We have touched on the subject of the serial football club chairman on this site before, and there are none quite as prolific as Peter Ridsdale. Like the Freddy Krueger from the Nightmare On Elm Street film series, every time we think that he has finally been slayed, he rises as if from the dead, quite possibly bending his hand into a fist shape, and this time it is the supporters of Plymouth Argyle that need to take note. He has been spotted at Home Park a couple of times and a strange official announcement on the club’s website has only sought to further trouble those that are concerned by his possible involvement in their club:
There has been speculation about the fact that Peter Ridsdale has been spending some time meeting with executives from Plymouth Argyle Football Club. Peter has extensive experience in football and is just one of a number of parties that we have undertaken exploratory discussions with regard to potential future investment. If and when there is anything further to add we will do so at the appropriate time.
Peter Ridsdale is living, breathing proof of the failure of the FA’s Fit & Proper Persons regulations. At Leeds United, Barnsley and Cardiff City, he managed to turn clubs that had been on a relatively even keel into absolute basket cases and his greatest achievement as a football club chairman may be to have avoided being involved in any of those clubs being put into administration. If there is one thing that Peter Ridsdale does know, it is to get out at the right time. At Leeds United, it has now been seven and a half years since he stood down as chairman and, while the club has recovered financially from the condition in which he left them, they remain a division below the Premier League. His time at Barnsley resulted in the club only narrowly avoiding liquidation and his time at Cardiff City saw considerable speculation over the future of the club after it was confirmed with the publication of the club’s annual accounts for his final year in charge there was £66m, which was more than twice had previously been rumoured. It is understood that Cardiff’s owners are, even now, receiving bills relating to his period in charge of the club.
Plymouth Argyle are in a pretty bad way at the moment. In something aproaching football’s equivalent of Groundhog Day, they have been served with a winding up order and will have their day at the High Court on The Strand in London on the eighth of December. The club lost almost £3m for the 2008/09 year and, of course, their income will have dropped still further with relegation from the Championship at the end of last season. The currently sit in fifteenth place in League One under the managership of Peter Reid (there may be some that will ponder on whether there is a conceivably worse position to be in than being managed by Peter Reid and having Ridsdale as the chairman), and relegation again to League Two remains a possibility.
Off the pitch, the problems are even greater. Sir Roy Gardner, the club’s chairman since the summer of 2009, recently put £400,000 into the club in return for potential rental income from the use of Home Park. The ground has also been separated from the club and put into the ownership of a different company, Home Park Properties, which has an identical shareholding to the football club itself. Home Park Properties has also been served with a winding up order by HMRC. Home Park Properties, as was pointed out by The Guardian’s Digger column this morning, is less than a year old and as such hasn’t yet had to release any annual accounts, but it will be interesting to see what this holding company would have a liability to HMRC for, to say the very least.
The timing of these orders is everything. If there is still anybody within FIFA that is poring over the bids to host the 2018 World Cup (and reports elsewhere seem to be indicating that a fair few of the delegates for that have already decided which way their votes are going), they may wish, to consider the Plymouth situation as a parable for the condition of English football. Plymouth is a potential host city for the England bid and a city of a quarter of a million people. There is no logical reason why a city of its size would not be able to host football regularly in the Premier League or the Championship with some degree of comfort. The finances of modern British football, however, are far from logical and the long-term damage to Plymouth Argyle may already have been done. We will be returning to the subject of how Plymouth found themselves in these straits next week, but for now it should suffice to say that if Peter Ridsdale is your best bet, there’s not a great deal to be said for the alternatives.
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