Tied Up In Notts

By on Jul 1, 2009 in English League Football, Latest | 37 comments

“The Oldest Football League Club In The World” is the proud boast of Notts County, and this fact is one of those that gets lodged in the head of every schoolboy like a piece of stray shrapnel. Notts’ glory days may well be long gone, but they have this week voted to end six years of Supporters Trust ownership in favour of… well, no-one seems to be completely sure at the moment. One might think that Notts would be wary of outside ownership. They ended up coming perilously close to extinction thanks to the mismanagement of the likes of Derek Pavis and Albert Scardino at the turn of this century. This was how the club’s Supporters Trust came to be the majority shareholders in the first place. Now, though, the club is likely to pass back into the hands of private owners, and the Trust itself has voted for this.

Notts haven’t had a particularly happy time of things on the pitch over the last few years. They were spared relegation from the Football League (of which they were, of course, founder members) 2006 and have fared little better since then. The Trust is said to have been riven with in-fighting (although finding actual concrete evidence of this is considerably more difficult than finding people on forums that bang on about unspecified in-fighting), and it can be seen very easily that the Trust has long since ceased to be perceived as the organisation that did more than anyone else to rescue the club in its hour of need and has now come to be seen as an irrelevance and the biggest single reason why the club as struggling (as opposed to, say, the constitution of the Trust itself – which could have been changed by the membership – or the apathy of the Nottingham public towards the club).

Who, then, are these knights in shining armour who are going to get the club into the Championship by 2012? The only honest answer that we can give to that question at the moment is that we don’t know. Their public face is Peter Trembling, the former Commercial Director of Everton and a “Middle East based businessman” called Peter Willett. They are the frontmen for a newly-formed company called Munto Finance Ltd. Munto Finance are said to be a wholly owned subsiduary of another company called QADBAK Investment Fund. The Trust claimed to have seen paperwork confirming that they had the funds available to “invest” in the club, but what this consists of has been kept secret. In addition to this, the Trust voted to give its shares in the club to Munto, and also to not request repayment of loans made to the club (although there are reasons for this relating to the way that the Trust obtained this money in the first place).

In the excitement at the prospect of all of this money being poured into the club, several questions do not seem to have been satisfactorily answered. We already know that Munto Finance is a new company, but why is there no reference to QADBAK anywhere on the internet, apart from four references to them from stories about this take-over? If the Trust has been as incompetent as some people to think, why has everybody been so keen to trust their assessment of these companies at a time when very little else about them is known? If Notts Trust members were so upset at the way that their Trust was being run, why didn’t they vote out all of the members of the Trust and replace them rather than effectively kill it by voting to give its controlling share in the club to someone else?

Chairman Jonathan Armstrong-Holmes has recently said that, “this deal has made us the envy of clubs up and down the country”. No it hasn’t, Jonathan. If this club starts spending heavily, then it will further entrench the culture that is the biggest single cause of the woes of so many lower division clubs at the moment – that spend, spend, spend is the only way to manage a football club. Notts supporters may well believe that “the Trust has taken the club as far as it can”, but they should probably look at the top of their own table from the end of last season, where two of the three promoted clubs – Brentford and Exeter City – are owned by their Supporters Trusts. The harsh truth of the matter is that Notts County’s own supporters have taken a massive gamble, and they’ll only have themselves to blame if it fails.

Other than that, we’ll leave you with the words of David Conn at the end of his chapter on the club in “The Beautiful Game?”, from 2004:

Perhaps after all they’ve been through, Notts County will know themselves more thoroughly now, understand their limitations, the junior club in a small city, and realise that their job is firstly to ensure they survive, extend their record-breaking history, run themselves properly, openly, with genuine people in charge, who care about the club. Be committed to living within their means, and grow not by gambling with money they haven’t got, but by weaving more fans into the club and reaching out to the community. Aim for success realistically, not sink into the red to chase it, all the way, maybe, campaigning for a fairer share of money through football. Perhaps all this trauma was for a reason, showing those in charge a better way, and all the lessons will be learned. Or, on the other hand, maybe they won’t.

