It’s mean to say “I told you so”, I know, but it’s difficult to resist in the case of Notts County, as we learn that owners Munto Finance have put the club up for sale, with Sven Goran-Eriksson’s future at the club in doubt (Eriksson and executive chairman Peter Trembling are also reported to be leading a buyout bid).
This comes just over a week after the Football League renewed its inquiry into the still-mysterious backing of Munto Finance, and the Guardian also reported that the money Munto promised to pump into the club might not be coming after all.
Doubts have also emerged about the terms of the £5m guarantee of funds that Munto Finance produced that persuaded the Notts County supporters trust to sign over control of the club for a nominal consideration of £1. That guarantee, produced in May of this year, came from a company belonging to First London, a financial services firm.
The letter of guarantee is drafted in an unconventional fashion and may not easily be enforceable. An expert in contract law has raised doubts about the document. A corporate law partner at Olswang said: “The letter of guarantee is quite imprecise and confusing. It refers to the guarantee being able to be invoked if Munto does not make “investments” in Blenheim 1862 [the club's holding company that was majority owned by the supporters' trust] but it does not define when and how such investments must be made.
So the one guarantee supporters had managed to wrangle out of Munto might not materialise into anything. This was a club where supporters had the say in the direction of the club, as the Supporters’ Trust owned a 60% share of it: when the mysterious Munto Finance came along promising to throw cash at the club, they could hardly throw themselves at the feet of…well…they didn’t really know who Munto were actually backed by at all.
The Supporters’ Trust voted 93% in favour of the takeover and handed over their share for free, apparently only extracting what may now be a meaningless guarantee of investment from Munto. And for good measure, they also wrote-off £170,000 that they had painstakingly raised themselves and loaned to the club.
After the vote, Trust chairman Glenn Rolley said that “The Trust membership have exercised their democratic right and it is very clear where the overwhelming majority stand on the issue. They recognise that it is a magnificent opportunity to put Notts County back on the football map after so many years in the doldrums and have decided to give their full backing to Munto Finance. Time will tell whether the decision is the right one. But like everyone who cares about the future of Notts County, I’m genuinely excited about the way forward.”
The Supporters’ Trust had certainly had problems running the club, and apparently they saw no future if they did not take Munto’s offer, but after all the work they had done to save the club, was it really wise to hand over the club to the first bunch of bullshitters to come along offering a golden future? At least when the Trust ran the club, the supporters could vote bullshitters out. Now they’re owned by them, and can do nothing about it.
So hell, here’s my “I told you so” moment from this July, when I was still trying too hard to be kind and understanding of it all:
The club’s long decline began in the 1990s, before the Trust assumed control, but it’s clear Trust management did not find a way to move the club forward on or off the pitch. All the same, it’s a surprise supporters didn’t demand to at least know more about the backing of Munto before handing over control — they seem to have snatched off Munto’s hand out of fear they’d be left penniless without them. It’s understandable that years of frustration left supporters desperate for a fairy godmother, but we’ve seen too often these stories rarely end in fairytales; and perhaps the Trust could have played hardball to ensure the club’s future had more guarantees.
Either way, welcome to the rollercoaster. How long will Sven last?
Notts County fans are still holding out hope Sven himself is the white knight to the rescue. Unfortunately, they no longer have any say over the rollercoaster ride they put their club on. I hope it’s at least exciting.