The Football League Fails The Fit & Proper Test

13 By Mark  |   The Ball  |   October 23, 2009  |     19

On their website this week, Notts County Football Club have invited all to “celebrate the football league decision on Saturday” when they entertain Crewe Alexandra. But before you decide whether to join the party, it might be an idea to examine what it is they are celebrating. Remarkably, Notts County fans themselves will be celebrating the fact that they are not allowed to know who owns their club (what was, earlier this year, literally their club). They are not allowed to know to whom their season ticket money goes when the new owners, as they have promised, stop stumping up the cash and insist that County become “self-sufficient.”

The Football League know, or at least whoever is defined as “The Football League” in this instance – who this might be isn’t implicit in any statements the League have made on the topic. Notts County themselves know, or at least those who told the League. Until recently, those in the know didn’t even include chief executive Peter Trembling, or whoever wrote the official club statement that named various names and families who, it transpired, didn’t own Notts County at all. And the Football League have said that Notts County can tell anyone they like. The League themselves have long insisted that data protection regulations prevent them from spilling the beans. But if Notts County volunteer the information, these regulations don’t apply, it would seem.

As yet, though, Notts County aren’t volunteering. So while fans can celebrate the approval of their new owners, they can’t do so with those new owners, or at least not knowingly – a couple of Birmingham’s new Chinese directors apparently watched a recent St Andrews match from among the faithful. We do know that the ownership “structure is complicated,” although we don’t know why. And we also know that it “features both offshore entities and discretionary trusts,” though again it is not explained why a League Two club should be so labyrinthine at the top. Trembling “wishes to re-iterate that at all stages we fully co-operated with the Football League,” which isn’t necessarily compatible with the League’s view that they were only “in a position to confirm” their satisfaction with what is going on at Notts County “following greater co-operation from the club more recently”.

Meniwhile, the chief executive notes that “there has been considerable ill-informed speculation about our ownership structure,” which is hardly surprising, given the ill-information which he himself has produced. Yet while the fitness and propriety of Notts owners, people whose profiles would be low alongside HG Wells’ Invisible Man, has been the headline, the real ‘news’ is elsewhere. It has also been confirmed, according to the Daily Mail, “that the money being spent in excess of the League Two salary cap has also been approved.” So, perhaps while Notts fans are celebrating how their club has got away with that, they could spare a thought for the team that currently lead their division.

For while Notts can dream of hiring Roberto Mancini for what will surely be a multiple of the national minimum wage, Bournemouth are having to field visibly unfit players because of a transfer embargo imposed upon them for past misdemeanours. This isn’t to say the embargo shouldn’t apply to Bournemouth. After the financial mess the club has been under many owners for many years (dating back to – no surprises here – Harry Redknapp’s time as manager), the embargo should apply. However, the same Football League board who have approved Notts’ raucous expenditure, against the spirit if not the letter of the salary limitation regulations, have denied Bournemouth the chance to even bring in one player as emergency cover because their walking wounded can limp through ninety minutes.

Forget the long-term damage that might be done to these players, or the fact that Bournemouth are, slowly but methodically, paying debts which wouldn’t have covered Sol Campbell’s wages for half a season. Rules-is-rules. Unless people you don’t know, who don’t want to be known and who cannot be named, have enough money to flaunt them. In which case, welcome to English football. It’s hypocrisy. It stinks – and if you don’t mind, Notts fans, I’ll pass up your invitation to celebrate it.

  • October 23, 2009 at 12:33 pm


    Before I start, the word you are looking for is ‘flout’ not ‘flaunt’.

    I wonder what your problem is. Should the question not be: why have a ‘fit & proper person’ test anyway?

    Even leaving that aside, why resent the good fortune that sees any club suddenly acquiring a backer that wants to get them promoted? That seems to me to be sour grapes. I haven’t seen such opprobrium heaped on Man City for example, while they’ve been spending their new found wealth. That’s because they’re already ‘a big club’ presumably? What difference does that make?

    I sympathise with Bournemouth fans, and with fans of other teams in similarly straitened circumstances, but I don’t see why Notts County fans should feel any measure of guilt.

  • October 23, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Chris Taylor

    “I haven’t seen such opprobrium heaped on Man City for example, while they’ve been spending their new found wealth.”

    Really? Wow. Well in that case, I suggest you start paying attention.

  • October 23, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Chris Taylor

    And that’s rather beside the point, BrianL. The point that you appear to have well and truly missed.

  • October 23, 2009 at 3:48 pm


    How does anyone know that Notts have a real backer actually putting real money in rather than the usual loans?

    Why does no-one care where such money comes from and whether it has criminal origins?

  • October 23, 2009 at 4:21 pm


    Well BrianL, if you don’t care where money comes from you can have no complaint when you don’t know where it ends up going to or the liabilities your club has incurred as a result.

    That aside, full disclosure is essential so that we don’t end up with people owning a controlling interest in more than one club.

  • October 23, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    Mark Murphy

    “enough money to flaunt” – my mistake, one too many ‘thems’, I don’t think Notts have flouted any salary cap regulations, just side-stepped them. And I don’t have an issue with that per se. The issue is with the secrets and lies surrounding this tale.

    As I wrote, Trembling even claimed this week that Notts had “at all stages fully co-operated with the Football League” which the League’s own statement flatly contradicts.

    Munto have said from the start that they expect Notts to be self-sufficent as and when they climb the leagues. In which case, Notts fans will be providing them with the money to do so and should want to know to whom that money was going. Surely?

  • October 24, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    Bored Statto with free time

    BrianL – and other older articles would maybe make you feel less persecuted.

    200% is like Fox News – Fair and Balanced 😉

    Ok, it’s the opposite of Fox News’s interpreation of that phrase.

  • October 24, 2009 at 11:05 pm


    Yeah. it’s a terrible situation at Notts isn’t? Which football fan wouldn’t prefer what we had before, where Notts had no money, no prospects, and were run by a bunch of well-meaning, but clueless amateurs who were always falling out with each other.

    The point has been made before, but it’s worth re-iterating: It’s no-ones business who owns Notts. The people who need to know do know. Anything else is sanctimonius hand-wringing. The money given to Notts is just that. A gift. Loans to clubs from owners are now against Football League rules.

  • October 25, 2009 at 7:56 am


    Loans to clubs from owners are now against Football League rules.


  • October 26, 2009 at 10:49 am


    “The money given to Notts is just that. A gift.”

    Now that made me laugh. There’s no such thing as a free lunch…

  • October 26, 2009 at 11:36 pm

    Mark Murphy


    You are right up to a point. But I simply do not accept that it is no-one’s business who owns Notts. As I wrote, once Munto’s investment ceases, and they have promised that it will, Notts fans will be stumping up the cash. And it is SURELY their business then, even we assume for the purposes of the debate that it isn’t now.

    And, of course, NottyImp, you don’t KNOW that the “money given to Notts” is a gift. I believe you should know. Why shouldn’t you?

  • October 27, 2009 at 1:59 pm


    Think we should bear in mind the robustness of the County fans belief when they are going round the grounds doing bucket collections this time next year….

  • October 29, 2009 at 11:14 am


    JohnFlan, how do you know it is a gift? Have you seen the documentation or the current accounts?

    Where is the money coming from? How do you know it is not money-laundering or the profits from illegal activity?

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