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    37 Comments

  1. Idiots.

    Martin

    July 2, 2009

  2. ‘no it hasnt Jonathan’ exactly echoes my words when I read the original statement. How on earth has a trust (or rather the members) allowed itself to get into this position?

    Tony

    July 2, 2009

  3. Peterborough must be kicking themselves! If only they hadn’t taken that damn gamble and accepted the cash of an Irish property developer (and it doesn’t get more dodgy sounding than that), they’d be lining up against Accrington and Macclesfield next season instead of Newcastle and Middlesborough.

    The idiots!!!

    W Death

    July 2, 2009

  4. Martin – Thank you for your informed opinion.

    Tony – The trust members for the first time in years are dreaming what could happen at their club, and talking about what players the club could sign, rather talking about when the manager will be sacked.

    Thats what football is all about, not getting a seat at the table pretending to be important on other peoples money, which is what Trust ownership appears to be about.

    speed_ie

    July 2, 2009

  5. A lot of Notts fans wouldn’t believe Armstrong-Holmes if he told them tomorrow is Friday. The back of him is certainly something a lot of us are looking forward to seeing.

    I think a lot of us have reservations about where we are actually going with this takeover but with the Trust in the hands of despots who’ve abused their position to further their own ends it was either take the gamble here or we’d be unlikely to be around much longer in our current form.

    Kim

    July 2, 2009

  6. Look it is not a gamble at all cause with the take over we got a bank gurantee so no matter what we are going to get the money promised.

    Im struggling to see where the gamble is n other team fans who say crap are just jealous!

    Tom Stevens

    July 2, 2009

  7. At last, an article worth reading rather than the awful hype on fan sites

    Me

    July 2, 2009

  8. Who, exactly, is funding it?

    And don’t say “an investment bank”. You may just as well say “someone”.

    admin

    July 2, 2009

  9. Kim: “A lot of Notts fans wouldn’t believe Armstrong-Holmes if he told them tomorrow is Friday. The back of him is certainly something a lot of us are looking forward to seeing.”

    But the great thing about Trust ownership is that you can vote board members and supporter directors on and off. Armstrong-Holmes (and Eric Kerry) receivced, what, a 55-60% backing in a no confidence vote? It’s a lot easier to remove him when his re-election comes up (by putting up a candidate you believe is better), than it will be to remove Munto if things go wrong.

    And if Armstrong-Holmes isn’t to be trusted, why vote overwhelmingly for a deal, when the vast majority of the information about it is only what Armstrong-Holmes and Eric Kerry have told you anout the deal? Why are they suddennly to be believed now?

    Tom Stevens: “Look it is not a gamble at all cause with the take over we got a bank gurantee so no matter what we are going to get the money promised.”

    In return for essentially getting the club for free, considering the Trust members have voted to gift both the shares and waive all debts, what are Munto guarenteeing you?

    And which bank is it? How secure is the bank in the current economic climate?

    Rob

    July 2, 2009

  10. If you know anyone in serious banking circles your questions would be answered, or, otherwise just take a look at half of the middle east, these guys built most of it.

    Northants Pie

    July 2, 2009

  11. admin,

    We didnt know who was funding the club when owned by the Trust.

    There were 2 6 figure loans(needed to cover shortfalls) made by anonymous individuals.

    The club had racked losses of £1.5m, to June 2008, to achieve bottom 6 performances.

    Trust ownership wasnt working at Notts and we needed an alternative.

    speed_ie

    July 2, 2009

  12. good to see th geen eyed meanies are out for Notts, Our club has rotted in the doldrums for years…finally we find a backer who has a sensible plan and funds available and were the idiots for daring to think that there is more to life than a the slow death that awaited us without this takeover.

    phil johnson

    July 2, 2009

  13. Sheesh. “Jealous”. Yes, that’s it. I’m jealous. Martin’s jealous. Rob’s jealous.

    Damn. We would have gotten away with it if you hadn’t repeated it ad nauseum and with nothing to back it up.

    admin

    July 2, 2009

  14. admin – the David Conn quote is spot on. Notts fans have learnt nothing, dont realise we dont have potential of Hull etc. We have also been very poor for a number of seasons which hasnt been all down to the trust but hasnt helped their position

