Football fans are inherently optimistic. We want to believe the unknown signing is the next big thing, the new manager will be our most successful ever and the new owners claims of “we will in the league/win silverware/be in Europe/get promoted (delete to suit the clubs fans dreams) in 2/5/10 years (delete to suit their ambitions)”. We WANT to believe them and that is why we are prime targets for the leeches or Leachs if your clubs owner, business partner or merchandiser happens to be Sports Direct.
Our inbuilt desire to see our clubs succeed allows these people to rob us and our clubs blind for as long as their PR companies bold claims let them. NUFC are far from being alone in a long list of clubs who’s fans end up being the ones left with shattered dreams and they are definitely not the first to have sections of their fanbase in total denial of what’s actually going on in their clubs. The head in the sand brigade just don’t want to accept any bad news about their club and will happily accept any bullshit excuse and lalaland tales that the rats in football want to spin them.
No one knows the full extent of the financial pilfering going on at NUFC or how one sided every deal is in the favour of Sports Direct or any other beneficiary of MASH holdings choice. To give us an indication of how much corporate buggering is going on we need to use a comparison as an example. What better example than that of Rangers. A PLC with public accounts and endless newspaper inches which can give an insight in to the destruction of that club by Ashley and his gang of vultures.
Rangers entered administration in the spring of 2012 and the club ended up in the hands of Mr Charles Green and his consortium of initial investors. Greens misadventures previously at Sheffield United were ignored by the Ibrox faithful as they fell for his stories of catching “Rangersitis” and his promises of returning the club to its former glories. They were sold on this Yorkshireman as he served them tea while they queued around Ibrox to buy season tickets for the lowest tier of Scottish football and he waxed about his blue chip initial investors who included the bizillonaire sportswear tycoon Mike Ashley.
These initial investors stumped up the millions that allowed Green to gain control of the club and the men who arranged that deal were eventually arrested. Some of these initial investors remain nameless to this day but they all received shares back at and IPO when the company was floated on the stock exchange. The shares prices opened at 70p. Many fans and institutional investors gladly paid this price while the initial investors seen their investment paid back in shares at 1p, 20p or 50p. Not bad return for giving Green a few quid to gain control while the fans paid full price to give him the cash to keep the dreams alive.
Miraculously the initial investments, the IPO money and the fans season ticket money totalling £70m managed to be blown away in 18 months while this Scottish institution spent that time in the lower leagues of Scottish football.
Around this time the more inquisitive within the blue half of Glasgow started asking some serious questions that led to protests and boycotts and seen the directors of the club have some of the most vocal fans receive varying degrees of legal threats and one prominent fan sued for £200,000. They certainly seemed eager to keep the hen that laid golden eggs from the reaches of others.
Before the protests started Mr Green paraded Derek Llambias in front fans at a fan meeting to explain to them the benefits of selling their stadiums naming rights in the future. They failed to announce to these fans that Ashley had secured the rights to renaming Ibrox for the princely sum of £1. Years later when this nugget of information became public the PR men went in to overdrive in explaining that Ashley had returned the naming rights to the club but omitted to mention he took plenty of free advertising in return for his seemingly generous gesture.
Next on the list of lopsided deals was the Glasgow clubs 7 year rolling merchandise agreement with Sports Direct. This was trumpeted by the spin masters as a triumph for Rangers as the formation of Rangers Retail Ltd (RRL) seen the club own 51% and the sports retailer 49% however the missing details in this announcement were the fact that Rangers shares carried half the voting rights of the SD owned shares. The profits should be evenly split in the form of dividends which of course would be at the discretion of the RRL board (excuse me from laughing) and would obviously be after deductions at their discretion.
The profits due would show on the accounts but the actual cash paid would show in with other incomes making it difficult to see that the amounts due were never actually paid in full and the figures of 4-5p in the pound that fans used to show the unfairness of the agreement were actually never achieved by he club in hard cash.
Rangers obviously haemorrhaged money through time due to strangulation and an ex director tried to offer proper investment to the clubs directors when things reached dangerous levels but Dave Kings offer of investment was countered by Ashleys offer of further loans and the board miraculously ignored Kings offer in favour of more loans from Ashley which included a term that seen SD receive an increased 75% holding in RRL.
A great way of assuring the club required constant loans, which normally ended in improved terms in Ashleys deals, was to make a much need new share offer fail, leaving the door open for even more MASH loans. On one bizarre example the club needed cash so planned an issue of new shares to bring in money. An Essex based associate of Ashleys agreed with the board to underwrite the issue and then at the last minute reneged on this offer meaning the undersubscribed share failed and an offer of loans from Ashley as the only viable short term option available. Quelle surprise.
The Rangers fans eventually gained universal hatred of Ashley when he attempted to take their stadium as collateral for another loan they didn’t require and the Blue legions declared “enough is enough” and the protests stepped up.
One of the most cheeky syphons was Keith Bishop PR’s bills of £8k a week to Rangers while Llambias still owned 51% of Mike Ashleys mates PR firm. Rangers had their own PR firm in place the whole time Bishop was throwing invoices in the direction of Ibrox.
Eventually King and his gang plugged away at buying shares and eventually won an AGM to relieve the club from Ashleys henchmen on the board but in the run up to this AGM the board agreed a new lease deal on the clubs mega store at Ibrox. This ten year deal for for the unsurprising sum of £1 per year was sanctioned immediately before they lost control of the club.
The new owners of the club were then served court papers reminding them of the confidentiality of the clubs agreements with Sports Direct, many of which are still guarded in secrecy even today.
This summer the club announced a new one year deal with Sports Direct to replace the hated 7 year rolling deal. This sees Rangers receive 75% of profits in their club shop and 50% of those from SD sold items. As many of Ibrox faithful ended their boycott of club merchandise they were greeted with empty selves in their own club shop yet some items were still available in Sports Direct stores.
Some of the Ibrox fans still remain staunch in their refusal to give a penny to Ashley and await with bated breath a new non SD deal in the summer. History should advise them not to hold their breath as no doubt Ashley will have some handy clauses in the new 12 month agreement which will keep him in touch with the blue pounds from Glasgow for some time yet.
In an nutshell, how to “Ashley” a club? Give them an initial investment and receive a fraction of market value shares in return, lend them money when they can attract investment, get your guys on the board to give you everything you want for a pound, get a joint venture merchandise deal thats worthless to the club and even when you’re going tie everything up so no one knows you’re still fleecing them once your appear to be gone.
Be afraid Magpies, be very afraid and don’t ignore history in favour of your inherent optimist as a football fan.