Tied Up In Notts
“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.