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Born Offside

The Lower League Fortnight – The Manager In The Coloured Glasses Edition


Somehow, Peter Ridsdale Has Managed to Worsen His Reputation

You’ve probably heard about this in passing, but unless you’ve gone out of your way to search for it, you probably won’t have read a detailed account. That’s in spite of it being, in my opinion at least, THE big football story of the past fortnight.

The week before last, Peter Ridsdale was banned from being a chairman or director of any company, football or otherwise, for seven and a half years. Ridsdale apparently told his current employers at Preston about the charges when he was appointed back in December last year, so his job as Chairman of Football isn’t at risk.

Confused? Well, he’s not Preston’s chairman, silly, he’s the Chairman of Football at another of the owner’s companies! It’s totally different!
He works at the club, issues orders, and everyone working for Preston on a day to day basis seems to answer directly to him, but he’s apparently not a chairman or director, and never was. It doesn’t take a cynical mind to think that maybe Preston are playing around the edges of what the law allows here.

Ridsdale’s offence began in essence when he arranged for his wages at Cardiff to be paid into WH Sports Group, a company seemingly set up for the sole reason of paying tax at the lower corporate rate. While morally debatable, this is entirely legal and is apparently relatively common for high-paid entertainers and even top-flight footballers to be paid in this way.

But WH Sports Group was found guilty of ‘non-payment of corporation tax, PAYE, National Insurance Contributions and VAT and non-filing of company accounts’ and the company was closed down owing £347,000 in total.
It may well be that Ridsdale is simply guilty of the financial incompetence that saw him open negotiations with Seth Johnson’s agent with a £40,000 a week offer, but this incompetence was strangely favourable to Ridsdale.

Ridsdale claims that, when he was appointed in the summer of 2005, he wanted to be paid as a consultant rather than an employee so he wouldn’t be too deeply tied to owner Sam Hamann. Given that he had the responsibilities of a chairman, it’s a claim that makes my head hurt.

It appears at this stage that Ridsdale will be allowed to continue in his role as ‘Chairman of Football’, despite the Football League regulations defining a director, amongst other things, as

(h) a person who exercises or is able, legally or beneficially, to exercise Control over the affairs of the Club

This would seem to classify Ridsdale as a ‘shadow director’ – someone not formally given that role, but with all the power associated with one.

Just about everyone knows that the business model he oversaw at Leeds was based on borrowing against future success, at a rate that made Champions’ League qualification a bare minimum. At Cardiff, perfectly legally, he was given a £500,000 bonus for successfully negotiating a loan, at a time the Bluebirds were on the verge of bankruptcy and made a loss of £5 million. (That link is worth following for a view of the overall ‘ambition’ during his time at Cardiff.)

And after Cardiff, there are allegations that, as a multi-millionaire, he took large consultancy fees out of Plymouth while the players and office and shop staff went without pay for months. (Although there doesn’t seem to be any official word on this, one way or the other.) It adds up to an overall pattern, of a man intellectually and morally flawed over the course of his entire career, not just at some point in the distant past.

Preston fans should probably be wary of what’s to come in the future.

Deepdale may not have heard the last of the matter. Courtesy of Steve Daniels

Edgar Davids Must Really Like Playing In Orange

Most weeks, Luis Boa Morte signing for Chesterfield would be the big League Two transfer of the week. And it was, until late on Thursday night… when it was announced that Edgar Davids has came out of retirement to register as player-joint head coach at bottom of the league Barnet.

The obvious first question is why would a former Champions’ League winner want to coach Barnet, who have finished third from bottom of the Football League for  two seasons in a row (and fourth bottom by one goal the year before) and seem on course to do worse this year? In a tweet, Davids described Barnet as his local club. I’d take this to mean he’s stayed in London after his spells at Spurs and Crystal Palace.

He’ll be coaching at the fantastic looking Hive training complex, and will be coaching players who are so far below his playing peak that he shouldn’t have any trouble gaining their respect. And as Tony Adams has proved, failing horrifically in the lower leagues is no barrier to a job higher up if you can talk the talk well enough.

Davids clashing with Rino Gattuso in the 2002-03 Champions League Final. Courtesy of Soccer illustrated

Even before Davids’ appointment at Underhill, I’ve been meaning to return to covering the club, as there’s a lot going on there.

After a series of problems with the council over their ground, The Bees have made pretty solid plans to move away from Underhill amd have invested heavily in The Hive (get it?) training centre. They’ve also made the bold decision to focus on long-term development by appointing respected coach Mark Robson into his first managerial job, rather than keeping Martin Allen. Allen, though respected and currently proving his talent at Gillingham, has generally had a positive effect on his sides in the short term before things tail off over time and has twice walked out on Barnet within the first year of his contract.

