The new Football League season starts in a little over five weeks, but a huge question mark still hangs over the small matter of whether all the teams included in the fixture list will actually be starting the season after the Pinnacle group withdrew their interest in buying Southampton Football Club this week. This news isn’t a great surprise to anybody that has been watching the situation at St Marys over the last few weeks or so. Pinnacle, whose public face (at least as far as Southampton supporters were concerned) was one Matthew Le Tissier, had been the favourites to save the ailing club to the extent that they had been given a “period of exclusivity” over buying them by the administrators, Begbies Traynor.
Doubts, however, had been raised over whether the seriousness of their intentions when they started to question the legality of the Football League’s points deduction which will see them start next season on minus ten points at the bottom of the League One table this August. Their period of exclusivity ended almost two weeks ago without a concrete offer having been made, and their interest formally ended today. Time isn’t on their side. The administrators confirmed at the end of last week that the club would have to be found up on Friday if a new buyer couldn’t be confirmed. The club sold striker to David McGoldrick to Nottingham Forest on Monday for £1m which has won them a little breathing space (it does at least mean that their players are likely to get paid this month), but this breathing space is likely to be very limited.
Unsurprisingly, Le Tissier blamed the Football League for Pinnacle’s decision to pull out. “It is with great regret and frustration due to ongoing issues with the Football League that I and in turn those behind the Pinnacle consortium decided to withdraw our interest in purchasing Southampton Football Club. With the ongoing issues with the Football League persisting, our backers have simply refused to provide the requisite funds to complete the take-over”, he said. Nothing in this statement deals with an important question, though. Why did Pinnacle hang on for so long when it was clear that the Football League weren’t going to budge over the issue of Southampton’s points deduction (and they were never going to, especially when one considers what their reaction to the thought of being held hostage over it might be)? This prevarication has only made it less likely rather than more so that new buyers will be able to step in and save the day.
Southampton may have until Friday, or they may be able to buy a little longer. How long they have will depend on how much Wolverhampton Wanderers are prepared to spend on the young midfielder Andrew Surman. The two clubs are said to have agreed a fee of £1.5m, but nothing has been signed yet. Ultimately, however, the time will come when the administrators tire of pouring what little money there is coming into the club – season tickets, as reported on here before, will not be going on sale until the club has exited administration – and will decide to cut their losses. The only route for the club to take then – unless the most unlikely of white knights is waiting in the wings on a trusty yet unexpected charger – might be a Swiss-led consortium said to (gulp) be backed by the manufacturers of the high-caffeine syrup-fest Red Bull. It is even being reported in some quarters this evening that the company may seek to add their name to that of the club to that of their product, although whether the FA or the Football League would agree to that is another matter.
Southampton fans won’t have any say in the matter, of course. Should Red Bull buy them, they may decide to try and change whatever they like about the club. This is certainly what happened in America and Austria, where NY/NJ Metrostars and SV Austria Salzburg became Red Bull New York and FC Red Bull Salzburg respectively. Whether the supporters can stomach this loss of identity and tradition (should there be any legs on this rumour and, obviously, should there be no opposition to such radical changes from the authorities) is a question that only they can answer for themselves, but it is unlikely that such an upheaval will not leave at least some supporters wondering whether this is still they club that they support any more. It wouldn’t be an easy decision for any of them to have to make.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ire of many Saints fans seems to be directed at the Football League and Pinnacle. The League, however, has taken a hardline stance in insolvency over the last couple of years, and this is something that we can only expect to deepen in the future, with talk now of whether transfer embargoes should be placed on clubs with debts to football creditors and whether it is time for the FA to voluntarily add HMRC to the list of ” preferred creditors” in reference to their rules on insolvency. Southampton have been treated harshly but not unfairly by the Football League. Pinnacle, however, stand accused of having dragged out an attempt to wrest back the ten points witheld by the League after theit collapse at the end of last season to the extent that it may have damaged interest in buying Southampton FC from other bidders. This evening, however, this deduction looks like the least of their worries.