For what seems like longer than the three months for which it has actually been happening, fans of Port Vale have been bombarded with promises of multi-million pound investment by ironically-labelled ‘secret millionaire’ Mo Chaudry. His interest in football has been intermittent. He claims to have rediscovered his love for the game in recent years, after falling out of love with it in the 1980s. Safe to say, then, that this love for the game is NOT inversely proportional to the money to be made from it.
But Vale fans are stuck, as the club is drifting towards the financial abyss under a board of directors for whom self-preservation appears a higher priority than financial sustainability and on-field progress. ‘Valiant 2001’, the ‘fan’s consortium’ which has been running/ruining the club (delete as applicable) since… er… 2003, have been ‘looking’ for investment for years, so long as that investor doesn’t have any fancy ideas of taking any of the board’s power away. With each passing refusal of help, they have attracted increasing cynicism and opprobrium from a fanbase which can also detect a drift to what is still (wrongly) seen as the ‘abyss’ of the Blue Square Bet Premier League.
Into this sea of despair has swum successful local businessman Mo Chaudry, VERY publicly indeed. His practical experience of the game would leave a lot of spare space on the back of a fag packet and he admitted from the word go that it is a vanity project for him (“I have achieved most of my ambitions and now seek a new challenge”). But he rode a wave of pre-Christmas popularity based upon standard “Championship in five years” promises, and NOT being Valiant 2001. And he offered transparency to supporters long-starved of it, via a series of public pronouncements and open fans’ meetings, in an attempt to force the board to call an Emergency General Meeting of shareholders to approve his “£3m” bid.
Chaudry’s business history, whilst occasionally tainted by association (notably his short spell at serial pension mis-sellers General Portfolio), is vastly superior to the Vale board’s financial one. But Chaudry has been allowed to get away with a LOT. Despite his calls for questioning, Vale fans’ scrutiny of his proposals has been limited. Not being Valiant 2001 continues to be enough for many. Some said they were mis-sold pensions by him. And the board belatedly, half-heartedly tried to pick holes in his proposals, querying how much ‘new’ money would come in and from where. Yet only after board scrutiny was it fully acknowledged that Chaudry would be borrowing his initial investment. A “common way in which funds are introduced to a business,” noted his solicitor, correctly. But only when claims that these loans would be ‘interest-free’ came under scrutiny did his solicitor add that “they will be interest-free until the Club is able to pay interest on them.” In other words, NOT interest-free.
Chaudry’s love of publicity will not always be helpful, even if his most garish publicity stunt, applying to join the British National Party last year (to “rile them”), still gets a ripple of applause round these parts – the 49-year-old Chaudry is Pakistani-born, so it would rile them alright. But his arrogant, narcissistic approach would rile more reasonable people. On too many issues, his attitude has been, ‘if I say so, it must be so.’ Despite his initial failure to progress negotiations with the board, he felt he ought to be consulted on Vale’s change of manager after Micky Adams’ departure to Sheffield United.
His call for an EGM of shareholders was specifically for an EGM “to approve his bid,” as if that was inevitable. His initial refusal to sign a confidentiality agreement prior to any negotiations with the board was on the simple basis that HE doesn’t think one is necessary. And in the same arrogant manner, such criticisms are dismissed as the board using the “media and third parties to spin viral and negative comments about Mo the businessman, Mo the person and Mo’s bid – all designed to caste (sic) doubt in your minds.” Doubtless, the paragraphs above would be filed in that column if they were read that widely. After all, “using the media and third parties to spin” isn’t the preserve of one side in this dispute. Vale fans are, nonetheless, firmly united behind Chaudry, against Valiant 2001. And their opposition has taken varied and thoughtful forms.
In an acknowledged echo of the anti-Glazer campaign’s green and gold (scarves) protests, Vale fans formed “Black and Gold until its sold” – Vale’s colours for a brief acid trip back in the early 1960s. Initially a simple anti-Valiant 2001 movement (its website carries an impressively-detailed financial argument for their departure), they are now full behind Chaudry. Less of a fashion crime is the starkly-named “Starve ‘em out” campaign, which asks season-ticket holders to pledge not to renew their season tickets for 2011/12 if the current board remain in place. It also asks “any Port Vale fan (or potential fan)” to pledge to buy a season ticket if the current board goes.
This is doubly-clever. Firstly, no action is required until the spring/summer when season-tickets are up for renewal – and there’s no ‘waiting list’ of eager Valiants to take up non-renewed season-tickets, as there once was at Old Trafford. Secondly, it reveals “how much the club will lose if they (the Board) stay” and “how much the club will gain if they leave.” While typing this article, potential losses have risen from £63,000 to £102,000… no… make that £120,000.