As recently as a month ago, I wrote that Robson’s idea of signing and developing young talent appears from a distance to be the bold, farsighted choice, but one that will take time to pay off, comparing him to Brendan Rogers’ task at Liverpool. But reports from people who’ve seen a lot more of Barnet than I have continue to be negative, with many Barnet fans having given up hope, at a time when Robson is reaching the point where positive shoots need to poking their way above ground. When Davids’ appointment was announced, I assumed I must have missed Robson’s sacking and I wasn’t surprised by that, despite his short time in charge.

At first glance, it looks like Barnet have pulled off a massive coup in signing the man who has a legendary status at Ajax, Juventus, and to a lesser extent at Tottenham and Barcelona, and that Barnet have nothing to lose from the appointment.

But there currently seems to be enough of a negative feeling around Barnet that the club doesn’t seem to have the kind of emotional toughness to bounce back from the kind of fiasco some are predicting. With the idea of moving away from their home and continued disappointment on the field, a failure on the scale of Tony Adams at Wycombe or John Barnes at Tranmere will almost certainly send Barnet down.

Hopefully Underhill will continue to see Football League action for the forseeable future. Courtesy of yellow book ltd

Edgar Davids’ first match as joint head coach came at the weekend. Before the match Barnet were seven points adrift, but having snatched a point from promotion chasing Southend last weekend, being up against Plymouth, who in 18th weren’t high-flying and with the feelgood factor from Davids’ appointment and Collins John set to make his debut, everything was set up to start a turnaround.

A 4-1 defeat, with Collins John limping off after quarter of an hour was not the ideal beginning.

Howe Did This Happen?

After Paul Groves was sacked as Bournemouth manager two weeks ago, chairman Eddie Mitchell displayed what appeared to be his usual delusion in pursuing Eddie Howe as his replacement. It’s a move that appeared to be as lacking in imagination as his previous managerial appointments. Both Lee Bradbury and Paul Groves were appointed as manager from within (from the playing staff and youth academy respectively). When it became clear The Cherries were trying to convince Howe to return, it appeared as if some underling suggested to Mitchell that they need to find someone more like Howe and he took the suggestion over-literally.

Howe also began his managerial career at Bournemouth, where he led The Cherries to promotion out of League Two despite massive financial problems at the time, and a transfer embargo in place across the entire promotion season. The promoted team then climbed immediately into the League One playoffs, before Howe left halfway through the next season. Howe’s year and a half at Burnley hasn’t been dramatic, with the feeling among fans seeming to be that the football was neither great nor awful but that he did improve the playing staff.

Since Howe’s departure, Eddie Mitchell has brought Sandbanks-based Russian businessman Maxim Demin in as co-owner with a massive increase in financing, so it could appear that Eddie Howe’s decision to drop down a division is motivated by money. But Howe had turned down a move to the Championship with Peterborough during his first spell as Bournemouth manager and his thirteen year playing career was, a brief loan spell aside, entirely on the south coast (eleven years with Bournemouth and two with Portsmouth). It feels dangerously naive to describe Howe as a one-club man, who’s motivated by either loyalty to the club or a desire to look after his family’s well-being, but I think that may be the case here. For my money, Bournemouth’s appointment of Howe is the lower league managerial coup of the week.

Has Eddie Howe returned ‘home’ to Bournemouth? Courtesy of Chris Downer

The Truth About Balram Chainrai

Keeping track of the rogues gallery of potential owners is a challenge, with some being accused of being fronts for others, or simply accused of not existing. Despite other bids, it’s looking like a two-way battle for ownership between Balram Chainrai’s Portpin and the Supporters’ Trust for ownership.

Local politicians have, perhaps predictably, came out in support of the Supporter’s Trust, with MP Mike Hancock urging their bid be approved, and the council approving a loan to the Trust. However the administrators seem to favour Portpin.

Enter Micah Hall.

The Pompey supporting blogger has spent three years putting together a comprehensive two part series on the ins and outs of the various owners of Portsmouth over the past few years.

It’s pretty thorough – revealing the truth behind the hall of mirrors that has been in place in Portsmouth’s boardroom ever since Sacha Gaydamak sold his shares, with many pieces of information being placed into the public domain for the first time.

Minor villains such as Daniel Azougy have emerged into the light, the reason Premiership Portsmouth sold no players when deep in debt has been revealed, and Hall offers apparently conclusive proof that Chanrai acted as one of a group of shadow directors during al Faraj’s supposed time in charge.

