Serendipity

Saturday, March 04, 2017

"If it wasn't for the 10 point deduction we wouldn't have got relegated."

This is always the mantra for fans of teams relegated as a result of administration. And it is true as far as it goes; it was seemingly true for argyle back along. Sadly it is a myth. It is self-delusion. The penalty is set so that it pretty much guarantees relegation for anybody “unlucky” enough to go into admin so admin leading to relegation is hardly a matter of chance more one of design.

And the finger of blame implicit in the statement is pointing in entirely the wrong direction. Clubs, from the boardroom all the way to the terraces, should man up and accept that the reasons they went into admin were avoidable and that it was a potent cocktail of bungling incompetence, Mikawberish hope, willful negligence and/or deliberate strategy that was responsible and “luck” had nothing to do with it.

The exact methodology involved will vary from case to case but essentially they all boil down to the same thing: expenditure has grossly exceded income leading to a build-up of debt which eventually can no longer be supported.

In Argyle’s case as a CCC club we recruited players on contracts that we could ill-afford. That led to a debt-level that in turn led to the sale of a host of important players who were replaced by players of lower quality also on contracts we could ill afford either in cash terms or duration. That relatively weakened squad was decimated by injury, results nose-dived, confidence collapsed, the manager was changed, he introduced more expensive players on contracts that proved to be unsustainable, relegation followed, TV income dropped, crowds dropped, admin followed, another relegation resulted.

The root cause of all of this was over-stretching financially while being successful on the pitch – and who doesn’t want their club to be successful on the pitch? Essentially it was the story of Icarus flying so high that he got too close to the sun that his wax melted and his feathers fell off recast as the fate of a football club for our modern times. I’m by no means a classicist but even I know the story. It is hardly a secret.

So the real problem was getting into debt to start with even though that debt actually built the best XI Argyle has had in decades. It was a problem that by virtue of some huge, for us, transfer income we could have avoided but the same core mistake (players earning wages that were too high on contracts that were guaranteed for too long) were repeated and eventually the wheels came off and we’re right back to admin, the points deduction and relegation again.

We might have avoided the worst excesses of our meltdown had we paid lower salaries. But we didn’t. We might have avoided the worst excesses of our meltdown had we stipulated shorter contracts. But we didn’t. We might have avoided the worst excesses of our meltdown had we exit clauses on the contracts. But we didn’t.

So through a mixture of panic, misguided ambition, reckless spending, soft negotiation all coated with either negligence or incompetence we recruited players we never should have signed and probably would not have signed had the offers been shorter, cheaper and less secure. And it was those players who won the points that “would have been enough apart from the points deduction” and those players should never have been donning our famous green shirts in the first place as those points were won.

“Cheating” is a strong word to use but what else is signing players knowing the wherewithal is not there to support them? The fact that we went into admin and were relegated was our own damned fault and not the fault of the Football League rulebook or some sort of freak vendetta. We broke the rules. We cheated. We were punished. And rightly so.

The fact that the dominoes toppled one after the other that did not need to topple and that our club was nearly extinguished forever as a result should never be forgotten and nor should the lunacy that prevailed in our boardroom at the time. A repeat must never be allowed and it is beholden to us as fans to place the blame fairly and squarely where it lies and that is most certainly not with the Football League for applying a sanction that everybody had known was coming for months before it did.

Never again should we afford our owners, whoever they are, the luxury of unquestioning, blind faith in their decision making because failure to question, scrutinise, complain and, if necessary, sound an alarm represents the same bungling incompetence, Mikawberish hope, wilful negligence and/or deliberate strategy in the fanbase as it did all those years ago in the boardroom.

Being vigilant about our club’s management is our duty as supporters not a treasonable activity perpetrated by Quislings.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Here's an idea...

I was reading about Leyton Orient’s current financial difficulties earlier. In case you don’t know it’s yet another variant of the uncaring/incompetent/asset-stripping owner running up an unpaid tax bill (the case is yet to go to court but I am assuming it is income tax related) and HMRC issuing a winding-up order. Usually the winding-up order gets dodged in some way often with the club then being forced into administration during which somebody will put up a token sum of cash in lieu of none at all for the unsecured creditors (of which HMRC is one) at which stage there is a vote the result of which, usually, is to accept the offer because nobody, HMRC apart, wants to see a club fold and vanish.