    Me

    July 2, 2009

  15. Phil – How do you know they are sensible plans?

    Me

    July 2, 2009

  16. would love to know how the writer of the original piece thinks there are only 4 pieces of info on the net about qadbak…maybe some research (about 30 seconds) would let him know what qadbak stands for which when typed into google comes up with over 800,000 entries!!!

    phil johnson

    July 2, 2009

  17. Investing in a club with little to no debt with a 150 year lease on its ground at peppercorn rent build on already established infra structure to make club self sufficient in the championship by 2012…. seems sensible to me!

    phil johnson

    July 2, 2009

  18. But you dont know how they plan to do that? I can say that I want to get the club to the premiership and make it self sufficient, does that now mean I have a sensible plan?

    Me

    July 2, 2009

  19. youve lost me …. thats the plan…whether they pull it off or not is down to the vagueries of football without the takeover notts would have been out of the league next season and in my opinion as a life long fan would have never come back…. Trembling is a well known and respected soccer and business man…. what else could the plan be . By the way i was one of the trust members who voted so resoundingly in favour of this takeover.

    phil johnson

    July 2, 2009

  20. I was not saying the takeover was a bad thing, I just think people are clinging on to a few facts

    Trembling may well be respected but so was Storrie and actually still is, didn’t do us much good did it?

    Notts wouldnt have been out of business unless the current chairman had over spent, which he says he didnt. We were told we had a top 6 budget already especially if you compare us to say Macclefield. We just have a poor manager time and time again. We had a bigger budget than 2 out of the 3 teams that went up to this season.

    Me

    July 2, 2009

  21. Phil Johnson: “good to see th geen eyed meanies are out for Notts, Our club has rotted in the doldrums for years…finally we find a backer who has a sensible plan and funds available and were the idiots for daring to think that there is more to life than a the slow death that awaited us without this takeover.”

    Green eyed? I’m not a Notts County fan, my club have not been outside the top two flights in over 50 years. I support a club in the Championship, which is owned by a billionaire who not only refuses to speak to the fans, but also refuses to even let them see what he looks like.

    The grass is not greener on the other side.

    Phil Johnson: “maybe some research (about 30 seconds) would let him know what qadbak stands for which when typed into google comes up with over 800,000 entries!!!”

    Qadbak comes up with 213 entries on google, one of which is this page, andthe others either relate to the Notts County deal, without stating what QADBAK stands for, the other entries are gibberish. A google search for QADBAK Investment Fund now gives seven results, one of which is this page.

    I’d like to see this Google search that provides 800,000 results. A link will do. Or even just a link to some present for the QADBAK investment fund, as opposed to a a page of gibberish with just those letters on it.

    Rob

    July 2, 2009

  22. “Armstrong-Holmes (and Eric Kerry) receivced, what, a 55-60% backing in a no confidence vote? It’s a lot easier to remove him when his re-election comes up (by putting up a candidate you believe is better), than it will be to remove Munto if things go wrong.”

    Let’s just say that I don’t think the process surrounding the no confidence vote was completely free and fair (the Trust trying to suspend the admission of new members and those advocating the vote not being given the opportunity to air their position on the club website for example). The Trust was becoming entirely undemocratic in my opinion.

    We’ve tried the Trust route. Sadly I think we’ve run our course with it. It is a big gamble here, a lot could go wrong, but we’re in a position where I don’t think we had much choice.

    Kim

    July 3, 2009

  23. Darragh MacAntony’s Posh will end in tears. It always does.

    AFC Wimbledon turned him down you know.

    Martin

    July 3, 2009

  24. If he’s such a big lover of football, why didn’t MacAntony invest in an Irish club? (Not that he’d get his hands on Bohemians)

    FP

    July 3, 2009

  25. Because they don’t provide enough of an easy local ego-trip presumably.

    Martin

    July 3, 2009

  26. Supporter ownership, like that of sensible ownership fullstop, is subject to the same pressures of overspending through debt or the largesse of an owner. And to intimate failure because of it seems to forget the level of failure by clubs that have been owned in the traditional manner – one which continues to feed the problem. When there’s a level playing field, we’ll see even competition, instead of continual distortion through the pump priming of clubs, and we might see supporter – and sensible – ownership prevail. Arsenal anyone?

    wibble wobble

    July 3, 2009

  27. “They ended up coming perilously close to extinction thanks to the mismanagement of the likes of Derek Pavis”

    So where’s the evidence for this statement…?

