Tag Archives: League Two

Sol Campbell, The Mystery of Munto and the Future of Notts County

Sol Campbell joins Notts County

So where's all that money, then?

How football laughed at Sol Campbell back in September. Here, tittered the pundits, writers, experts, and fans, was a man who’d chased the money and discovered he couldn’t hack it in League Two before walking back to the comfort of a Premier League training ground. Perhaps, in light of events in the last few weeks, Campbell deserves more credit. After all, he appears to be one of the very few who quickly realised something wasn’t quite right at Meadow Lane.

Campbell quit Notts County over ‘broken promises’. Perhaps he was uncomfortable with a large portion of his wages coming from the Swiss Commodity Holdings Group. We may never know; Campbell isn’t exactly the most forthcoming of men. But his departure sparked something in the national press, who dug and dug and uncovered a tangled web of holding companies and directors.
This, in turn, led to the decision of Munto to sell. It was, we are told, blamed on jealousy, people with vendettas, and malicious journalists. Although this could quite easily be countered with the argument that a group of multimillionaires shouldn’t be so secretive if they have nothing to hide.
Notts County, then, are now under different, if familiar, ownership. Munto Finance, Qadbak, and the Middle Eastern investors who may or may not have existed have been brought out by Executive Chairman Peter Trembling soon after the announcement that Munto were selling up. County have gone from moneybags of the division to a club that is again unsure of its own future – a situation familiar to many supporters of recent years.
Taking stock at Meadow Lane
Whichever way you look at it, Meadow Lane has had a rollercoaster six months since the mysterious Munto Finance stepped in with promises of Middle East riches that could take The Magpies into the Premier League is just over five years.
Strange enough, then, that they should rock up at one of English football’s strugglers, albeit one with a long, proud and occasionally successful history behind it. Notts County, League Two also-rans, were perhaps not the first place you would expect rich Arabs to invest in. But this is football, a sport where the odd can become the everyday. Despite a few quizzical looks, it seemed almost natural within football.
Perhaps if Munto had kept a low profile, then questions wouldn’t have been asked. County’s signings were good for League Two level, and the type of players (perhaps with the exception of Kasper Schmeichel) who you’d expect to grace a lower league team with plenty of cash.
But then came Sven Goran Eriksson, followed by Sol Campbell, before Campbell made for the exit door, closely followed by manager Ian McParland. With high-profile comings and goings it was inevitable the press would take an interest in Notts County.
So too did the Football League and the FA. With Munto staying silent on who exactly was involved at Meadow Lane, questions were raised about whether or not the new owners passed the fit and proper persons test. All Trembling, and others connected with the club, could do was assure us that those involved were honourable individuals who just wanted to stay in the background, and that we should trust them.
Yet it hardly inspired confidence that when some names, including former Pakistan Prime Minister Dr Moeen Qureshi and businessman Anwar Shafi, were put forward, these names denied involvement. Yet the League eventually ruled they were happy with County’s owners and they passed the test, even if the majority of the fans were still in the dark about who exactly owned their club.
Racing stripes
Some of the most telling reporting, though, came from the motor racing press. Qadbak, the parent company of Munto Finance, were attempting to seal a deal for the BMW Sauber Formula One team, which had lost its place on the grid after BMW decided to withdraw from the sport.
It’s worth noting here that, to the motorsport press, Notts County were a coincidental side-issue. It is quite hard to accuse them of bias towards a football team they had little interest in. What they were interested in, though, was who Qadbak were and did they have the money to buy the BMW Sauber team.
