Andrew Andronikou: Football Club Saviour
A source close to Portsmouth FC’s administration recently described Portsmouth FC’s most public joint-administrator, Andrew Andronikou, as a saviour of Swindon Town, who spent six years of this decade in a financial hole, having their voluntary arrangement with their many creditors supervised by him. The source was, of course, Andrew Andronikou, recently caught on camera signing autographs for Portsmouth fans as if he were one of Pompey’s wildly overpaid players, as opposed to their wildly overpaid administrator. And you would have to search long and hard in Wiltshire for independent evidence of this claim.Describing him as Swindon’s saviour is Stalinist revisionism on a scale not seen since, well, Stalin. True, his role as “supervisor” of the Robins long-term deal to pay their creditors was difficult. And the club was plagued by division and financial irresponsibility. Indeed, he was right to say, in April 2002 that: “Football in this country has neglected too many simple business rules. Players command big money and clubs have paid it in order to chase their dream. It is no co-incidence that so many clubs are in a state.” But the impact of his comments was virtually nil, coming as they did alongside his justification for hyper-inflationary season-ticket price rises – 100% increases in many cases – to help Town’s exit from a then rare second administration spell.
His exhortations to fans to deal “with pure economic facts” went down badly with those for whom the latest “economic fact” was that they were being priced out of supporting Swindon. Andronikou was “invited” into Swindon in 2000 by potential club bidder Terry Brady to “assist” with Swindon’s first “transition out of administration into a Company Voluntary Arrangement.” He himself described his slightly unorthodox role, working alongside the club’s actual administrator (Lee Manning of Kroll Buchler Phillips), as “trying to make sure that all the figures stack up and to hand-hold (!) the exercise.” He emerged from the club’s labyrinthine political machinations as “official supervisor” of the club’s finances on behalf of its creditors. They were sagging under the weight of diverse interests, ranging from a consortium involving “lifelong” Swindon fan Willie Carson, to the heavyweight Neil Ruddock – literally and famously too big for his shorts by then – and his superheavyweight salary.
In such circumstances, it was an achievement of sorts for Andronikou to hammer out any sort of creditors’ arrangement. What he produced in May 2002 was a five-year repayment schedule for a debt repayment of £1.43m. Andronikou got unanimous backing for his proposals, despite the Swindon board of the time suing the Swindon board of the time before, although dissenters at the meeting were silenced – lest their questions prejudiced the ongoing legal action – by the meeting’s chair, one A. Andronikou. In support of the proposals, Andronikou said “there was confidence that the club will stand on its own two feet”, immediately before admitting that it actually needed the feet, and the money, of major shareholder Sir Seton Wills “to ensure that the club succeeds”. “I believe that to pay £100,000 a year for the next five years is entirely possible,” he continued. But the remaining £900,000 was due all at once in 2007 (remember that), which was far from “entirely possible.”
Indeed, the £100,000 proved a strain too. The club couldn’t pay off that debt AND its taxes. And some years before it became de rigueur in football league circles, Swindon were regular day-trippers to London’s High Court to face winding-up petitions from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Sir Seton Wills facilitated the dismissal of HMRC’s first petition – for £600,000 in overlooked VAT – via a loan from property company St Modwen. But it was Willis who gained Andronikou’s plaudits, especially for injecting “£3m to keep the club out of trouble and £3m to keep me going”. The £900,000 was beyond even Wills, though, let alone Swindon, who defaulted on the 2006 instalment and, late that year, were negotiating furiously with Andronikou over what it euphemistically termed “restructuring” the CVA.
In previous seasons, Andronikou had allowed the club extended payment deadlines, taking what he termed a “commercial” view of the situation. Giving the club an extra month to meet its 2003 obligations, for example, he decided that: “It is in the best interests of the creditors to allow the company until August 1st to forward the money to me.” So here was the man appointed to look after creditors’ interests telling said creditors what those interests were. He was to be even more presumptuous in 2007, declaring that he had the power to “extend and vary” the CVA deadline – suggesting it be put back a year. Or, as he modestly out it: “I have the discretion to do what I think is right for everyone. That is where it starts and ends really.” In May he claimed: “I have information in my hands that the club are close to agreeing a deal to secure the long-term future (and) the CVA.”
A “fans’ consortium” backed by former Robins’ investor Bill Power had emerged the previous autumn but were still waiting to sign a “non-disclosure” agreement to allow them to even begin talks. And yet Andronikou was publicly “championing the cause” of new ‘mystery’ investor(s). Understandably, fans’ consortium members had a view on this. Consortium “leader” Mike Wilks was willing to “concede defeat” if Andronikou’s new love was the real deal, while warning: “The accounts show this club is effectively bankrupt. This mystery investor will need pretty deep pockets.” So far, so reasonable. Then Wilks questioned Andronikou, claiming to be “baffled” by “why the club feels it is in such a strong position” and by “the timing of the CVA, because it states in black-and-white that the last payment is due in June. How does Mr Andronikou figure there is another year to pay it?”
