Their 2-0 win at Premier League Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup Fourth Round should have been a moment to savour, but for Notts County supporters there hasn’t been a great deal to celebrate this week, with widespread reports in the press that a deal which could have secured the long-term future of the club has collapsed. Were it not for the recent history of Notts County Football Club, this would be something of a surprise. For Peter Trembling, however, promising investment in the club and then managing to find a reason for it not being his fault seems to be becoming somewhat habitual.
In the first place, there was Munto Finance. There were bank guaranteesfor £5m, cast iron assurances of investment from the Middle East and talk of a grandiose “project” to get the club into the Championship by 2012, the year of the club’s 150th anniversary. Notts had become a media story, but it started to unravel very quickly. Sol Campbell came and went very quickly, dignifying himself with the silence that he kept over whatever he may have found out during his short stay there. From then on, it became apparent that nothing was as it had been spun at Meadow Lane. There was talk of County Court Judgements and that the reason for Munto Finance wanting to stay anonymous was about more than just issues of privacy.
In the end, the money never materialised. The “bank guarantee” that had meant so much seemed to vaporise before our very eyes. Peter Trembling bought the club for £1. Not to worry, though, because Trembling would still get the investment to take the club forward, wouldn’t he? Well, nothing was forthcoming, and the club was issued with a winding up order at the end of last year. The day before the petition was due to be heard, though, it was adjourned for twenty-eight days to give the club time to settle the debt in full. Let’s take a second to remind ourselves of the message on the official club website at the time:
The Club is pleased to announce that an investor has been secured, subject to contract and final due diligence, which will satisfy all existing Club debts as well as allow the Club working capital both in the short term and in the long term.The terms of the investment presently remain strictly confidential, as does the name of the investor, until the contractual matters are completed. It is anticipated that completion will be no more than 28 days.
HMRC have informed us that they are satisfied that the investment offered is genuine and the Club is entitled to a 28 day extension to finalise the terms of the investment.
The club had to retract the last part of that statement, in no small part because HMRC would never make a statement saying that “they are satisfied that [an] investment offered is genuine”. The investment was considered real enough for some press outlets to confirm it as a done and dusted deal, such as Sky Sports. There was, however, a feeling of Groundhog Day surrounding this new investment. Trembling stated that “The terms of the investment presently remain strictly confidential, as does the name of the investor, until the contractual matters are completed”. Ah. confidentiality again. One could be forgiven for wondering why there is such a need for confidentiality in the financial dealings of Notts County.
As recently as Wednesday morning, the deal was being reported as being as good as finalised, but this consortium wasn’t anonymous. The names of the parties concerned were common knowledge – Sukhi Ghuman of Octavian Continental and Anthony Barney of the Lifestsyle Living Group – and Ghuman was happy to state that, “The deal is now in the hands of lawyers and we hope to get something concluded today”. This optimism lasted approximately tweny-four hours before collapsing. It was reported in the Daily Telegraph that an immediate payment of £300,000 was requested to pay the January wage bill but that this money couldn’t be paid into the club’s bank account because it has been frozen because of the pending winding up hearing.
A statement very quickly appeared on the club’s official website. It states that:
Notts County wish to clarify that the consortium who announced a ‘collapsed takeover’ deal this week are not the proposed investors that we announced last Tuesday.
As was explained at the time, that investor was in the process of extensive due diligence and that process is still ongoing but last Tuesday that investor did provide the Club with sufficient proof of funds in writing to satisfy the court the following day to grant the 28-day adjournment.
So these are different investors to the ones that were hours (maybe minutes) away from signing a deal that would have secured the future of the club? And the “proposed investors that we announced last Tuesday” still wish to remain anonymous, do they? Anthony Barney (who himself has a past that gave some Notts supporters cause for alarm) was less than happy with the club’s handling of proceedings:
We had shaken hands on the deal twice but we have not been allowed to complete. We are out now, there can be no going back, I have spent days on this deal. I am embarrassed and annoyed. We had put a lot of time and effort into this. Without Sven Goran Eriksson, there is little or no hope in raising the money. He is the main driving factor and an honourable man who has also been let down badly.
It has also reported that there are other investors waiting in the wings with even more money to put into the club than the named consortium had, but it has now surely reached the point when the only rational response to such statements is to say that we will believe it when we see it.
Over the last six months or so, there have been several constants with Notts County: the imminent arrival of multi-million pound investment in the club, a desire for those investing to stay anonymous for reasons that have never been satisfactorily explained and talk of a press conspiracy agaainst the club. None of these constants, however, have been as, well, constant as Peter Trembling, the man who bought control of the club for £1 and now has eighteen days to find the investment that will save Notts County Football Club, the oldest professional football club in the world.