Northampton Town: David Cardoza Helps The Police With Their Inquiries
When Northampton Town threatened to tumble into insolvency in the latter stages of last year, what occurred was neither sudden nor particularly unexpected. It had been apparent to supporters for some considerable time that something was not going according to what might have been expected behind the scenes at Sixfields, and although the club’s sudden lurch into the realms of not meeting its financial obligations on time felt incongruous in comparison with the team’s performance on the pitch, that club chairman David Cardoza might have been looking for an out from the club perhaps shouldn’t have been a seismic shock.
When the club teetered on the brink, it was as a result of an unpaid tax bill of £166,000, an amount eventually satisfied as part of his sale of his club to the former Oxford United chairman Kelvin Thomas. Administration was avoided and the club lived to fight another day, but even now, with the team sitting at the top of League Two and looking extremely capable of getting promoted at the end of this season, a considerably greater cloud hangs over the club’s long term financial future, that of a £10.25m loan made to the club by its local council to build a new stand at its ground. Explanations as to where this money might have gone have so far ranged from the feeble to the non-existent, and it should come as no great surprise that the police have now got involved.
Northamptonshire Police’s press release on the matter leant a little on the coy side, stating that a forty-five year old man was “helping the police with their inquiries,” but it was immediately evident to onlookers who this particular forty-five year old would be, and any remaining speculation that it could conceivably not have been Cardoza were blown out of the water when the BBC named him in their report on the subject. Whether the arrest of Cardoza will end in him being charged with anything is, of course, unknown at this time, and still less is it known whether any pressing of charges would end in a successful prosecution, but it is at least encouraging that this most uncomfortable of cases is being progressed by the police. Northampton supporters hoping for quick answers to follow, however, may have to be a little impatient. Investigations of this sort are by their very nature complex and time consuming, a fact acknowledged in the police press release, with Detective Chief Inspector Paul Spicer stating that, “This remains a very complex investigation and, as such, it would be inappropriate for us to make any further comment at this time.” Cardoza has been released on conditional bail.
Back to a three-sided ground
Even the few details that we do know about this particular story at this particular time are remarkable. Northampton Borough Council loaned Northampton Town Football Club £10.25 million to complete the construction of a new stand in 2013. Cardoza contracted the job of managing this job the new stand to a north London property developer, Howard Grossman, via Grossman’s company, 1st Land Ltd, but the stand remains uncompleted. The developer, Buckingham Group, stopped working on the site at the end of 2014, having been paid only £442,000, and issued a statement claiming that it had sued Grossman for £1.9m that it was owed at that time. When the company did not get paid, Buckingham Group put 1st Land Ltd into administration. Cardoza subsequently promised that his own company would complete the development but Buckingham did not get paid again and suspended work again in May of last year.
As people started to dig, the story became murkier and murkier. The Guardian newspaper had sight of two invoices from an architect, Stuart Loxton, to 1st Land Ltd, for £18,500 in total, headed “Northampton Town Football Club: Design concept plans”, which Loxton stated were in fact drawings for the design of a new family home for Cardoza. Loxton told the newspaper that he had dealings with Grossman at the time, but that he was requested by another – unnamed – director of a Grossman company to put Northampton Town as the heading on those invoices for Cardoza’s house. Cardoza was believed to have denied any knowledge of the invoices. Throughout most of last year, however, even when pressed Cardoza and Grossman cited confidentiality clauses as being the reasons why they could not or would not comment on the subject.
The Buckingham Group, however, have not been tied down by such clauses, and in October they issued a detailed statement to the Northampton Town Supporters Trust, explaining the story from their perspective. They did not mince their words, stating that, “This regrettable situation has arisen through what we can only conclude is the gross mismanagement and/or the misappropriation of a very significant public loan by those in receipt of that loan”, and that, “In addition to legal recourse, Buckingham Group is working co-operatively with other innocent parties such as the clubs supporters who may ultimately become victims of these unprecedented circumstances, the likes of which Buckingham Group has never experienced previously.”
As the media started to wake up to the story, the net of people caught up in it continued to grow, and the highest profile of these was the Conservative MP for Northampton South and former local council leader, David Mackintosh. Howard Grossman was found to have paid £6,195 for tickets to a general election fundraising dinner for Mackintosh, whilst three associates of Grossman’s also made donations of £10,000 to the Northampton South Conservative Association between April and June of 2014, while Mackintosh was still the council leader, and one £10,000 donation, made by one Gary Platt, a director of one of Grossman’s companies, was not declared as it should have been to the Electoral Commission. The NSCA claimed that this was due to an “administrative error” on their part. There is nothing to suggest that Mackintosh himself was personally aware of this at this time, but in an era during which politicians are viewed with greater suspicion than ever before by many of the general public, such associations will doubtlessly be considered extremely unwelcome for somebody who has only been in parliament for less than a year. In the ruthless and often thankless world of politics, this is the sort of mud that has an unpleasant tendency to stick.
With the police commencing a criminal investigation into the goings on at Sixfields, the local council also made its displeasure at this turn of events known, with a public statement from its leader, Councillor Mark Markham, stating that, “We can confirm that after working with Northamptonshire Police for some time, we have now made a formal complaint about potential financial mismanagement of funds lent to to Northampton Town Football Club. As there is now a live police investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage. The investigation will have the full cooperation of Northampton Borough Council.” The police responded to this by serving a warrant at Sixfields in order to secure any documentation – whether by way of paperwork or on computers – which may be relevant to the investigation. This week’s arrest, it seems, is the next stage in all of this.
Against such a background, and notwithstanding a recent FA Cup defeat that ended hopes of a Fourth Round home tie against Chelsea, the achievements this season of manager Chris Wilder cannot go unmentioned. With chaos playing out in the background, Wilder’s team sits at the top of the League Two table having lost just once in the league since the middle of October. To clamber to the top of a league table is an achievement for any football club. To manage it when it might have felt at times as if the sky was falling in over Sixfields is truly exceptional. There are other clubs near the top of League Two, such as Oxford United and Portsmouth, with considerable support bases, who would give their right arm to be sitting atop the table as the Cobblers are at present.
Under new ownership, at least the ultimate cause of the critical position in which Northampton Town Football Club found itself two or three months or so has gone, for good. We do not know at present whether the current investigations regarding whatever on earth did go on at Sixfields over the last two or three years or so will end in charges being brought or prosecutions secured, and there may even be some who might argue that to know the full truth of what happened regarding this transaction will be enough. It’s difficult, however, to avoid the feeling that someone – or, perhaps, some people – should be held to account for this debacle. We will wait with interest to see what the next plot twist in this extraordinary story turns out to be.
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