I don’t really want to focus too much on Leyton Orient; I realise their plight is more complicated than I have suggested above and I’ll leave the detailed ins and outs of it all to their fans to describe but when my club, Plymouth Argyle, went through this process £100,000 was on the table. The unsecured creditors accepted this in place of the approximate £9m they were owed in total, some fees were deducted from the £100,000 and they ended getting paid 0.022% (yes – far less than one quarter of a of one tenth of one percent!) of the sum owed on a pro rata basis. So basically if your debt is unsecured then you’ve more or less had it.

There is something about this that really sticks in my craw. Everything about it sucks. At a stroke the club gets away with running up huge debts that it had long since known was unpayable. Effectively for a while before push comes to shove the club has been trading when insolvent, which is illegal, but nobody is ever brought to account and it is always the creditors that get stiffed. HMRC has been on the wrong end of this lots of times and over the years I’d hate to know how much due tax has been written off – it must be hundreds of mi££ions. HMRC knows though and HMRC hates it and HMRC wants to nail a football club to the mast as a warning to others but has so far not managed to get their trophy (although they went hellishly close to getting Argyle). Maybe they’ll end up with a Leyton Orient-shaped trophy this time. I hope not because I don’t want to see any team fold but I don’t blame them for trying.

The thing here is that HMRC is acting entirely properly. Everybody should pay their tax. I pay mine. Chances are the readers of this will pay theirs. Why should “Football” be any different and not cough up – there’s more than enough money in football after all? And this is not a victimless crime; schools get closed, hospitals are short-staffed, roads are less maintained and God knows what else is affected as a result. This is a very real and very big problem not least because it means either I, along with everybody else, pay more tax than I need to or get services worse than those I have paid for.
In League 2, where both Leyton Orient and Plymouth Argyle currently ply their trade, the clubs all have to meet the atrociously named Salary Cap Management Protocol (SCMP). In short the money available for team wages must be no more than 55% of income. The Football League monitors this and, so far as I know, nobody has ever been caught flaunting the rule.

This means that clubs have to project income and budget, on paper at least, accordingly meaning that the actual figures involved are known well in advance by both clubs, although it may vary wildly for each, and Football League.

So here’s my idea… At the beginning of each season clubs should pay in advance a sum of money, call it a “bond”, in order to be granted their Golden Share which in turn allows access to League and cup competitions. No Bond = No Golden Share = Nobody to play.
I’m going to make up some numbers now for a fictitious club to illustrate how this might work. If their 55% amounts to £1m then the income tax on that would be about 40% so they would need to put £400,000 into their Bond which the FL would then hold in Trust. No matter what happens to the club over the course of a season it’s tax bill would already effectively be paid. There would never be a mid-season HMRC winding-up order again and Football would not be able to dodge paying its taxes.

Obviously the clubs won’t like this. “Where the hell do we get £400,000 to pay for this?” they’ll say. So bring it in in increments over the next 10 years. Make that club pay £40,000 this time, £80,000 the next and so on. To put that in perspective the initial payment of £40,000 would be covered by the sale of the first 150 or so season tickets at most clubs which would be easily affordable if known well in advance.

This would mean the Football League would be holding a rather substantial sum of money on behalf of the clubs/HMRC (depending on how you look at it) which could be invested to generate an income which could go towards the next year’s Bond or be ploughed back into the game in some way.


And instead of Football being a venal, self-obsessed tax-dodging bastard of an industry it could hold its head high and proclaim proudly that it pays its taxes, that its league structure is financially sound, that the chaos caused by the mid-season liquidation of a club would be avoided and proud old clubs like Leyton Orient and Plymouth Argyle would be confident that their future was assured.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Apolitical



“The word 'apolitical' has to be the worst in the English language. EVERYTHING is political.” – Sam Down (aka @GreenSamPAFC)

What Sam has said is so obvious it hardly needs saying but his saying it has struck a chord with me. In an Argyle context one of the, rather weak it has to be said, oft repeated statements used to justify any number of topics is “nobody is interested in the politics; they just want to have a couple of pints, go to a match and watch their team play football”. Well I want to sink a pint or two and then watch my team play football but it hardly stops there, does it? Not if you are intellectually adult, for want of a better phrase, anyway.