As it turned out, they didn’t, and former owner Peter Sauber brought back his team, but not before some very interesting stories emerged, chiefly around Russell King, the controversial Jersey businessman with a fraud conviction, who was involved in the collapsed investment company, Belgravia, now wound up. Belgravia had been investigated by the police. The company had also attempted, and failed, to buy the Jordan F1 team and Newcastle United back in 2006.
This is where it starts to get complicated, linked by a chain of financial investment companies with no clear idea who was involved in each of them. In November, The Guardian revealed  the guarantee that was given to the Supporters Trust when they sold Notts County came from First London, a financial services firm.
First London Holdings also purchased Bahrain Capital International in October 2008, the company that was guaranteeing Qadbak’s purchase of BMW Sauber. A year later, First London Asset Management was sold to Swiss Commodity Holdings, a global mining company with close ties to Notts County. Eriksson was promised shares in the company as part of the deal to take him to Meadow Lane, while a portion of Campbell’s wages were rumoured to be coming from SCH. The ‘H’ from SCH’s logo was also incorporated into County’s badge.
Representatives from SCH, including King, were pictured on a business trip to North Korea, while it seems that somewhere in this, either from King, SCH or A N Other, a group of British Virgin Islands shell companies, including Munto and Qadbak were ordered. First London, which shares a director with SCH, Munto, and Qadbak have denied repeatedly that King has any involvement with them.
Planning for the future
Ultimately, unless somebody close to this myriad of investment vehicles decides to tell all, it’s unlikely we’ll ever know exactly who exactly owned Notts County, how much money they had, if any, and where that money came from.
Campbell was quick to want out of the club, and there have been rumours than Eriksson has been unsure if he will see the money promised to him by SCH. Meanwhile, there are a queue of people lining up to claim that Munto hookwinked them when purchasing the club.
Trembling is one of those, despite offering countless reassurances over the previous months that the level of investment was secure from Munto. He has since said that the due diligence done by Munto was not as thorough as it should have been, which may explain why County’s parent company, Blenheim 1862, was issued with a winding up order over a £400,000 unpaid tax bill, something that many parties have pointed out was not exactly hidden.
John Armstrong-Holmes, the former chair of the Supporters’ Trust, County’s previous owners, has also denounced Munto. But, as Tom noted here a few days ago, back in the summer Armstrong-Holmes told journalists that Munto’s guarantee was “cast iron” and they were “the most honourable people I have ever met.”
Soundbites and past quotations aside, though, it’s easy to see how supporters were led astray. Can any supporter of a struggling League Two team say they wouldn’t have reacted with joy to the news that a rich consortium from the Middle East was purchasing their club? With money talk around, and initial success on the pitch, it’s not hard to see how awkward questions were put to one side at first.
But now the club faces an uncertain future. Trembling has completed his buyout and has said that money will be available for manager Hans Bakke to strengthen in January, but the Magpies currently have several expensive players on their books with high wages and long-term deals. Top scorer Lee Hughes is on a two-year deal, ex-Manchester City keeper Schmeichel is rumoured to be on a five-year deal. Honouring these contracts will not come cheap.
In times of financial unease, many clubs would turn to the Supporters Trust, but this is unlikely to be an option for County. With little progress made on the pitch during their time in charge, the Trust were no longer the great white knights when they sold up to Munto. Fans and members accused it of lacking the transparency it promised, while the organisation itself seemed paralysed, with rumours of infighting. It may be some time before the Trust is ready to retake control, assuming it wants to.
Perhaps they should think back to the days of 2003 when the club was facing bankruptcy and closure after the disastrous chairmanship of Alberto Scardino. Back then the club rallied and raised £170,000 through donations and managed to keep County alive. Something similar may need to happen if Trembling’s takeover isn’t able to sort out the mess in the boardroom.