The entrance to the Partner’s Lounge at Fratton Park. Courtesy of Basher Eyre

It’s a confusing, but fascinating look behind the scenes of a chaotic few years at Fratton Park and presents a very strong argument, backed up with documentation, that Portpin and Balram Chanrai are not to be trusted. It’s prompted Hancock to recommend the Football League look into Hall’s claims.
In revealing the true nature of Chainrai’s actions in seeking to make a quick buck out of Portsmouth (and failing repeatedly) Hall has surely made another takeover untenable.

In addition, the fact this has came not from a top journalist but from an amateur blogger is proof that an intelligent and motivated fan can sometimes do better than the professionals – maybe the same logic could apply to ownership of the club?

Footballers Fixing Horse Races?

This is just about technically a lower league story – the British Horseracing Authority have charged nine people with Doncaster’s Jamie Coppinger (currently on loan at Nottingham Forest) and Ipswich’s Michael Chopra among those accused. Very little else has been revealed at this point, but it’s a story that could explode into something bigger before long.

Is Lee Croft a Racist?

As we’d gone three weeks since the last notable accusation of racism in English football, it was just about the right time for another.

At the weekend Oldham and Sheffield United shared a 1-1 draw, during which Oldham’s Lee Croft was accused of racially abusing a black ball boy.

As can be seen on the video, the ballboy dug the ball out from under his feet in a different direction to the one Croft was approaching from, though it’s ambiguous whether he was deliberately trying to waste time or just didn’t see Croft. At the end of the game Croft can be seen quite forcefully trying to apologise, while the ball-boy, either through offence or embarrassment, decides he doesn’t want to accept.

Essentially, Lee Croft was rude towards a teenage boy who he thought was trying to wind him up, regardless of the exact form of the rudeness. South Yorkshire Police have announced they’re investigating the allegation, but you’d think they have more important matters on their mind at the moment.

London Orient at the Olympic Stadium?

With the ownership of the Olympic Stadium still to be definitively settled, Leyton Orient chairman Barry Hearn has a novel idea to get his club a piece of the action – renaming the club London Orient.

London Orient – coming to a large empty stadium near you soon? Courtesy of Danesman1

The idea of a name change isn’t as scandalous at Orient as at other clubs. They had been Clapton Orient earlier in their existence and only became Leyton Orient for the first time after the Second World War. Even after that, the club were renamed again, being known as Orient between 1966 and 1987, before readopting Leyton as a result of fan demand.

Hearn has spoken about appealing to a global market, and has claimed that

“London Orient will come up first on Google. “

Although I’m no software engineer, I’m pretty sure that’s not how search engines work.

According to Google Maps, Leyton Orient’s Matchroom Stadium is only 3.2 miles from the Olympic Stadium, whereas Upton Park is 5.6 (White Hart Lane is 8.6 miles away), so there’s definitely an argument that Orient have an equal or greater claim to represent the community around the Olympic Stadium.

I have a lot of sympathy with Orient in this situation. If West Ham are allowed to move into the Olympic Stadium, they’ll either see their natural fanbase lured away by a more fashionable club, who’ve got the stadium without the sort of debts normally incurred building one. But if Orient move in, they’ll have an unprecedented opportunity to grow their own fanbase at a low cost, resulting in larger supporter numbers and greater income for decades to come.

Hearn has also talked about giving free season tickets to under-18s, students, members of the army and those living in Olympic Park housing. It’s a business model that, while possibly not profitable, would achieve the widely stated aim of providing football at an affordable price.

Barry Hearn is extremely influential in the snooker, darts and boxing worlds, and doubtlessly knows more about business and marketing of sport than I do. But, if the appeal of having Orient (in whatever form) groundsharing the Olympic Stadium is their position as a ‘community club’, then why would ‘resonance with a global market’ matter?

Swindon Placed Under Embargo…

Of all the nutty things that can happen when your club is managed by Paolo di Canio, this was probably one of the less predictable (though also least interesting) possibilities. After Saturday 6th’s win over Bury, di Canio confirmed that Swindon have been placed under a transfer embargo after overspending on wages and transfer fees.

During the summer Swindon signed two under-25s on Bosman transfers. Because of their ages, rather than capturing the players without a fee, compensation had to be decided by tribunals. It was decided that Swindon would pay Exeter £200,000 for Troy Archibald-Henville and Shrewsbury £140,000 for James Collins.

As a result of the fees total decided by the tribunals, Swindon have paid out more than the 65% allowed for wages and fees…paying 66.5%. It seems to be pretty standard across all levels of football for transfer fees to be paid in installments, but, with the fees being decided by tribunal, the amount for each has to be settled immediately.