How might you have travelled to the game? Train, bus, car, coach, aeroplane, Shanks’s pony? Those things are fuelled by diesel or electric or petrol or pasties (other foodstuffs are available – so I am told). So there’s road tax, duty and/or VAT to be paid for them and that money comes out of your wages (also taxed of course). So if you think the price you pay is too high you need to pay less tax which in turn means that we can afford lower pensions for our elderly or fewer soldiers, hospitals or teachers. Don’t grumble about any of them being cut or under-resourced if you want a cheaper tank of petrol. Like it or not that’s politics.Or maybe it takes too long to travel. Maybe there is a poor bus or train service or maybe the roads are chockers with traffic. Politics again: it is our government at local and national level that sets transport infra-structure and that is paid for by taxes.

Once at a game political decisions have been taken to ensure that standing to watch a game is now all but prohibited everywhere. You aren’t allowed to stand should you wish to because politicians somewhere passed the law making it illegal to do so. We can’t drink a beer on the terraces at a football match (unlike at a cricket or rugby match – despite rugby, of course, often being played in exactly the same stadia with fans sitting in exactly the same seats) because politicians say we can’t.

The philosophy behind the way a club is run is political and you can see the differing models at different clubs of various sizes up and down the country. So the ownership model of your club is political. The profits and/or losses that your club makes impacts on the tax it pays and that affects roads, hospitals, schools, police, the military and everything else. All political once again.

Taking the politics out of football is impossible just as taking politics out of everything else is. I can’t help but wonder why anybody would espouse the “just watch the football” line unless their motivation lies elsewhere and they are saying one thing to achieve another all of which is very Machiavellian (and Machiavelli was, of course, a politician).

It is very, very clear that the Apolitical Thing is completely nonsensical on many practical levels but the real killer is the paradox that any decision to attempt to be apolitical is in itself a definably political one meaning that whatever the grounds for saying it and whatever the desired objective might be the cause is immediately lost as soon as it is mentioned.

Or it does in the post-child world anyway.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Tony Capaldi



I’m using Tony Capaldi here as an example here to make a wider point.

Tony Capaldi was once our left back. He didn’t ever really set the world alight but at our level he was steady and that was about as much praise as you could put his way. He wasn’t especially quick and he wasn’t great in the tackle. When it came to heading the ball he was basically weak. He was accursed by his natural body language too: his round shouldered loping up and down the pitch didn’t ever look like he was 100% going for it even though he probably was. His right foot was, let’s be honest, as weak as his heading.

So they are the negatives. There were positives too. He was pretty cool under pressure. His left foot was very good. His first touch was good. He played shape exceptionally well and could offer himself as a long-thrower at throw-ins.

After leaving us he played most of his football at a decent level with Cardiff and Leeds while we simply headed south.

He was never much of a crowd favourite despite winning over 20 caps for N Ireland while he was with us to make him our most-capped ever player.

So what do we want from a left back? Speed! Obviously. Tackles like a man possessed. Yep – that too. Got to be able to defend back post crosses and cover out-of-position centre backs so needs to be good in the air. He’s got to be able to offer width going forward and get a cross in. Maybe take corners? Will need a good engine to get back after foraging forward. Ideally have an eye for goal, a shot like Hotshot Hamish and maybe take free licks. Good first touch essential just because it is and a cool head too – we don’t want him getting sent off every week, do we?

So why doesn’t such a player play for Argyle? That’s because, if he exists at all, he’s far, far too good to play at our level! A player that ticks those boxes will be a PL player. Maybe even get recruited into Barcelona or Real Madrid or Bayern Munich.

All of the players we have are the best we can field with what we have. They are all limited in some way. They’ll all make mistakes. Quite simply we have to live with this because the perfect left back doesn’t exist and if he did he wouldn’t be playing for us.

As long as he is trying his best that is all we can ask. After that it is the manager’s fault for picking him or for squandering his budget or the chairman’s fault for setting a budget too tight to enable the signing of a decent player in that position.

So let’s not pick on Tony Capaldi, eh?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Plastics

It's been a while since I felt any affection at all towards football.

Let's face it: as businesses go it is about as amoral and corrupt as it is possible to be from the very top all the way down to the grassiest of roots.

Far too many clubs exploit all sorts of financial loopholes with the plethora of clubs spending well beyond their means and then hitting admin to wipe the debt out at the expense of their creditors. It might be legal; it might be commonly acepted business practice; no matter it stinks.

