Yesterday In Plymouth: Background To Insurgam

By on Sep 1, 2011 in English League Football, Finance, Latest | 1 comment

Earlier this evening, we wrote on the extraordinary impromptu press briefing given by two Plymouth Argyle players and their manager, Peter Reid. This evening, in the second part of a double-bill, a little more background about why professional footballers should be talking about going on strike, courtesy of Mark Murphy.

Yesterday in Plymouth, Argyle Football Club staff and players were due to be paid their August salaries. They were not. And it is difficult to draw any conclusion other than that they have been misled by what passes for “authority” at the football club these days. In a large and competitive field, the continued non-payment of staff at Argyle’s Home Park offices has been the biggest disgrace of the club’s six months-and-counting in administration, even ahead of the concurrent non-payment of players. Salary deferrals have become the norm rather than a method of bringing Argyle through exceptional crises.

And when money has been available, most of it appears to have gone elsewhere. Because of the continued secrecy of the financial dealings of administrators the P & A Partnership, the destination of that money has been the subject of predictable rumour, rather than acknowledged fact. These have been based on the published hourly rates of the administrators and acting Argyle chairman Peter Ridsdale’s history of being well-paid during times of financial crisis at previous clubs. But unless Ridsdale and the joint administrators – Brendan Guilfoyle, Christopher White and John Russell – have made at least the same financial sacrifices as staff, there is no moral justification for staff’s continued non-payment. And there should be no legal justification either.

The latest deferral is the most disgraceful chapter in this most disgraceful tale. The last month has exposed the true priorities of the administrators, re-exposed the worthlessness of Ridsdale’s “assurances” to staff, which he so eagerly provides when he wants them to defer (yet) another salary, and offered the latest example of “sleight of language” by Guilfoyle. As highlighted yesterday by Ian De-Lar on the consistently excellent Vital Plymouth website, Guilfoyle said on August 12th: “Bishop International Limited have categorically confirmed that they will be in a position to complete the sale by no later than Tuesday August 16th.” The BBC Football website reported the previous evening that “the staff agreed to the deferral after being given assurances that a purchase is imminent.”

But these non-assurance assurances began an age ago. Staff had been having pay problems for four pay-days when an angry call was made in letter form in early March for the former directors to “review and honour” their promises of funding. “They made various promises,” the letter continued, “but they have delivered very little.” The letter’s author… Brendan Ambrose Guilfoyle. And now the “agreement” over salary deferrals until 31st August has been broken, staff would be right, and within their rights, to resign and leave the club to its own devices. In practical terms, though, this may achieve little, other than to take them off the club payroll and allow any new owner to replace them without employment protection law obligations to pay (at least nominally) the same salary.

More practical may be the idea of a “match strike”, an idea being floated among the long-term unpaid senior players, who may be on far greater salaries than the office staff but who are also be financially-pressured by now. Three days well co-ordinated sick leave might force some progress in negotiations if Saturday’s game at Burton Albion is threatened by it. Or not. Kevin Heaney, the Cornish property developer and BIL’s most (only) public face, asserted in August that money is available and “not the issue.” However, this returns us to his response to the administrators’ failure to obtain funds from BIL through the courts: “Everything that has been asked of us in the agreement has been done.”

This might initially be regarded as more “sleight of language”, but closer examination seems to reveal that the agreement reached by Guilfoyle and co. has placed no obligation on BIL, as preferred bidder, to guarantee staff salary payment. Indeed, that was the precise nature of the court ruling that there was “no obligation for the buyer to provide further funding.” And the agreement appears not to give them any practical powers of enforcement. Given that the agreement was, according to Ridsdale, for BIL to pay £1m for exclusivity in takeover negotiations to the end of June, this looks like almost negligent oversight on Guilfoyle’s part. Had that £1m payment been enforced/enforceable, there would have been sufficient funds to pay staff a majority of their deferred salaries – three months’ full salaries, if the £230,000 Guilfoyle sought from the courts for August was the monthly figure.

Yet even this might be a genuine reflection of the administrators’ priorities, rather than a genuine – if alarming – oversight. Money has come into the club over the summer. There have been the “four home matches in August” to which the Argyle Fans’ Trust referred in its latest statement. And season ticket sales amounted to 2,485, according to a Plymouth Herald newspaper report on August 4th – two days before the start of the season. This latter financial injection will have amounted to at least half a million pounds, given that season-tickets were £340 for adults, £250 for concessions and £120 for 10-17 year-olds. And the Herald also reported on August 4th that season-ticket money was being “held in a separate trust fund (which) will be released on a game-by-game basis.” Yet it appears all money has “gone” before staff and players have got near it. Costs of anything legally required for the physical staging of a game must be met, such as police and stewarding. But for office staff and players to be too far down the list for payment seems unlikely at the very least and certainly in need of explanation.

Without such an explanation, or some very rich members of the Devon & Cornwall constabulary knocking about the city (keep a watch-out for gold-plated truncheons next time you’re out), fans will come up with their own theories. The administrators’ hourly rates, and alleged £25,000-per-month salary payments to Ridsdale will spring, possibly too readily, to mind. And when even Argyle manager Peter Reid cannot “get a straight answer” from administrators about this money (BBC Football website, September 1st, 3.18pm) the belief may spread that other, richer, creditors are having their interests looked after rather better (i.e. at all) – people far better able to afford to wait for their money and people perhaps less deserving of it. On July 6th, the administrators published an official “update” from Guilfoyle which was couched in language of above-average formality, though some rungs below full-blown legalese. Some phrases, with the benefit of hindsight, have become stand-out (“In contrast {to other bidders} Bishop International Limited provided us with proof of significant immediate funding”).

Others still sound a jarring note. As part of his apologia for selecting BIL as preferred bidder, Guilfoyle said: “Staff and players have been living on the breadline for months and it was completely unreasonable to expect them to wait longer for payment when there was an offer on the table.” Meanwhile, “Expecting them to wait longer” remains “completely unreasonable.” Yet the wait continues. And the questions remain. What obligations did the administrators place on BIL to pay staff? And what powers of enforcement did the administrators give themselves? The answers still appeared to be “none” and “none”, yesterday in Plymouth.

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    1 Comment

  1. Firstly, can I just say it is scandalous that some of Plymouth’s staff have not been paid since 2010.

    I assume the only reason these (mostly players) still have their houses is because of the football creditors rule. i.e. the banks won’t reposess as they know that whatever happens the rule will ensure that the players get paid in full.

    Which brings me onto the potential strike. Although quite a few months without pay is reason enough to strike I wonder if any of the players are concerned that should the football creditors rule be found to be unlawful, (IMHO it is), it may affect their pay (albeit unlikley any change would be retrospective)?

    Don’t get me wrong, it is not a criticism – I would be equally concerned if I was in their shoes.

    If the creditors rule didn’t exist the players would have gone on strike last season and clubs would start to learn to love within their means.

    Just a Fan

    September 2, 2011

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