    Joe Bloggs

    July 3, 2009

  28. Well, Notts owed £6m in total when Pavis sold to Albert Scardino, including £3m to, you guessed it, Pavis himself. If you consider that to be good management, then we’re going to have to agree to disagree.

    If you’re going to request paperwork to back this up, I’m afraid I’ll let you down. I hear that paperwork relating to the financial condition of the club has been pretty difficult to come by at times.

    admin

    July 3, 2009

  29. I’m astonished that people criticise the trust – a body with a set of rules governed by the Financial Services Authority with a legal requirement to be democratic – as undemocratic and so want to through their lot in with a group of anonymous people about whom they know little, and even less reason to trust them and absolutely no chance of dislodging them if it went wrong.

    I’m also astonished that of all years to make a statement about the impossibility of success under trust ownership’s, a year when the top two teams in the same division were trust-owned seems to be a strange one.

    Dave

    July 3, 2009

  30. Admin

    You mention financial information is hard to come by and yet you still present figures of £3m- £6m. That is purely speculative.

    Even if this were true, could you blame a businessman wanting to see a return for his investment? Even Mike Ashley is looking for a cut price sale.

    I do not agree with criticising the trust, but it must be understood that the body of the Supporters Trust were gifted their shares by Hadyn Green when he saved Notts from administration. Asking the same fans to gift their shares back to new investors to create a more successful football club is not a big expectation.

    Your argument is one-sided and based on the assumption that teams should not ‘buy’ success. The modern game has evolved and success requires financial investment regardless of how big or small. If fans are to invest their money, most do so to watch winning football. This is proven through Notts’ dwindling attendances. To say Notts should “weave more fans into the club” when their local neighbours play higher level football is almost as unrealistic as Accrington Stanley plucking some of Blackburn’s fan base. Only through comparable success will this become a possibility.

    Joe Bloggs

    July 4, 2009

  31. Joe Bloggs

    I don’t think that Admin is suggesting that teams shouldn’t buy success – what he is suggesting in my eyes is that clubs should 1) Recognise where they are, what they are, and cut their cloth accordingly; or 2) at least ask about long term intentions and reasons for purchase before welcoming new ownership, simply because they offer big hopes and promise large lumps of cash.

    There have simply put been too many occasions when the above has happened, and in the majority of cases it ends in tears and often administration. George Reynolds offered Darlington a new stadium and “Premiership in five years” – they got a White Elephant, no promotions, and two lots of administration. Yet at the time he was the saviour of the club and at least was known to be a successful businessman. What’s to say that in five years Notts won’t be in a worse position than they are now? That doesn’t mean that Munto won’t prove to be good owners, but given the lack of info about them and their backers, it can’t be denied that they’re taking a risk.

    If a promotion or two happens and then it turns out that they’re paper tigers and they have spent beyond their means, Notts end up in Admin, and the message to all the clubs who’ve actually tried to do things responsibly (which is what this site seems to advocate) will have good grounds to feel aggrieved. It might not happen – but given that little or nothing is known about the prospective owners, no-one is in a position to say that it won’t.

    Albert Ross

    July 4, 2009

  32. Joe Bloggs: “Asking the same fans to gift their shares back to new investors to create a more successful football club is not a big expectation.”

    But you cannot guarantee success in football (that’s one of the beauties of the game, isn’t it?), and you only have their word for it that they’re going to create a new successful club. They haven’t told you how, they’ve just offered you a handful of magic means and you’ve grabbed them as fast as you can.