Campbell quit Notts County over ‘broken promises’. Perhaps he was uncomfortable with a large portion of his wages coming from the Swiss Commodity Holdings Group. We may never know; Campbell isn’t exactly the most forthcoming of men. But his departure sparked something in the national press, who dug and dug and uncovered a tangled web of holding companies and directors.

This, in turn, led to the decision of Munto to sell. It was, we are told, blamed on jealousy, people with vendettas, and malicious journalists. Alhough this could quite easily be countered with the argument that a group of multimillionaires shouldn’t be so secretive if they have nothing to hide.

Notts County, then, are now under different, if familiar, ownership. Munto Finance, Qadbak, and the Middle Eastern investors who may or may not have existed have been bought out by Executive Chairman Peter Trembling, soon after the announcement that Munto were selling up. County have gone from moneybags of the division to a club that is again unsure of its own future – a situation familiar to many supporters of recent years, with Trembling saying in an official statement that “I will now embark upon the urgent process of securing new investment into the football club.”

Taking stock at Meadow Lane

Whichever way you look at it, Meadow Lane has had a rollercoaster six months since the mysterious Munto Finance stepped in with promises of Middle East riches that could take The Magpies into the Premier League is just over five years.

Strange enough, then, that they should rock up at one of English football’s strugglers, albeit one with a long, proud and occasionally successful history behind it. Notts County, League Two also-rans, were perhaps not the first place you would expect rich Arabs to invest in. But this is football, a sport where the odd can become the everyday. Despite a few quizzical looks, it seemed almost natural within football.

Perhaps if Munto had kept a low profile, then questions wouldn’t have been asked. County’s signings were good for League Two level, and the type of players (perhaps with the exception of Kasper Schmeichel) who you’d expect to grace a lower league team with plenty of cash.

But then came Sven Goran Eriksson, followed by Sol Campbell, before Campbell made for the exit door, closely followed by manager Ian McParland. With high-profile comings and goings it was inevitable the press would take an interest in Notts County.

So too did the Football League and the FA. With Munto staying silent on who exactly was involved at Meadow Lane, questions were raised about whether or not the new owners passed the fit and proper persons test. All Trembling, and others connected with the club, could do was assure us that those involved were honourable individuals who just wanted to stay in the background, and that we should trust them.

Yet it hardly inspired confidence that when some names, including former Pakistan Prime Minister Dr Moeen Qureshi and businessman Anwar Shafi, were put forward, these names denied involvement. Yet the League eventually ruled they were happy with County’s owners and they passed the test, even if the majority of the fans were still in the dark about who exactly owned their club.

BMW Sauber

Racing stripes

Some of the most telling reporting, though, came from the motor racing press. Qadbak, the parent company of Munto Finance, were attempting to seal a deal for the BMW Sauber Formula One team, which had lost its place on the grid after BMW decided to withdraw from the sport.

It’s worth noting here that, to the motorsport press, Notts County were a coincidental side-issue. It is quite hard to accuse them of bias towards a football team they had little interest in. What they were interested in, though, was who Qadbak were and did they have the money to buy the BMW Sauber team.

As it turned out, they didn’t, and former owner Peter Sauber brought back his team, but not before some very interesting stories emerged, chiefly around Russell King, the controversial Jersey businessman with a fraud conviction, who was involved in the collapsed investment company, Belgravia, now wound up. Belgravia had been investigated by the police. The company had also attempted, and failed, to buy the Jordan F1 team and Newcastle United back in 2006.

This is where it starts to get complicated, linked by a chain of financial investment companies with no clear idea who was involved in each of them. In November, The Guardian revealed the guarantee that was given to the Supporters Trust when they sold Notts County came from First London, a financial services firm.

First London Holdings also purchased Bahrain Capital International in October 2008, the company that was guaranteeing Qadbak’s purchase of BMW Sauber. A year later, First London Asset Management was sold to Swiss Commodity Holdings, a global mining company with close ties to Notts County. Eriksson was promised shares in the company as part of the deal to take him to Meadow Lane, while a portion of Campbell’s wages were rumoured to be coming from SCH. The ‘H’ from SCH’s logo was also incorporated into County’s badge.

Representatives from SCH, including King, were pictured on a business trip to North Korea, while it seems that somewhere in this, either from King, SCH or A N Other, a group of British Virgin Islands shell companies, including Munto and Qadbak were ordered. First London, which shares a director with SCH, Munto, and Qadbak have denied repeatedly that King has any involvement with them.

Planning for the future

Ultimately, unless somebody close to this myriad of investment vehicles decides to tell all, it’s unlikely we’ll ever know exactly who exactly owned Notts County, how much money they had, if any, and where that money came from.

Campbell was quick to want out of the club, and there have been rumours than Eriksson has been unsure if he will see the money promised to him by SCH. Meanwhile, there are a queue of people lining up to claim that Munto hookwinked them when purchasing the club.

Trembling is one of those, despite offering countless reassurances over the previous months that the level of investment was secure from Munto. He has since said that the due diligence done by Munto was not as thorough as it should have been, which may explain why County’s parent company, Blenheim 1862, was issued with a winding up order over a £400,000 unpaid tax bill, something that many parties have pointed out was not exactly hidden.

John Armstrong-Holmes, the former chair of the Supporters’ Trust, County’s previous owners, has also denounced Munto. But, as Tom noted here a few days ago, back in the summer Armstrong-Holmes told journalists that Munto’s guarantee was “cast iron” and they were “the most honourable people I have ever met.”

Soundbites and past quotations aside, though, it’s easy to see how supporters were led astray. Can any supporter of a struggling League Two team say they wouldn’t have reacted with joy to the news that a rich consortium from the Middle East was purchasing their club? With money talk around, and initial success on the pitch, it’s not hard to see how awkward questions were put to one side at first.

