This is not a transaction that I sought or contemplated but, if it is the only route to guarantee a future for Plymouth Argyle Football Club, it is a route that I am prepared to take.
After seven months of claiming that he was a mere consultant to Plymouth Argyle Football Club, of claiming that he was talking to (you guessed it) anonymous wealthy businessmen that were interested in pouring money into a League One (now League Two) club, then, a property company has been announced as the preferred bidder for the assets of the administration-struck Plymouth Argyle and that they, of all of the 6.2 billion people on this planet that they could have considered in such circumstances, have given the opportunity and, by all accounts, the funding to Peter Ridsdale to take over the football aspect of the business on their behalf.
In January of 2010, on this very site, Mark Murphy wrote that, “Ridsdale had, of course, personified everything that was wrong with the football boom which straddled the millennia on the back of various club share flotations and exponentially increasing broadcast deals”. This is a man whose previous involvement at three different clubs – Leeds United, Barnsley and Cardiff City – saw all three clubs tottering on the brink of insolvency (although, in the interests of fairness, there have been plenty that have said that the situation at Barnsley was well beyond his control). He is the personification of the serial chairman, the man that seems to have made the running of a football club – any football club – into a career choice for which the only qualification, a qualification that out-strips any other, is to have done it before. It doesn’t matter whether the serial chairman has carried out duties at his previous appointment well, merely competentlyhat he has been in the same position before. Perhaps, we might consider, it is time for the game to introduce an addendum to the Fit & Proper Persons Test which states that an individual may only be a director or shareholder of one club, in their lifetime.
The whole issue of Ridsdale’s ownership of the club may prove to be a temporary matter anyway. He appeared in court in Cardiff two weeks ago charged with three counts of unfair trading and conspiracy to defraud under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and one under the Fraud Act 2006. It is alleged that, whilst at Cardiff City, the club sold season tickets for the 2010/11 season in 2009 on the promise that the money raised would be spent on players during the January 2010 transfer window when, in fact, the club spent the money paying a tax bill and was under a transfer embargo that would have prevented it from spending the money on players. If found guilty of this, Ridsdale could be imprisoned and, even if he wasn’t to be and was only fined instead, he would still fail the Fit & Proper Persons Test. The Test itself states that an individual shall not be allowed to act as a director if, “He is convicted on indictment of an offence set out in the Appendix 12 Schedule of Offences or he is convicted of a like offence by a competent court having jurisdiction outside England and Wales”, and conspiracy to defraud is one of those offences.
This, however, should not be our main concern in looking in on events from the outside. He remains innocent until proven guilty and should be treated as such. There is, however, a certain low comedy to be found in somebody in the circumstances in which Ridsdale currently finds himself being considered the ideal man to take a troubled football club forward. When he blustered into Home Park during the second half of last year carrying the hint of a white knight on a charger about him – to anybody that hadn’t been paying much attention to his past – he went out of his way, initially, to describe himself only as a consultant. Six months later, the club is either his or owned by people that he is working on behalf of.
The biggest question is – or should be, since the likelihood of us getting an answer to it remains slim – who is funding Ridsdale, and why do they crave their anonymity so much? It is far from an unreasonable question to ask. Time and time again, events elsewhere have shown that anonymity can be a corrosive currency. We were recently forced to endure the absurd spectacle of Ken Bates buying Leeds United from an organisation that he had previously claimed not to know the identity of. At Notts County, anonymity was the cover a for group of people that had something to hide, and it almost led to the extinction of the oldest professional football club in the world. Anonymity, in dealings of the custodianship of a football club, isn’t something that should be “respected”. It is something that we should collectively be concerned about and wary of.
There have been some Plymouth Argyle supporters who, over the last couple of days or so have made the point that at least their club may be fighting its way out of its darkest times and that supporters should be thankful for this. It’s an understandable viewpoint to take, but it doesn’t seem to take into account the fact that, of all the possibilities that may have come from a spell in administration and a fresh start to follow, there is little but blind optimism to suggest that what they may end up with is anything like the best of all possible worlds. If Ridsdale succeeds – and he will be running a club with potential that obviously far outstrips its anticipated for next season placing in League Two – it will be fourth time lucky, although this will likely be forgotten in the bluster of him being talked of as a “football man” and a “saviour”. For now, though, there are still hoops that Ridsdale and his backers need to jump through, and even when he has completed that supporters need to keep pushing, keep probing and keep asking questions. They owe it to the very fabric and history of Plymouth Argyle to do so.
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