Time, then, for part two of our look at the Notts County “situation”. Mark Murphy has taken a look at Peter Trembling’s time in charge of the club and, as you may have been able to guess, he’s not terribly impressed. If you happen to be reading this, Mr Trembling, I’d suggest looking away… now.
So, farewell then, Peter Trembling. Disingenuous to the last. If there was one person who personified the numerous mistakes made by Notts County football club over this past year, it was Trembling. Mind you, it couldn’t really have been anyone else. Not Russell King or Anwar Shafi or Shakir Ullah Durrani, because they were either the subject of criminal proceedings, not involved at all or dead. The Guardian’s Matt Scott and Everton chairman Bill Kenwright both came in for stick because of Trembling; Scott from Notts fans for doubting almost every word of Trembling’s thousand and one “official” statements, Kenwright from Evertonians because Trembling had failed to deliver for Everton the astronomical investment he “delivered” for Notts County. If the latest news from County has brought a knowing smile from Scott and Kenwright, then so be it.
Trembling was introduced to Notts’ world by a statement from the semi-mythical Munto Finance which claimed he had worked “in and around” football for fifteen years, including a spell as “Everton’s head of commercial” (sic). That should have been a first warning to those of us who had written about football’s financial clowns in recent years. A previous Everton commercial whizz-kid, Alastair Saverimutto, had made a horlicks of AFC Bournemouth last season. And he, like Trembling, had talked a good game. Trembling spoke of “the world’s oldest football club” not as a historical fact of which to be proud but as “a wonderful strapline which we can market to football’s global audience.” “What excites me,” he said, out loud, “is the commerciality of football”. He was quoted as saying this in early September, by which time the Sol Campbell wheels were coming off Notts “project”. This, according to Trembling, was because “Sol could not adjust to the long-term nature of the project underway at Notts County.” Or, as it turned out, the long-term nature of some of the short-term promises he’d been made to be persuaded to join the “project” in the first place.
The Football League were having Campbell-esque doubts about the project too. Trembling declared, however, that he expected “a statement of satisfaction” with the takeover to be released by the Football League on 22 September. It wasn’t. By October, concerns were being expressed about the people behind the project, and how the project was adhering to the League Two’s rather stringent salary limitation policies. In Trembling’s world, however, “these are private investors who do not want to be identified, people who decided to take hold of this club and give it an excellent future…and the people of Nottingham have welcomed us because they see improvements every week.” Well, Campbell had left the previous week, and the defence certainly improved as a result. But Trembling then declared: “The Football League will not have any reason to worry after seeing the documentation we have provided them with.” They did.
Names did emerge, although Trembling had to admit that he didn’t know who they were. And clouds were beginning to cover his sunny disposition. After applying a cute mixture of semantics (“The Football League are not holding an inquiry”) and apparent mendacity (“there is no investigation”), Trembling suggested “we are being pilloried for putting money into the oldest football league club in the world” – the “wonderful strapline” coming into play again. Of course, had these names been doing so, and had “we” known who “they” were, no-one would have been pilloried. Which, surely, Trembling knew by then. Two of the “names” turned out not to have anything to do with Notts, or the mysterious “Qadbak”, the name now appearing in the papers where once Munto Finance had been. Trembling though was still confident that the Football League board would say everything was lovely when they met on October 8th. They didn’t.
Then, for the first time, Trembling blamed the media, sparked by a confrontation on local radio, a previously compliant source of club information. Trembling blasted: “The unprecedented backlash from certain sections of the media has been quite scandalous”. And he went on. And on. And every word was a nail in the coffin of his credibility:
I just can’t fathom why people aren’t applauding the fact that these Middle Eastern businessmen want to invest in Notts County. I don’t know if it’s jealousy or a vendetta or pure spite and maliciousness. I met one of the owners over the weekend. They are the nicest people you could wish to meet and so genuine about what they want to do. I expect 100% ratification [of the takeover by the Football League] and if there were any problems, I fear the consequences.
And so on, until the present day. Within weeks “Qadbak”, “Munto Finance” et al had dissolved into the non-entities they always seemed to be (it later emerged that much of the continental European press, less hamstrung by media law such as defamation, had outed Qadbak as a “shell company” with no discernible finance). Yet even last week, Trembling was giving out his usual mix of sunny optimism and bullshit. Faced with Notts long-inevitable winding-up order from HMRC, he announced that investment had been “secured” to “secure” the long-term future of the club. It hadn’t been. He added: “HMRC have today informed us that they are satisfied that the investment offered is genuine.” They hadn’t and they weren’t.
Even on the day that I write this, Trembling has been busy tying himself in knots (sorry) over the final collapse of the never-existent “project.” “It has been impossible to secure major investment in the tight timeframes we have,” he finally concluded, revealing his entire tenure as Notts County executive chairman to have been a sham and a failure. The new investors appear, at the time of writing, to be fronted by former Lincoln City chairman Ray Trew, which means that Notts fans still need to be very vigilant indeed. But for the sake of those fans everywhere, let’s hope and pray that for the foreseeable future the most annoying thing about the club is Lee Hughes’ goal celebration and that neutrals everywhere can simply not mind who wins the FA Cup tie against Fulham. What now, though, for Peter Trembling? Chester City seems to be developing into a retirement home for football’s disingenuous, and if Trembling turned up at the Deva, it might be that club’s long-required death-knell. Ultimately, though, perhaps it is best that Trembling, as he might put it himself, “pursues new challenges” in another walk of life altogether. Or, as some right-minded football fans might put it, for Trembling to piss off and stay away from football forever.