Yesterday in Plymouth, ‘Cornish-based property developer’ Kevin Heaney appeared to have a bluff called, ‘Devon- based entrepreneur’ James Brent appeared to be a favourite once again to buy Argyle Football Club, and the Football League, on whose board most attention focused yesterday, confirmed that they were “unable to consider a transfer of the club’s share in The Football League to the proposed purchaser at this point in time”, but that “Discussions with the administrator and proposed purchaser will continue.” Argyle’s administrators, the P & A Partnership (P&A), issued a statement at five o’clock yesterday afternoon which implied that long-term ‘preferred bidders’ for Argyle, Bishop International Limited (BIL), were no longer anything of the kind. Sales of fine tooth-combs in Devon utility stores will have soared, however, after P&A’s last statement, on twenty-sixth of August, which implied that BIL had stumped up the cash to complete their complex and controversial deal to buy Argyle, when they… hadn’t. Heaney has been a daily news event in Plymouth this week, blaming everyone but himself for the fact that the deal had not been done.
First it was the Football League, for waiting until yesterday’s board meeting before even considering making a decision. Then it was the administrators who, Heaney suggested in a statement which will have had breakfast cereals spat out on kitchen or dining-room tables all over Devon, that “there seems to be an unwillingness to get this deal done by the administrators”; the same administrators who allowed Heaney to miss enough deadlines to tell the time by and pay £300,000 of a £1m bill for ‘exclusivity’ in negotiations, while at no time placing any obligation on Heaney to fund the administration, despite refusing all other bids for precisely that reason. “Next,” noted an aptly-nicknamed Argyle fan ‘Bitter and Twisted’ on the excellent Vital Plymouth website, “it will be the team’s fault for not winning… or the cat.”
And finally, a “high-profile” creditor got it in the neck from Heaney for being “obstructive.” So Heaney managed to cover pretty much everyone except… well… “BIL and its investors” with whom, he said yesterday, “the fault is not.” Even the press – “especially the press” – got name-checked, for “all the stick and nasty remarks people make,” a phrase which served as a reminder that children returned to school this week. However, Heaney did say what all Argyle fans have long-wanted to hear: “If (the administrators) are not going to get this deal over the line on Thursday (yesterday), then Peter (Ridsdale, putative football club owner) and I will walk away.” The sound of thousands of Argyle fans shouting, all at once, “OK, bye then!” could have echoed in Exeter.
Heaney was probably being disingenuous, of course, and if he was it was something that he has done enough times now for it to be considered his modus operandi. Ridsdale, still apparently keen to be seen as Argyle’s ‘saviour’, spluttered that he would work alongside any bidder to keep his job… er… until the club’s crisis was resolved. And, having vowed two days ago to walk away, Heaney vowed yesterday not to walk away. But reportedly, BIL have finally lost their ‘exclusivity’ in negotiations “by failing to conclude the deal by (twenty-sixth of August)” (Western Morning News, third of September). And the administrators are now, according to yesterday’s statement “working with all interested parties, including James Brent, that have indicated they are able to offer a viable solution to the club’s financial problems.”
Those fans who got to a fine toothcomb store before supplies ran out will have spotted significance in the singling out of Brent and the refusal to specifically rule Heaney/BIL from the process, as Heaney continues to “indicate they are able to offer a viable solution.”
The statement also included the first public ‘sighting’ of the previously ubiquitous lead administrator Brendan Guilfoyle, who has recently been keeping a lower profile than Heaney’s alleged financial backers. Guilfoyle gave “the club’s staff and fans” an “assurance” – usually a sign that what follows will assure nothing and no-one – that “the joint administrators are working tirelessly” to complete a sale. “Tirelessly” is a popular word in these situations, normally used by those struggling against the financial odds to solve a club’s problems. Of more reassurance would have been a statement that the joint administrators are working “competently.”
Guilfoyle also confirmed that the “Football League has neither accepted nor rejected the transfer of the club’s golden share (the pompous phrase describing the right to play in the league) to any interested party.” This also leaves the door ajar for the heinous Heaney and will have dismayed the fine toothcomb holders, especially as the Football League’s statement appeared to confirm more than that. It said: “We have bottled out of making a decision because we really haven’t got a clue what is going on and our rulebook is no bloody help.” Although the league computer system’s spell-checker amended it to: “Based on the information available to it, the board were unable to consider a transfer of the club’s share in the Football League to the proposed purchaser at this point in time. Discussions with the administrator and proposed purchaser will continue.” Much has been made this week of what the administrators’ statement called “working with all interested parties.” There was even a new name bandied about, Oxford United’s former owner and current landlord Firoz Kassam, another card-carrying member of the “businessmen who should stay the hell away from football” party.
It seemed only natural that fellow party member Ridsdale flew out to Monaco last week (at the expense of… we still know not whom) to talk to Kassam. And it seemed equally natural that as soon as Kassam’s interest became known, it was dropped – although the fine toothcomb will have picked up the words “withdrawn immediate interest.” So who is the, singular, “proposed purchaser”? Brent has re-submitted his previously unacceptable bid but has made no mention of any discussions with the league which the league could say “will continue.” Are the Football League, therefore, still talking to Heaney/BIL?
Heaney is certainly getting ‘unintended irony’ lessons somewhere. Any breakfast cereals not spat out above would surely have been propelled table-wards when he declared yesterday that: “the problem is, I’m not being told anything.” He, apparently, believed that all football creditors’ debts had been settled, (if not yet paid, of course). And the fine toothcomb came into play again: “I was told the PFA (the players’ union) have agreed (the deal) on behalf of the players,” Heaney said. “My understanding is that the PFA and the players are happy that they’re being paid in full.” And once again, Heaney makes no mention of or consideration for the unpaid office staff at Home Park – those who need the most help, most urgently are getting the least help, least urgently. In other words, despite all the sound and fury which came from the cast of this saga, nothing changed whatsoever, yesterday in Plymouth.
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