Tears before bedtime at Plymouth?
Posted by John Beech on May 26, 2011
The announcement that Peter Ridsdale is expected to become the new owner of Plymouth Argyle (1) at a purchase price of £1 seems to have come as no surprise to anyone other than the Spinmeister himself apparently. He says “This is not a transaction that I sought or contemplated but, if it is the only route to guarantee a future for Plymouth Argyle Football Club, it is a route that I am prepared to take.” Very noble of him I’m sure.
The situation at Plymouth is undoubtedly dire, a word Ridsdale himself used back in January (2): “This situation is 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.” A race in which he now appears to be the winner.
There are a number of general aspects to the situation which are a cause for concern.
The most immediate one in my book is that yet again property speculation by an, in effect, outside party has been the driver of the deal, and yet again a club has found itself no longer the owner of its ground. Ask Rotherham or Leeds fans what they think of this.
There is a question of, if indeed, it is the only route to be taken. It may well be that it is given the working parameters of the Administrator, who works within constraints that apply to any business, and which take no account of any specificity, to use the as-yet undefined EU term, of sport businesses. It is in the crisis time of Administration that consideration needs to be given to the continuity not only of ‘club as company’ but also to continuity of ‘club as construct’ (see here if you are unsure of the distinction I am making, and here for an earlier posting on this theme). There are a number of areas in which sports businesses can argue that they should have a particular legal status with exemptions (partial or total) from some pieces of legislation, and the area of insolvency law is one of the more obvious.
There is also the timing of Ridsdale’s likely ownership. In case you have forgotten, he currently faces a number of charges: two offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and another under the Fraud Act 2006, brought against him by Cardiff Council’s Trading Standards department (3). These are:
- “Being knowingly or recklessly engaged in a commercial practice which contravenes the requirements of professional diligence under Regulation 33a of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. Materially distorted or was likely to materially distort the economic behaviour of the average consumer with regard to a product, namely season tickets, contrary to Regulation 8 and 13 of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008
- Being a trade engaged in a commercial practice which by omission was misleading under Regulation 6 of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 in that its factual context omitted material information, namely that they were subject to an embargo imposed by the Football Association on the registration of new players at the said Football Club and as a result caused or was likely to cause the average consumer to take a transactional decision he would not have taken otherwise, contrary to Regulation 10 and 13 of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008
- Committed fraud in that you dishonestly made a false representation, namely the sale of season tickets intending to make a gain, namely using revenue to purchase new players, contrary to Sections 1 and 2 of the Fraud Act 2006.“
They are charges which he totally refutes, but ones which he will have to defend when the cases come to court – just the teeniest of distractions surely while he is weaving his traditional ‘magic’, as he did at Cardiff and Leeds, to turn Argyle round. If he were found guilty, this too would be something of a distraction because of a subsequent ban on him being a director of a football club.
I would have to be honest and say that, on the evidence which is in the public domain, and in the specific circumstances, Brendan Guilfoyle, the Administrator, almost certainly was faced with no viable alternative. More’s the pity. At Wrexham, and of course at Exeter, we have seen the importance of a powerful Supporters Trust to present a viable alternative. All power to the nascent and growing Argyle Fans’ Trust. Their uphill battle should be a clarion call to the fans of other clubs who have not yet formed and developed a Supporters Trust – check here to see the situation for individual clubs.