Perhaps worst of all is the Man Utd/Glazer-stylee leveraged buy out where a new owner buys a club using income the club itself generates... God alone knows how they get away with it or sleep at night because it is completely without shame.

For all of that I have kept going to games (home ones mostly anyway) and it is a struggle to know why beyond it being an excuse to see mates and have a beer. The last few years have been a horrid, relentless, attritional spiral into near oblivion with barely a glimmer of joy along the way but I have barely missed a (home) game.

Last season was better and we began to look like a team with some talent again but even that ended horribly with the Wycombe play-off debacle no matter how remarkable, but still inadequate, the Bob Marley mini-comeback was.

Which brings us to this season and this season has been horribly disappointing as well. Make no mistake we should have been promoted weeks before the end of the season like Northampton were. It should have been us and them neck-and-neck balls-out all the way to the finishing post but no. When it mattered we just bloody crumbled.

And now we are here with Wembley and Wimbledon looming large on the horizon and a pair of simply sensational games against Portsmouth fresh in the memory. Those two Pompey games reminded me of what it was all about; of why it is that I fell in love with watching Argyle as a kid all those years ago:

Mariner & Rafferty and a vast, massive, chaotic Tuesday night crowd v Colchester; Jim Furnell saving a Terry Venables penalty; the West Brom and Derby (x2) games in the cup run; Nelson's late equaliser at Blackpool; Godfrey scoring at Bristol Rovers to set in sequence the most remarkable run of results I ever knew; being out-played by Derby for 45 mins before doing 'em good 'n' proper 4-1 in the end; walloping Leeds 6-3; Stewart Evans inspiring mayhem as we beat Man City 3-2 after being 2 down; McGregor's hat-trick in a 4-0 win at Torquay; Colchester (again) vanquished in the play-offs; Darlo at Wembley; virtually every moment of the two Sturrock promotion campaigns but especially that match v QPR and the "you'll never play here again" night v Exeter; fantastic away wins under Holloway at Palace (which remains, I think, the best I ever saw us play) and Charlton and Sheff Utd (sort of...) but that was pretty much where it stopped dead.

Since then there's been next to nothing to enjoy, to cherish but it was those occasions that make and keep a new generation of fans. It is those occasions that de-Plasticise if you like and hopefully Wembley will grab the soul of a few Plastics and never let go.

And then they won't be Plastics any more.

And lets face it we all started somewhere; we were all Plastic once.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Derby County v Plymouth Argyle

I’ve just seen this video on Facebook.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zh9oSu7iJEQ

And a host of memories have come flooding back!

The game was a 6th round FA Cup replay played on the Tuesday following a 0-0 at Home Park the Saturday before – there was no nonsensical 10 day delay between the first match and the replay in those days.

I was in my first year at college and was living in Gloucester at the time and I’d journeyed back to Plymouth for the first game. We were unlucky not to win after Gordon Staniforth spanked a long range shot towards the top left corner only to be denied by Derby ‘keeper Steve Cherry getting his fingertips to the ball thus diverting it onto a post, the ball then bounced down onto the goal-line, hit the other post and was deflected away. It was a sensational moment in a pretty drab game but plucky underdogs Argyle, struggling horribly in the league below, had shaded it and Derby, who were something of a fading power at the time, knew they’d been lucky to get out of the game with a replay. Argyle, on the other hand knew Derby were there for the taking.

I suppose the most remarkable thing about the first game, Staniforth’s moment apart, was the attendance: 35,000. Home Park was rammed with Derby being allocated the Devonport End (and maybe the Barn Park too?). It was mayhem. These were the days when football grounds were feral places, terraces were often vast and the horrors of Hillsborough, Heysel and Valley Parade were yet to happen. Things really could not have been any more different to how they are today. Back then football was so much more raw than it is now. They say the past is a different place well this might as well have been a different planet.
So a replay it was to be. I had to go. So, too, did many thousands of others. Most of them travelling from Plymouth but me having to make my way from Gloucester. The Plymothians would have been coached up, I guess, for the large part but for me the only option was public transport so I bunked off college for the day and got the train up to Derby. There was only one problem: no train back. “Never mind” I thought. “What the hell! There’s no way I’m missing this one.”

