There was a rumour circulating recently that Watford Football Club were in takeover negotiations with someone who had neither changed his name nor had a troubled business and financial background. These were quickly dismissed as nonsense. And though it is being too kind to take full notice of what potential Watford owner Laurence Bassini has to say about… ANYthing, it was certainly worth a second look at what he said about his putative involvement with Blackburn Rovers, and how “I was offered Blackburn Rovers, as Jerome Anderson is a good friend of mine.”
The Lancashire Telegraph newspaper interpreted this as Bassini being offered the club BY “agent Jerome Anderson,” which isn’t quite what the wannabe Watford supremo said. However, what he did say was enough to get fans up in even more arms than ever before about Anderson’s true role at Ewood Park over the last year. Or at least it should have been. Alas, of the 40-odd comments the article received from Telegraph readers, 36 were a sectarian Burnley/Blackburn argument which was childish and pointless even for a ‘web warrior’ offering. Only four readers thought even as much as “hang on a minute” about a players’ agent’s suggested involvement in seeking a buyer for their club.
Maybe Blackburn fans are suffering from lunacy-fatigue and are just pleased that the team is playing football again after months of rollerball under Sam Allardyce. The latest Lancashire lunacy is that owners Venky’s have drawn up a list of superstar names whose representatives have been contacted to see if their boys fancy Christopher Samba for a team-mate next season. In the late 1980s it was the preserve of lazy, tabloid columnists to suggest a struggling side needed “the likes of” six of the best players in the world (and, for some reason, Kerry Dixon) to improve their fortunes.
It seems that one of these old hacks has stood in for Anderson to advise the Rao family whom to target in the summer. Robinho and Kaka are the headline names (like Robinho wants to be anywhere NEAR Manchester ever again ever). Luis Fabiano is another. And Brazil is the theme. Even as a publicity stunt, the whole scenario has no credibility. Yet apparently the Raos are serious. Venkatesh, the more talkative Rao brother, declared “money will not be a problem” in a lengthy, inglorious puff piece by the usually admirable Nick Harris in the Mail on Sunday recently.
But money isn’t the solution, either. SEVEN… MILLION… POUNDS… A… YEAR didn’t solve the “why on earth would Ronaldinho want to take part in a Premier League relegation battle?” problem. And it will be a surprise if the representatives of “the likes of” Robinho and Kaka let the call from Blackburn last longer than two words. So if Jerome Anderson really was offering Blackburn to his mates long before Venky’s arrived, why would any fan be surprised? The major reason why such a scenario is unlikely is Bassini himself, the upholder of a new Watford tradition of seeking new investment from deed poll specialists.
Last month, after some weeks’ discussion with at least two potential bidders, the club ended negotiations with what the Guardian’s Matt Scott perhaps oxymoronically called “an apparently credible consortium of property specialists and bankers” because their front man, Paul Anthony, missed out a vital bit of his name. He was Paul Anthony Garland, the small matter of a convicted fraudster. At the time of Garland’s conviction, January 2006, the Yorkshire Post noted that he had “worked for Leeds United as an investment broker and had been associated with the club for a number of years.” It is tempting to believe that Garland would have been a man after Bates’ heart, or that maybe Bates wouldn’t appreciate the competition in the area of financial murk – but lawyers wouldn’t like it, so I won’t. Either way, Garland was no longer “associated” with Leeds after Bates arrived.
Watford still had another consortium on the go, the traditional ‘mystery’ one without which no takeover saga would be complete. The ‘mystery’ was solved earlier this month when, in a refreshing departure from the usual property developers and alleged billionaires, a “highly-respected orthopaedic surgeon” Panos Thomas took centre stage. Alas, Thomas wasn’t centre stage for long. A week after his identity was revealed via a statement to the London Stock Exchange from the club’s parent company Watford Leisure PLC, attention turned to the second man named, Laurence Bassini.
The Watford Observer ran a lengthy “exclusive” interview with Bassini on February 18th. But by then, Bassini had already been exposed as former bankrupt LaWrence BaZini, whose dodgy business past was far more in keeping with modern football times than all this “highly-respected” surgeon nonsense. To add to the confusion, it appeared that “there’s only one Lawrence Bazini” was a song that could be sung with neither confidence nor truth. An observant Observer reader noted that Bassini was “not a wealthy businessman..(but)… a bit of a Del Boy character,” who had “made applications to run strip clubs in the past” – which would at least give Davids Sullivan and Gold someone to talk to before West Ham’s games with Watford in next year’s Championship.