    Rob

    July 4, 2009

  33. Rob: I did not say “guarantee” success, that would be foolish. I like you, love the unpredictability of football.

    Have we been rash in accepting this financial backing? Maybe. Yet, objectively our last 8 years have show progressive decline in the basement division:

    01/02: 19/24
    02/03: 15/24
    03/04: 23/24
    04/05: 19/24
    05/06: 21/24
    06/07: 13/24
    07/08: 21/24
    08/09: 19/24

    Of course risk is involved, but for a team who are consistently one of the worst in the Football League, that risk is greatly reduced. We, earlier than most, went into administration as a result of false promises from new owners. It is for that reason that our elected Chairman would not place blind hope in Munto Finance if they could not support their claims. They aim to build sound infrastructure with the view to make us become a self-sufficient Championship team. There is no guarantee this will happen, but it is far more appetising than sliding into the Blue Square Premier which, without this investment holds a far greater probability.

    For once the glass at Meadow Lane is half full!

    Joe Bloggs

    July 4, 2009

  34. As a Lincoln City supporter I can fully understand the frustration felt by you guys at county after years of underachievment in the basement division of the league, because we at have been pretty much in the same boat. I can only say that by and large our Trust setup has a great deal more support than yours, and the majority of fans fully support the trust and think they are doing a good job in investing in our clubs future. I genuinely hope that the new set up you guys are expecting does the business for you, but you have to admit there is a real element of risk. What happens to your ground and more importantly the prime land that it stands on if things do not work out as expected, if the new investors own it lock stock and barrel could it be sold from under you?
    or are there safeguards in place to protect the supporters?
    personally while I would love my team to get promotion and do well, I would much rather have a safe and viable club in League 2 than risk losing it all together. Just my opinion of course but while you are still alive there is always hope and optimism that next season could be the one. Isn’t that what life in the lower leagues is all about anyway?
    Anyway best of luck in the future
    I really hope it works out for the best.

    mel

    July 7, 2009

  35. Well it’s all gone through now and it’s got to be a good things as far as I can see. We’ve scrpaed through the last few years with little or no money so now some financial investment and a real direction for the club has to be good news. For years the sole goal appears to have been survival, I know as a Notts Fan of near 30 years now living in Bristol I’ve followed the results each season and inevitably come up with the same response, at least we haven’t gone bust or dropped out of the league, that’s hardly ambition is it! These guys seem interested in investing in ever element of the club (from training ground to youth team), not just buying new players – to me this seems to be a more considered approach which may not bring promotion this coming season but instead is an investment for “jam tomorrow” not just today.

    All said and done we just don’t know if it will work but it sure is better than the mediocrity we endured for the last few years.

    God, I hope it works!!

    Cheers

    Stew

    Stewart

    July 15, 2009

  36. Hmmm. As a life-long Pie I hope I’m wrong, but this whole thing does not pass any kind of smell test.
    * Has anybody spoken to people at Everton about Peter Trembling? I have. And I haven’t come away filled with confidence.
    * Has anybody spoken to serious investors in the Middle East about Peter Willett? I have. Nobody has heard of him. So are this pair really the alpha performers we are being led to believe?
    * Has anybody asked experts in sports deals if they have ever heard of a structure even remotely like this, where there is a new SPV (Munto) seemingly owned by a new investment trust (QADBAK)and the dealmakers refuse to disclose information about either of them? I have – and the question provokes incredulity. Not one serious sports dealmaker I’ve spoken to believes me when I tell them the shares have been gifted to a secret structure like this.
    * Now we’ve been told that the deal has been done, we need proper answers to a list of basic questions if serious people among the fan base are going to trust the motives of the new owners. Questions include:
    1. How much will Munto invest and over what time period are they committed to invest?
    2. Who has provided the funds to QADBAK?
    3. How will the funds be provided to Notts County? i.e., are there planned tranches?
    4. Does the contract contain any landmarks which, if not hit, mean that funds are witheld from Notts County?
    5. What is the name of the investment bank that has facilitated this deal?
    6. What legal comeback does Notts County or the Supporters’ Trust have if the agreement is breached by Munto?
    7. Why is Munto registered in the British Virgin Islands and not in the UK?
    8. Have the shares legally been transferred to Munto yet?

    This post is not motivated by jealousy (I’m a County fan) or by self-interest (I had nothing to gain by the status quo being maintained) but purely out of disbelief that a deal like this can be voted through without the fans having a proper opportunity to scrutinise whether it is in the interests of the Football League’s oldest club.

    rogerothornhill

    July 17, 2009

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