So, Coventry City will finally return to the Ricoh. Interestingly, the large CCFC logo which adorns the stadium had never at any point been taken down, suggesting that ACL, the Ricoh owners, always believed a compromise with Sisu could be achieved.
According to the Coventry Telegraph, the big breakthrough in negotiations was as the result of ‘Divine Intervention’. What they meant was that Joe Elliott, long-time key figure in much of what has happened, but recently ostracised by Sisu, persuaded the Very Reverend John Witcombe, Dean of Coventry Cathedral, to intercede. He turned to Bill Marsh, a professional mediator, with some track record in these matters, including involvement in the sale of Brighton & Hove Albion by Bill Archer.
What remains outside the public domain are the details of the new agreement – who conceded what? The Coventry Telegraph paints a picture of willingness by both parties to reach a conclusion. CCFC have announced their pleasure at returning; ACL have remained silent.
The spotlight on football’s top basket case switches then away from Coventry, and falls on two other clubs, Hereford United and Salisbury City. Both cases involve contentious new owners, and hence bring the need once more for scrutinisation of the Owners & Directors Test, more widely known as the Fit and Proper Person test.
In the case of Salisbury, a new owner Outail Touzar, a Moroccan businessman, was approved, and he bought the club. Pretty rapidly the club was describing the negotiations as “a trail of lies, deceit and deception”, and the local MP has branded Touzar ‘a charlatan’. Now you might think that this, together with the fact that Touzar was reported to be recruiting players notwithstanding the club’s transfer embargo would bring his fitness and properness into question. Apparently not.
Over at Hereford, the club, already deeply distressed financially, was sold to Tommy Agombar, who immediately exuded a totally misplaced optimism about what his ownership would bring. Agombar had a theft conviction, and duly failed the Owners & Directors Test.
A 1:1 draw for the efficacy of the Owners & Directors Test? Decidedly not! The previous owner of Hereford United had sold the club in the knowledge that Agombar had this conviction, Agombar was free to sell the club to whoever he wished once it was declared that he had failed the Test, and in fact sold it to a company which specialised in buying distressed debts, thus placing the club deeper in the financial mire.
It is fundamentally wrong that ownership of the club should ever have passed to someone who had not passed the Owners and Directors Test, and equally wrong that such a person can then sell on the club.
Not only is the Owners & Directors Test fundamentally flawed by its inability to prevent, for example, Touzar, buying a club, its operation is fundamentally flawed in that does not prevent someone who has not passed it to sell the club on. As well as a system of Club Licensing we need a system for licensing Club Owners. Without already holding such a license, no one should be allowed to buy the majority shareholding in a club, let alone then sell it.
With respect to Salisbury City, it also needs to be asked why Touzar has not at the very least been charged with bringing the game into disrepute. The current chronic failure of the FA to help rather than hinder clubs in financial distress must be addressed.