Yesterday in Plymouth, it nearly all kicked off, or rather it nearly didn’t. Lead administrator Brendan Guilfoyle “all-but-vanished” and somebody paid for acting chairman Peter Ridsdale to jet to the South of France, while staff at Home Park remained resolutely unpaid. Worse still… somebody paid for Ridsdale to jet back. And while this was going on, the latest issue of FC Business magazine thudded onto my doormat, with Ridsdale’s smug mug grinning up at me from the cover, advertising another part of his never-ending PR-campaign, designed to fool people into believing that his career in football has not largely been a failure.
The plight of Plymouth Argyle’s great unpaid was brought to national newspaper and media attention by the idea (and headline-writer’s dream) of a “match strike” by Argyle’s senior and longest-unpaid players, including club and team captains, goalkeeper Romain Larrieu and centre-back Carl Fletcher respectively. And the very idea of a “strike” even brought it to the attention of the comrades at the Morning Star newspaper – the “only English-language socialist daily in the world”. “Comrade” Fletcher in particular caught the eye and ear by the first use of truly emotive language to come from Argyle’s squad.
Having helped moot the idea on Thursday of withdrawing their labour from Argyle’s fixture at Burton Albion this afternoon, they went specific and ballistic yesterday morning. The Plymouth Herald newspaper said “the frustration spilled out” of Fletcher as he said: “We put our faith in the people that have been employed to take charge of this club, to get it through the dark times and get a takeover done. But it just seems as if they are taking the p*ss out of us.” The Herald suggested that Fletcher was putting Guilfoyle “firmly in the firing line.” But also “taking the p*ss” yesterday in Plymouth were acting Argyle chairman Peter Ridsdale and preferred bidder frontman Kevin Heaney.
Ridsdale flew south yesterday, which was taking the piss in itself for some, seemingly as determined to dismiss the “contingency plan” of local ‘entrepreneur’ James Brent as Guilfoyle has been throughout the administration. Ridsdale had held “top-secret talks with three other businessmen – including Brent – in London” on Thursday, according to yesterday’s Herald (which suggests they couldn’t have been that top-secret). He still felt it necessary to fly to France, though, to see the gods alone know who. But he had time to take the p*ss before he left, too, daring to almost back the militant players (“I understand their frustrations”) before claiming he was “working my damndest to get a deal done,” much as he told everyone he had done, successfully, last Friday.
Even Brent briefly joined in the merriment, re-iterating his continued availability “if the administrator wants to engage with us to try and implement a solution,” and noting that “months have now passed,” since his original bid, “which,” he added – Understatement Cup tucked under his arm – “has not been particularly helpful.” But Heaney’s descent into the arena of the ironic was the most annoying. “I am telling the truth because clarity is only fair on the supporters.” Yes, Kevin Heaney really said that. “Blame the Football League,” he added. “Without them sitting on approving (the takeover), everything would have gone through.” And he even had the bloody nerve to describe the panics over salaries as “scare tactics,” though he’d have risked a bloody nose if he’d said that within a right-handers’ reach of someone as unpaid and angry as Fletcher.
By mid-morning, the players had set an 11.30 deadline for their salaries, 40% of the total at least, to arrive. Naturally for this saga, the deadline passed unmet. But the administrators, P & A Partnership had already promised to find that 40% and announced mid-afternoon yesterday that “all staff (players and other employees) have today been paid 40% of their September wages.” August salaries, still technically the responsibility of BIL as preferred bidders, remain unpaid. And the September money has been paid “on the basis of an agreement that they will continue to work up to and including 15th September 2011,” by which time salaries will reportedly be P & A Partnership’s responsibility – something managing partner Jeremy Priestley is understandably reluctant to take on.
The strike was thus averted, for a fortnight anyway, to relief on all sides – except possibly at the Morning Star. And a probably relieved but definitely still riled Fletcher said: “The last thing we wanted to do was not play on Saturday. But why did it take us to come out and (threaten to strike) to stump up some money? They’re taking advantage of our professionalism and our desire to keep the club going.” Yet the apparent, shall we say, ‘contradictions’ continue. While Heaney was laying the blame firmly at a door on Preston’s Navigation Way, the administrators cited “legal formalities… taking longer than anticipated.”
These are possibly the “documents that I need to sign” which Ridsdale told fans outside Home Park eight days ago were “all agreed,” because the Football League’s next board meeting – at which such decisions are taken – is well-known, and easily-anticipated, to be next Thursday September 8th. But, of course, the real blame lies where it has lain for weeks. Heaney says the money is “available”, and – like all “good” businessmen – he’s not paying it over until it is guaranteed he will get what he’s paying for, Argyle’s land assets. And he doesn’t have to pay it over, or the £700,000 balance of the semi-mythical £1m “exclusivity” payment, because the agreements he signed with Guilfoyle don’t oblige him too. Guilfoyle has “all-but-vanished” this week. He could well be locked in genuine “top-secret” talks to complete a deal – as opposed to Ridsdale’s “top-secret” talks which somehow everybody knows he’s involved in almost before they’re concluded. Or he could be sitting unrecognised on a park bench, sobbing gently, wishing he’d never tried to help out his mates – which the process resembles more each day.
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