So near, yet so far. The future of Plymouth Argyle seems likely to be thrown into fresh turmoil if rumours that started circulating late yesterday afternoon regarding an attempt on the part of three former directors of the club to buy the mortgage held over its Home Park ground by Lombard North Central PLC. Just over week ago, it seemed as if the future of the club was finally set to look a little brighter. The bid of Bishop International Limited to purchase the ground and pass on ownership to Peter Ridsdale for £1 had collapsed, whilst on the pitch the Fans Reunited Day at Home Park was a great success, with this success being mirrored on the pitch with the team finally registering its first win of the season, against Macclesfield Town.
The latest news came from a source described by Chris Webb of the Argyle Fans Trust as “sources … as close to the process as you could possibly get”, and the news is extremely troubling for all supporters of the club. Paul Stapleton was the vice-chairman, company secretary and accountant for the club as it ran up a quite remarkable debt of £17m. As a trustee of the Plymouth Argyle Supporters, Training and Development Trust, he was there and present when this organisation, whose purpose is to promote the training and education of young footballers, lent £330,000 to the club, which resulted in an investigation by the Charity Commission. In addition to this, when Kevin Heaney registered the PAFC 2011 Ltd name which was to be the vehicle for his abortive take-over of the club (or, perhaps rather more specifically, Home Park) Stapleton’s Parkhurst Hill accountancy practice was used as the registered address.
It is Stapleton, along with fellow directors Tony Wrathall and Phillip Gill, that are understood to have made an offer to Lombard on the basis that it would protect money owed to them which they may, as guarantors of the Lombard loan, otherwise lose should the James Brent bid for the club be successful. The news of recent events has already been met with a furious response from the club’s supporters, who are promising significant protests should they not receive confirmation that this is not to go ahead by the end of today, whilst there is also an e-petition which can be signed here. Why, though, would former directors of the club – at least one of which, Stapleton, has previously painted himself as being of the “cut me and bleed green” stock? The short answer probably: “personal liability”. When a mortgage is taken out in a company name with a director of that company, that liability doesn’t simply disappear should the director concerned resign his position.
It would make some degree of sense that it is concerns over this liability that is most likely to be informing their reported current behaviour. The important aspect of this is to bear in mind that it is most likely nothing to do with the well-being of the football club. The danger is the effect it could have on the Brent bid. If this counter-action destabilises the Brent bid, then the club will find itself back in the uncertain position in which it has been for much of the year. Plymouth Argyle cannot remain in administration forever. The club will either have to exit administration through CVA agreed earlier this year or be liquidated.
Stapleton, Wrathall and Gill should be warned – on the off-chance that they hadn’t already realised this – that the supporters of Plymouth Argyle have been radicalised by the events of the last few months or so, and that they are unlikely to be placated by mere reassurances. Chris Webb of the Argyle Fans Trust confirmed this afternoon, through PASOTI, the popular Plymouth supporters’ forum, that a very simple message was to be sent to those that may be set to derail a process that had seemed to be on the road towards completion:
1. We will write to Paul Stapleton, Phill Gill, Tony Wrathall and Kevin Heaney today giving them 24 hrs to publically back the James Brent bid.
2. If one of more of the individuals does not respond then tomorrow lunchtime the Trust will announce a series of public protests at strategic locations.
What seems clear is that, in this case, appealing to the better nature of those concerned would seem to be a waste of time. As such, it will certainly be interesting to see what form any protests take in the event that the demands aren’t met. Ultimately, this has become as moral issue for many of the club’s supporters. The staff – both playing and non-playing – of this club have been treated appallingly because of what happened on the watch of the previous directors of the club, and to see them back and trying to recover what they can with – it would seem – little interest in the well-being of the club itself certainly seems likely to see many of the club’s supporters turn incandescent with fury. The fact of the matter is, however, that the well-being of the football club’s is frequently little more than an afterthought in comparison with ensuring that those that chose to assume ownership – and even those that bring a club to its knees – are looked after before anything else is considered. The next few days could turn out to be amongst the most important in the history of Plymouth Argyle Football Club.
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