The campaign asked Chaudry to honour season-tickets at discounted rates if the board don’t go before the discount deadline, and to pledge that no-one in that situation “will lose out” if he takes over. Chaudry amended the pledge in typically self-confident style, from “if” to “when.” Chaudry has now agreed to face-to-face talks about talks with the board, after agreeing to abide by “limited confidentiality.” But it seems the financial situation will have to be beyond repair for Valiant 2001 to let their power go. And, with leading Vale directors allegedly set for “a war of attrition,” it will have to be a few pounds worse still before they let it go to Mo Chaudry, the least-secret millionaire in the world.
Plymouth Argyle have Peter Ridsdale (no, really) to thank for their continued existence. And if that isn’t an outright condemnation of Argyle’s directors in recent years, then I don’t know what is. Ridsdale’s motivation for effectively taking on Argyle’s day-to-day running during their recent firesale of players remains unclear. PR-Pete being PR-Pete, he hasn’t missed an opportunity to get the words “in his unpaid role at Home Park” into articles on the crisis. But he is not volunteering out of a love of the ‘Big Society.’
He is in a role at all because Argyle directors were so focused on Plymouth’s “ambitious” (translation: “fantasy”) plans for England’s 2018 World Cup bid, that they effectively forgot about the football club. And they have had to beg, borrow and – some might allege – steal to keep only a few months behind with such technicalities as players’ salaries and, you know, tax. As has been covered elsewhere on this site, Plymouth’s self-styled “New World” takeover in 2009 was based on the, shall we say, ‘development’ opportunities linked to the city of Plymouth being a World Cup 2018 venue. They, more than most, should have listened to Andrew Jennings.
When England’s World Cup hosting hopes went west and east last December, the costs of diverting inward investment towards the ‘bid’ and away from the ‘club’ were already apparent. The ‘New World’ five-year plan to get into the Premier League appears to have been slightly amended to ‘Blue Square Bet Premier League,’ as they glide effortlessly (in every sense) down the League One table. With their season-ticket for London’s High Court booked, Argyle side-stepped a winding-up petition for unpaid tax before Christmas by providing a ‘business plan’ based on a £2m cash injection from Japanese businessman and largest individual shareholder, Yasuaki Kagami and his American ‘business associate’ George Synan.
This money was to be injected in four monthly £500,000 instalments at the ends of December to March inclusive. And a boardroom reshuffle was instigated on this basis, with the directors most associated with the World Cup plans reshuffled off. This, in turn, led to the disturbing headline in the local Herald newspaper of “Ridsdale set to take over”, which ought to have alerted the dead that something was seriously wrong. And a closer examination of a letter to the court, promising and detailing the £2m injection, revealed that the ‘deal’ was not quite a deal. In it, Kagami and Synan stated: “We confirm our commitment to provide £2m of funding to the Company and/or its associates.” They also confirmed the payment schedule. But tucked in-between were the two words “in principle.”
Principle has yet to be converted to reality. Synan, long-dismissed by fans as the “Tokyo Pinocchio”, claimed last week that the £2m would be in Plymouth before the court case… as would he, to ensure that “everything is co-ordinated on that side.” Everything was co-ordinated, almost synchronised, in fact. There was no Synan and no money. In order to stay alive until today, Argyle have had to sell their best players and raid the proverbial kids’ piggy bank, in the form of £330,000 from the account of the “Plymouth Argyle Supporters Development and Training Trust.”
The charitable trust has a lengthy mission statement, concerning “the provision of facilities for recreation” for under-18s. You would look long and hard and in vain for any mention of bailing out the football club. And not un-naturally, the Charity Commission have been asked to pop over and have a look, especially as one of the trustees is Paul Stapleton, director of, by the way, Plymouth Argyle Football Club. The trust themselves have a charitable view of Argyle’s ability to pay back this money. But with another large six-figure tax bill due on February 22nd and players’ salaries two months in arrears, Argyle appear to have two hopes. And they’re little better than “no hope and Bob Hope.”
Either Kagami and Synan find £2m down the back of a Japanese sofa, or one of an increasing number of interested investors instigates a takeover that is as swift as it is lucrative. The second hope could be realistic, though. Back in December, when Ridsdale became the public… the ONLY voice of the club, he said he was “in exploratory discussions with regard to potential future investment, negotiations are on-going and I don’t know how long it will be before an announcement will be made.”
This could have been a reference to Kagami and Synan’s “in principle” £2m. But despite having ‘formally’ left Argyle, Ridsdale is still fronting investment talks. And he now knows where the bodies are buried and has got rid of enough debts to make Plymouth a less frightening investment. We could yet see those “Ridsdale set to takeover” headlines again, although only an unremitting cynic would suggest that is why he’s been there all along.
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