to read my previous postings on the Spinmeister).  Less well remembered are his days at Barnsley – he took over in October 2003 (25); when he left fourteen months later, new Chairman Gordon Stewart explained Ridsdale’s departure “The club was running into a financial position that was less than comfortable and it was clear cash had to be injected” (26).

For the Spinmeister himself to declare the situation at Plymouth as ‘dire and I can’t even find the words to put into context how bad it is. It is probably worse than you can imagine. This is a race against time‘ (27), one can only assume the situation is considerably worse than dire.

With the exception of bringing in Ridsdale as a ‘saviour’ – all I can offer as hope to the Green Army here is the thought that this might just be a case of fourth time lucky, although I don’t think it actually will be ;-(  – the situation at Argyle is one that could have happened at too many clubs – ‘benefactors’ who couldn’t or wouldn’t stay the course, overpaid players, cashflow insufficient to pay all staff on time, a high turnover of managers, a serious case of ‘stadium envy’, a casual attitude to paying HMRC, absentee investors, an absence of fan power…  It encapsulates most of what is wrong with English football, and offers a very depressing start to 2011.

Posted in 2018, Assets, Benefactors, Cashflow, Debts, History, HMRC, Insolvency, Investors, Ownership, Stadium | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

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