Still so far, so reasonable. Andronikou’s response…wasn’t. “No matter what some people say, as long as I think it is in the interests of everyone to extend the deadline then I can,” he repeated, still not revealing the source of these magical powers. “It will not be long, a few weeks maybe, before this club gets some really positive news. The 20 or 30 busybodies can then find something else to do.” That, as they say, tore it. Fans and creditors’, concerns were far more widespread than that. The Trust demanded an apology for the busybody slur. And chairman Paul Davis noted that “Mr Andronikou seems to be saying ‘I am the supervisor, I am God,’ (Andronikou, you suspect, would not have balked at the description) while attacking the customers of the business. It seems a bizarre way to go about things.”
Swindon’s Borough Council were among the creditors. And as the CVA deadline approached, they stressed that they were expecting their “substantial debt” at the agreed time. Finance committee member Nick Martin noted: “We are not looking to re-engage or review the creditors’ agreement.” These storms may have become a footnote in the club’s history if the mystery new investors had delivered. But information on, and progress towards, a deal was minimal. The deadline had already passed before “dynamic” changes to the club’s board were trailed. They, and millions of anonymously-sourced pounds, would “disperse forever the dark financial clouds” hanging over the club. But it was August before any details were to emerge of “Portuguese investment company” Best Holdings.
Given the new circumstances, Andronikou urged creditors to “defer” CVA payments for up to another year – so much for his powers to extend and vary deadlines. But given the continuing lack of detail, Andronikou had to announce that creditors voted “strongly in favour” of calling a meeting to discuss “varying the CVA.” Yet, two lines later, he claimed: “I have to decide over the next few days whether we have to hold one…because it looks as though things will be resolved next week.” His disregard for creditors’ wishes was overshadowed by news that Best Holdings signed a contract on August 14th to take full control of Swindon. Buoyed by this seeming vindication, Andronikou went back on the attack. It seemed to matter not that he didn’t “know too much about” Best Holdings. They were “forwarding me the money, (so) a creditors’ meeting is no longer needed.” And he insisted that “It’s a complicated matter and I think everyone should just leave it,” before revealing that creditors were owed £8m rather than the £5m.
Naturally, creditors wondered why “everyone should just leave it.” And what the extra £3m were. Did Andronikou have a motive other than self-promotion? Could he not count… and are Portsmouth fans getting a feeling of deja-vu here? But there was more. In an interview with the local Advertiser on September 10th, with no Portuguese deal yet done, he railed against the council and the Trust for “putting the club at risk.” It was bog-standard stuff. He found it “amazing” that the council didn’t “want to secure the club’s future so they could use it as a backdrop for other initiatives.” And the Trust’s “self-importance…genuinely got out of hand” (an expert writes…). They could have “caused untold damage if we hadn’t ignored them.” Yet he dismissed them in his next sentence as “representing about 20 people.” And, toying nicely with the libel laws, he claimed that he’d had to “alert” potential investors about “the individuals behind the trust.”
Behind the scenes, though, Andronikou was discovering that, as the Advertiser put it, his “fantastic news” about his beloved Portuguese investors was “yet another false dawn.” Best Holdings’ bid predictably collapsed in mid-October, not helped, of course, by “negative media coverage, “ and “the type of protests held at the ground on 9th October”, although club director Bob Holt recorded these gems, Andronikou remaining uncharacteristically silent. Swindon found new owners in Andrew Flitton and Jeremy Wray in December that year. And while one newspaper report had Andronikou as the “driving force behind these latest takeover talks”, he largely maintained his silence.
Had he learnt his lesson? Early experiences at Portsmouth scream “No!” Andronikou’s time at Pompey has been more of the same. The FA, the Premier League (and the fans too, no doubt, if they keep asking pertinent questions about Portsmouth’s immediate pre-administration period) have all encountered Andronikou’s arrogance. Portsmouth autograph hunters have met his narcissism, and creditors will soon be meeting £3m to “keep me going” if his £350-450 hourly rate is anything to go by. Andronikou was no failure at Swindon. But he was hardly a success and certainly no saviour. Trust chairman Paul Davis once said: “I am sure the only thing fans want to hear from Mr Andronikou is ‘the CVA has been dealt with.’ Then hopefully, in the nicest way possible, we will never have to hear from him again.” Portsmouth fans may think that already.