I’d never been to Derby before. In fact I don’t think I’d ever been that far north before so on arrival I didn’t have a clue where anything was. I asked a railway porter where the town centre was, he jabbered something I completely failed to understand and with my mouth being kept firmly shut and my scarf being securely stashed away out of sight – there was every chance that an away fan going anywhere in those days would get a kicking if he took even the slightest of liberties – I made for the town centre where I hoped to find the Baseball Ground. This plan failed abysmally but I did find WH Smiths so I went in grabbed a Derby A to Z road map (internet? mobile phone? google maps? Not even a gimmer on the horizon at the time!) looked up where the ground was, committed details to memory and was off.

On leaving Smiths I bumped into an old school mate, Bod, who had made the same journey as me but from London. We were now a crew of two. I seem to remember that it was a fair old walk to the Baseball Ground but we had nowhere else to go so off we toddled and we got there early. Very early. Ridiculously early. I suppose it might have been about 1730 with kick-off at least 2 hours away. Nothing else for it but to hang around which we did. It’s possible we were the first ones there because the stadium wasn’t even open!

People eventually began to arrive. Bod and I continued to mope about – going to a pub was unthinkable. Eventually we were approached by a few fellas. “Are you from Plymouth or Durrrrrrrby?” “Gloucester” says I. “London” says Bod. Our interrogator was a bit confused by our unexpected responses but by now it was obvious they were from Plymouth and chances were they were looking to give any stray Derby fans they could find a kicking. We sort of fell in with them. We were now a group about 7 or 8 strong.

Neither Bod nor I had any way of getting back and our new friends were quite impressed by our bone-headed commitment. “We have a space in the car – but only one. There’s a lift, but only 1 place, back if you want it. Find us afterwards.” That didn’t seem likely.

And so on to the game. 27,000 at the Baseball Ground (“we’ve got more fans than you!”) crammed into the tightest of grounds imaginable. There’s nowhere to compare today except maybe Loftus Road but the Baseball Ground had about twice the capacity and its stands rose almost vertically from the touchline with barely any track around the grass of the pitch at all. We were stood on the lower terrace behind the goal we scored into, right behind the goal about 10 yards from the front. Behind and above us was a tier of seating also occupied by Argyle fans and above that a third tier of seating filled by home fans who took great delight in chucking stuff down on top of us: anything that came to hand and coffee seemed to be a great favourite (I hope it was coffee – it was certainly warm anyway). I’ve no idea of how many travellled up that night but it must have been at least 5000 fans and if it wasn’t it certainly seemed like it.

There was much banter. Derby’s Archie Gemill came in for fearful, relentless abuse some of which was good-natured. Blue Peter’s Simon Groom and his dog, Goldie, put in an appearance and the atmosphere in the ground positively crackled away into the night sky. It was a night of rare old passion.

We took  a lot of abuse from the home fans above us and one of them had an inflatable something or other… maybe a penguin or snowman or some such and they were dangling it down on a length of string teasing us with it. Needless to say everybody was trying to grab it and eventually they lowered it fraction too far and the thing got ripped to pieces. “We’ve got Archie Gemmill!” was the song and somebody put the head over his own and was hoisted aloft on shoulders as we celebrated the triumphant destruction of our inflatable foe.

The game itself is a blur. They battered us, we defended desperately, magnificently and with huge resolution. Our defence was not going to breached. Andy Rogers fluked the goal direct from the corner and Cherry went from hero in the first match to zero in the replay. Football can be so cruel. At the final whistle scenes of unbridled joy: Chris Harrison climbing onto the fence around the pitch; Johnny Hore dancing in delight on the pitch… It was like a mass tellytubbies big hug sprinkled with angel dust. “What scenes!” as today’s youngsters like to say.

As we filed out at the end of the match Bod and I bumped into our new friends from earlier. “Want a lift then, boy? We ain’t going to London but Gloucester is on the way home we’ll take you if you want.” What price friendship, eh? The offer of a lift was too good to turn down (and it was free!) so I went with them and Bod took his chances hanging around Derby all night dodging their supporters, who had nought but murderous intent in mind, until the first mail train the next morning. We stopped off somewhere on the way back for a beer. Uttoxeter, maybe? And got there just in time to see the match highlights on Sportsnight which was a definite result!

I got dropped off at my halls of residence where everybody was fast asleep and I was all on me tod buzzing like I never had before and rarely have since.

Derby. 1984. What an occasion! Just… crazy. Absolutely stark-raving bonkers in every single way imaginable. I'd like to think this blog gives a taste as to what it was like but I probably haven't even got near...

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