I can sympathise with Swindon, as they haven’t deliberately overspent or gone over the limit through not keeping track of expenditure. But being limited in the transfer market is hardly a novelty for a League One team, and in truth di Canio has been a little spoiled in his managerial career so far. The Robins’ training ground has been a bit of a revolving door, with players coming in and out at a speed even di Canio’s former boss Harry Redknapp would consider impressive – 28 players have been signed and 31 sold in the season and a quarter since his appointment, with 10 being both bought and sold by di Canio. A little restraint may be good for his development.

Rumours that this picture was taken at Swindon’s training ground are greatly unfounded. Courtesy of Moberg

I’m just about sad and geeky enough to give a bit of thought to the wider consequences of this news.

In theory, tribunals at the end of contracts are meant to ensure that young players (who need the most coaching and development relative to output) aren’t lured away for nothing just as the hard work pays off. But the procedures are notorious for deciding on fees far lower than the players would normally be worth. In the summer of 2004, Sunderland captured Dean Whitehead and Liam Lawrence, for £150,000 + 25% of future fees and £175,000. They then went on to play vital roles in the Mackems’ title-winning season, before being eventually being sold for £5 million and £500,000 respectively.

And in 2005 Spurs captured Crystal Palace’s Wayne Routledge for £1.2m immediately after he’d spent the previous year as one of the most dangerous players in a Premier League team.

The power surrounding tribunals largely rests with the buying club, as the player will be at his new side before negotiations over a fee start. Tribunals have a long history of awarding relatively small amounts, with future add-ons ludicrously small compared to the value such an event would have.

As far as I know, there’s nothing to stop Swindon going back to Exeter and Shrewsbury to renegotiate a higher total fee over a longer period of time, to fit their spending under the 65%. It wasn’t the intent of the rules being introduced, but the strict punishment against Swindon may give developing clubs more negotiating power before future tribunals.

…And Southend Removed From Embargo

Southend were placed under a transfer embargo last month, with fears at the time they could have as little as 13 fit players available, including the 37-year-old assistant manager Graham Coughlan. Their start to the season hasn’t been helped by the fact that two of their star players have been refusing to return to the club. It’s a scenario which even mega rich Manchester City struggled with, so a club with Southend’s more minimal resources will be hit much harder.

Last week they drew 2-2 at Barnet, pretty much the worst anyone does against the Bees these days, then picked up a much more impressive 3-0 win over Rotherham at the weekend with Coughlan forced onto the field for the final ten minutes. Manager Paul Sturrock blamed tiredness after the midweek defeat to Burton for the draw at Barnet, and it’s more legitimate than most similar complaints – aside from the goalkeeper and the front two, they’ve had an almost constant starting eleven over the past few weeks.

But this week Mohsni finally moved to Ipswich on loan and Ryan Hall is on the verge of a loan switch to Leeds. In addition, the embargo has been lifted, allowing the Shrimpers to strengthen with Clarke-Harris from Peterborough and other moves apparently on the horizon.

The Tranmere Rovers Juggernaut Keeps on Rolling

At the weekend Tranmere looked like they were going to finally end their unbeaten start to the season, as they went two goals behind against Yeovil Town. Rovers pulled a goal back just before half time, and Yeovil were reduced to ten men at 2-2. With the momentum on the home team’s side, it was almost inevitable they’d score a third, and so it proved.

Tranmere’s success has been based around their creative playmaker in Andy Robinson and a talented forward line in Jake Cassidy and Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro. With seven, eight and seven league goals already, the trio are, remarkably, League One’s three top scorers. The weekend’s win came despite Cassidy being the only one of the three available, and saw them extend their lead at the top of the table to seven points.

That’s worth repeating – seven months after returning as manager, with many fans unsure over the chances of survival, Tranmere sit seven points clear at the top of the table. To call the turnaround remarkable would be an understatement, the change has been unbelievably good. From what I’ve read, Tranmere probably don’t have the depth in their squad to sustain a title challenge across the season, but being there at all is an achievement.

More Serious Matters

Towards the end of September, Lucas Kiwomya, seven-year-old son of former Arsenal striker and current Notts County development squad manager Chris, was taken to hospital with breathing troubles, but died before arrival.

Amid all the stories of villainy and stardust, that enrage and excite us to heights and depths of excitement and cynicism, this should be a reminder that there are more important matters, however strong football-inspired emotion becomes.

What do you think about what I have to say about your club? Are those mentioned under-appreciated or overrated? Did I miss someone or something that should be covered? Join in by commenting below, or find me on Twitter @Joe_Bloghead