But now the club faces an uncertain future. Trembling has completed his buyout and has said that money will be available for manager Hans Bakke to strengthen in January, but the Magpies currently have several expensive players on their books with high wages and long-term deals. Top scorer Lee Hughes is on a two-year deal, ex-Manchester City keeper Schmeichel is rumoured to be on a five-year deal. Honouring these contracts will not come cheap.

In times of financial unease, many clubs would turn to the Supporters’ Trust, but this is unlikely to be an option for County. With little progress made on the pitch during their time in charge, the Trust were no longer the great white knights when they sold up to Munto. Fans and members accused it of lacking the transparency it promised, while the organisation itself seemed paralysed, with rumours of infighting. It may be some time before the Trust is ready to retake control, assuming it wants to.

Perhaps they should think back to the days of 2003 when the club was facing bankruptcy and closure after the disastrous chairmanship of Alberto Scardino. Back then the club rallied and raised £170,000 through donations and managed to keep County alive. Something similar may need to happen if Trembling’s takeover isn’t able to sort out the mess in the boardroom.

Notts County Supporters’ Trust: Told You So.

notts-county

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.

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.

The Sweeper: Sol Campbell, Notts County and the Supposed Salary Cap

Sol Campbell

Big Story

Sol Campbell to Notts County?  Seriously?  We all know the club is in the money after their takeover by a mysterious middle eastern consortium and following the appointment of Sven Goran Eriksson, but this “reported” move makes me wonder what’s going in League Two.

The problem is, there is supposed to be a salary cap in League Two which restricts clubs spending no more than 60 per cent of their turnover on wages. Given the small turnover Notts County must have had last season with an average attendance of 4,445 in the league last year, it seems the rules would have to be stretched beyond breaking point when it’s reported that “the club is willing to offer Campbell Premier League level wages, understood to be in the region of £90,000-a-week.”

Discussing this on Twitter this morning, Gary Andrews pointed out the rule has rarely been enforced in League Two. I pointed out that’s true enough, but still, there’s a point where it’s just taking the piss to bend the rules so blatantly.

Europe

North America

  • Wendy Parker has a good piece on the ongoing debate in the U.S. over who controls youth development, with the battle between the established youth clubs and the encroaching academies of MLS teams, backed by the USSF. Below the surface, the outcome of this may determine the U.S.’s chances of winning a World Cup in the next two decades.
  • I’ve only lived in the U.S. for a little under a decade, but outside of a World Cup itself, I don’t remember having seeing so much hype about an event as for the U.S.-Mexico World Cup qualifier this Wednesday. Imagine if the match wasn’t on a weekday on an obscure channel; it’ll be fascinating to see what the ratings are anyway. There’s plenty on it to read (I liked Grant Wahl’s piece on memorable moments in the rivalry), including a piece at the NYT on the infamous altitude challenge of the Azteca, with continued debate over whether the U.S. team’s late arrival was the correct decision scientifically or not.
  • EA Sports announced today that Mexican national team star Cuauhtemoc Blanco will grace the cover of FIFA 2010, and released a video featuring Blanco destroying the U.S. team and scoring on Tim Howard. The Offside Rules points out this might be a smidgen insensive of EA to USMNT fans:  “Either they’ve made a choice as to who they’re siding with on Wednesday or they possess a significant lack of knowledge/sensitivity when it comes to soccer culture; how do you think the English market would react to a similar promo that featured Michael Ballack finishing off England just before they met in a crucial Euro qualifier?”  Point taken, even though there’s a good number more fans of Blanco in the U.S. than there are of Ballack in England.
  • At the New York Times’ Goal blog, Jack Bell asks what Red Bull New York can do to resurrect their season, which is a bit like asking what the Titanic could do to start sailing again.
  • Sunday’s post on Seattle and Portland’s contrasting cultures generated the most page views in Pitch Invasion history, along with an intense debate in the comments. Who knew the two fanbases would go at it like that? (As a sidenote, overall traffic is up 70% over the past two months — thanks so much for visiting. I also fixed a small glitch in the comments system that I’ve realised may have inadvertently blocked a few genuine comments as spams, so if you’ve ever had a problem before, apologies and be confident your next comment will go through.)

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