The agonising wait continues; who knew a rubber stamp could be so difficult to operate? There’s frustration on Red Passion and it’s building into fury. The target this time is the F.A., and I totally understand it. After all, other takeovers seem to be waved through with gay abandon, the number of basket case clubs testimony to the fact that the Fit and Proper Person Test and the F.A.’s other regulatory provisions aren’t enough to protect clubs from the predatory and the incompetent.
However, part of me wonders if the anger isn’t a little misdirected. Before I go any further I should point out that I’ve absolutely no inside information on this; like just about everyone else, I’ve no idea why the F.A. have delayed to this extent. However, events a fortnight ago suggest that, rather than looking to stymie the deal, there’s a possibility they might actually be trying to help us.
The hitch that arose a fortnight ago, throwing the whole deal into doubt, came about over a dispute between the board and the WST over the existing owners’ obligations. Would they pick up the full tab for the debts they had run up, including any little surprises that due diligence failed to uncover? One assumes that, if the F.A. had not flagged up this discrepancy than the deal would have gone through on the terms put to the governing body, and the board would have been liable only to those items already agreed.
We don’t know the terms of the subsequent agreement between the trust and the club, but one has to assume that in that renegotiation the parties agreed to meet somewhere in the middle. Therefore, as the issue was how much liability the current owners were willing to take on, it probably meant the new deal is more favourable to the trust. Even if no ground was given, which seems unlikely, at least the WST would have a fuller picture of what was going on. If I’m right in my interpretation then the FA’s forensic analysis of the deal would seem to have done us a favour. A brief delay is acceptable if the result is a safer future.
I must admit that I see the role of the Conference in a similar way. Apart from the fact that it’s been suggested they’re perfectly happy with the deal and will simply wave it through once the F.A. give the thumbs up, I can’t help thinking that the whole issue of the pre-season bond wasn’t quite the aggressive gesture many took it to be.
Okay, the argument against its logic is a pretty watertight one. Why should we be singled out when the survival of so many of our fellow Conference clubs defies financial logic? After all, there were plenty of other clubs which looked unsustainable last Summer; Stockport dropped down with serious problems, and the fact that their benefactor has now departed after just four months or so of promised largesse suggests that the F.A. were hardly as careful scrutinising his bone fides as they were the trust’s. Likewise, Darlington are in a hole, and it’s difficult to understand why the Conference should pay such close attention to our business plan when Hayes and Yeading, already surviving on tiny crowds, are ground-sharing and subsisting on crowds of two to three hundred! How did they get away with not having to prove they’re a viable concern? And, while the Conference were distracted by us, Kettering appear to have gone down exactly the road they feared we would take, bringing back chilling memories of Chester’s collapse and Weymouth having to field their youth team.
Well the answer to why we attracted the Conference’s particular attention’s clear, and has been expounded eloquently elsewhere. The club invited scrutiny by its actions. Our owners said they wouldn’t put any more money into a loss-making business, they failed to pay our taxes and they failed to pay the employees’ wages. The Conference would have been negligent not to have acted.
The issue of their insistence of the payment of the club’s debts and a massive bond is an interesting one. On the Non League Show Colin Peake suggested at the time that it was actually a measure to force the club’s owners to accept their responsibilities and leave a clear, debt-free deck for the trust. Admittedly, he seems to be a rather irascible character, and his tone changed once he took issue with some comments from the Trust’s Spencer Harris, but before then he seemed to be arguing that the Conference was trying to call the current owners to account for their actions. The fact that, through means that still bother me, the responsibility instead fell to the heroic rank and file, who in a time of recession dug amazingly deep to save the club they love, was not something they anticipated.
I’m uncomfortable with patting the football authorities on the back, and still resent the way the Football League triggered this downward spiral by applying a ten point penalty on us for going into administration, even though the circumstances were to my knowledge unique, and not related to accumulated debt. I’m also not naive enough to think the F.A. and the Conference are benevolent bodies, motivated by wanting to achieve only what’s best for us. But I suspect there’s more to this delay than intransigent administrators looking to torpedo the deal; indeed, that notion is genuinely illogical. If there is dissatisfaction, we’d do well to remember the bigger picture, and bear in mind the actual cause of the mess we’ve found ourselves in.