More detailed evidence unearthed by another reader, Roy Stockdill, revealed that Bazini/Bassini hade been made bankrupt as recently as October 2007, and that the family made regular appearances in the London Gazette’s insolvency section. But Stockdill concluded that the putative “strip club owner” was “perhaps not the same man.” And the WFC forum printed ‘information’ from a regular source that a six-man consortium would complete its takeover by February 18th and DID include the customary property guy – one who owned a lot of land in nearby Elstree “and has plans to move the club there within a few years.”
No takeover emerged by then. But Bassini had, ready to explain everything – the name change, the money problems, the Elstree move…and his friendship with Jerome Anderson, particularly that he turned down Rovers because “I have lived near Watford all my life…I am a Watford fan. This was one of the few bits of the interview that could be safely filed under ‘information.’ Bassini’s name change suggested he was no master of disguise, but he tried to disguise his business past, and succeeded in disguising the source of the money for the “on or around 1p-per-ordinary share” offer which the Stock Exchange statement said he and Thomas were considering.
The explanation for his name change quickly diverted to a story about a business venture with his father which “didn’t work out as it should have…and I was left to deal with it when (my father) left to do other things.” Because “people say things” after bankruptcy, he changed his name “to have a fresh start.” Quite how he thought changing two letters would deliver this remains unclear: “I just changed it that way because at that time it was something I wanted to do,” he claimed, enigmatically.
After the headline-making revelation that he was on benefits “for about five or six months” he suggested that he had his “very wealthy and successful” family’s support “when he needed it” (not Dad, presumably). He highlighted his brothers – a barrister, a graphic designer and “a brother who is in the perfume world and has a branded perfume name.” Which name this was also remains unclear.
But when questioned on his seemingly dramatic recovery from benefit-claiming bankrupt to potential Championship club co-owner in less than three years, his responses became so vague they almost disappeared. Because of “the family’s support” he “was able to trade and do things I needed to do to make money again.” What these trades and things were remains unclear. “I have had people around me who I have done business with who have supported me when I needed it.” Who these people were remains unclear.
Elsewhere he was a touch more forthcoming, describing himself as an “equity investor,” i.e. he spends money: “There are maybe 15 private companies that I invest in and put money into,” he confirmed. And eventually the dark words “I deal in property” arrived. But we were back in Vaguetown soon enough: “I basically do deals as they come along. I am doing something now which will come out soon which is high-profile.” Watford fans could be forgiven for thinking that the “something” he was “doing” was taking the p**s. And his ‘plans’ for Watford’s future?: “If an offer is forthcoming, there will be great things to come. Should an offer come in there will be a plan.” Right-o.
That, bar dismissing the Elstree rumours, was it. Yet remarkably, not everyone reading Bassini tosh thought it WAS necessarily tosh, even when his recollection of his 1990s business dealings with current Top Shop boss Phillip Green were exposed as inexact. There was a touching faith in chairman and Watford legend Graham Taylor’s ability to sort things out. “Do you think Graham Taylor, the board, Lord Ashcroft et al do not know this,” said one reader of the details from Stockdill, whose expertise in genealogy fleshed out Bassini’s family problems and whose expertise in reading the London Gazette – allied to his time as an investigative journalist and Watford Observer contributor – fleshed out his business ones.
“Let the facts emerge,” was the reader’s response to Stockdill’s… er… facts. And those dismissing Bassini were “jumping to un-necessary conclusions.” It was pointed out that “because of London Stock Exchange rules, things cannot be discussed yet,” although said rules didn’t cover any of the questions Bassini avoided answering. And one chronologically-challenged contributor even suggested that “there will be plenty of questions to ask and for them to answer, IF IT (the takeover) GOES THROUGH” (their emphasis). It is not beyond the realms of possibility that, between them, Thomas and Bassini have the business, organisational and financial wherewithal to make something of a business the size of Watford, with debts the size of Watford’s. And there is no reason to assume that every Watford fan, or even a majority for that matter, should remember Notts County when considering their club’s future.
Watford’s urgency for a buyer with considerable sums to invest is clear, they’ve been borrowing from directors and others for some years now like borrowing is going out of fashion (if only…). So when Graham Taylor reveals his anxiety for a takeover to be quick, he’s assessed the situation properly. But Watford’s investment needs to be quick and clean, beyond reasonable doubt. And Bassini oozes reasonable doubt from every proverbial pore. Not only over his immediate financial past and his immediate future plans for Watford. But also over the idea that a football agent such as Jerome Anderson could tout a Premier League club to a recently-bankrupted mate who has no demonstrable source of the requisite finance.
After all, what responsible football authority would let that happen?
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