Yesterday in Plymouth, Argyle Football Club was saved from extinction’s brink. Lead administrator Brendan Guilfoyle said he was “satisfied that Bishop International Limited has secured the necessary funding and everything is agreed between the numerous parties.” And he possibly sparked city-wide guessing games by adding that it had been a “complex deal involving a dozen stakeholders.” 

Amid the celebration and relief these words have brought to Argyle’s (genuinely) “long-suffering” supporters, it might seem rather pedantic to point out that Guilfoyle didn’t actually say Bishop (BIL) had paid any money over yet. It might also seem rather churlish to point out that if the Football League apply their ownership regulations properly there is no way they would accept the deal which appears to have been agreed. 

Cornish property developer
Kevin Heaney and Argyle acting chairman Peter Ridsdale are among the aforementioned dozen stakeholders. And even the celebratory reports of yesterday’s events explain why their roles are at odds with those
League regulations. BIL remain a firm “led by (Heaney).” As part of the deal, Heaney’s firm will “fund this season’s estimated £1.2m losses.”

Heaney remains the chairman of Truro City Football Club and regulations do not allow for individuals to have “any power whatsoever to influence the financial, commercial and business affairs” of more than one club. Nor do they allow individuals “to guarantee the debts and obligations” of more than one club (regulations 81.2.3 and 81.2.4). If Argyle’s takeover deal gets around such regulations, such regulations are surely worthless. 

Ridsdale faces fraud charges from his time as Cardiff City chairman. They relate to more paragraphs of the 2006 Fraud Act than you can shake a stick at. And conviction would surely leave Ridsdale short of the League’s fitness and propriety requirements for its clubs’ owners. Even if Ridsdale’s
confidence in his ability to “eminently rebuff” the charges is,
for once, well-placed, the League should surely neither ratify nor reject a deal until the case is cleared.  

As John Beech wrote in May on his excellent Football Management web-log: “In marked contrast to practice in many other sectors, there does not appear to have been serious consideration given to the possibility and, some might argue, the appropriateness of ‘going on gardening leave’ until their names are cleared. Not that I’m surprised – football is not a sector which places a great deal of stress on ethics.”

Argyle fans must therefore
wish that the League are less than stringent in applying their own rules, are prepared to bend them to the point of non-recognition and are prepared
to turn a boardroom full of blind eyes to Heaney’s clear “influence” over two of England’s senior professional clubs (who could soon be league rivals if Argyle’s form doesn’t buck up).

There is hope, then. For all the self-righteousness many observers have mustered over the dismal failure of football’s financial and ownership regulation, only the bitterest corners of Exeter City’s (and maybe Torquay United’s) fan-base would object if the League were to prioritise Argyle’s survival over the nuances of its regulations – an attitude the League appears to take. 

That is, of course, part of the problem. Until fan-bases in general are prepared to stand up
and say that effective, proper regulation should take priority over even their own club’s survival, the incentive and determination remains to bend rules, break agreements and turn blind eyes – all of which has happened and is happening in Argyle’s case. And I say this as a hypocrite – a self-righteous observer who was relieved that there had been such bending, breaking and turning, when it came to the crunch, yesterday
in Plymouth.

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