THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Steve Westby examines the financial difficulties that have surrounded Notts County in recent years

Notts County have had a record 14 relegations in their history and have now set another bench­­mark. On August 12 the club had been in administration for an unprecedented 421 days, surpassing the record previously held by QPR. Meanwhile they are still under threat of expulsion from the League.

The saga began in 1999. Derek Pavis, chair­man for 12 years, was in poor health and look­ing to sell up. A new buyer came from a com­pletely unexpected direction – the US. Albert Scardino is a former Pulitzer Prize-win­ning journalist who had been one of Bill Clin­ton’s press aides. Scardino and his business partner, Peter Storrie, the former West Ham chief ex­ecutive, were to buy Notts on a sort of hire pur­chase arrangement that ini­tially left Pavis as chairman until Scardino had raised the cap­ital for a majority sharehol­ding. In the mean­time Scardino and Storrie were to take over the day-to-day running of the club.

That year (2000-01) saw Notts finish a res­pectable eighth in the Second Division under manager Jocky Scott. The following season, however, a team containing several expensive signings struggled against relegation and Scott was sacked. In January 2001, Billy Dear­den was poached from neighbours Mansfield with promises of cash to spend on new players.

But all was not well behind the scenes. Peter Storrie left to team up with his old mate Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth and Albert Scardino was left on his own. Meanwhile, it was revealed that play­ers’ wages had not been paid and the PFA step­ped in to meet the shortfall, meaning a transfer embargo and none of the promised new signings for Dearden. Notts avoided rel­egation on the last day of the season, beating Huddersfield 2-1 in front of a staggering 15,618. Scardino had now become chairman, al­though still owing a fair chunk of the pur­chase price to Pavis. Crippled by the high wage bill, the club went into administration in June 2002.

Before the new season began, Scardino an­nounced a deal worth £100,000 with local estate agents Aaron Scargill under which the Meadow Lane stadium would carry their name. However, only the first £5,000 was received before stories circulated about the company’s links to a scurrilous new mag­azine, St George and The Dragon, which made ex­tremely libellous claims about the Nottingham Evening Post and the city council; the only ad­vertising it contained was for Scar­gill prop­erties. Within weeks the company’s of­fices were vacated. The Aaron Scargill Sta­dium was not to be.

By the end of last year, Scar­dino was still prom­ising that the money would be forthcoming. Ad­ministrators Kroll made sim­ilar soothing noises, emphasising that the new lease on offer from the council (who own the ground) made it an attractive investment. Con­cerned fans set up a supporters’ trust, which gathered over 1,000 mem­bers. On the pitch, Billy Dearden work­ed anoth­er mir­acle, steering the club clear of relegation.

By now the Football League had had enough. Notts were to be thrown out unless they show­ed significant progress to­wards com­ing out of administration by May 30. Kroll announced that there were three interested parties. Scardino, who had teamed up with developers Quintain, was believed to be in pole position. It was therefore a surprise that the successful bidders were announced as bus­inessmen Raj Bhatia and Frank Strang, nei­ther of them local and with no previous football connections.

Weeks dragged by with the takeover still not completed. The fans were placated with pro­mises of new signings, including two loan­ees from Juventus, while being expected to stand a massive hike in season-ticket prices. Towards the end of July, with a crucial meeting im­mi­nent, it was revealed that the man behind the Bhatia and Stang bid, a mysterious figure called Paul Garland, had approached Storrie and Scardino in July 2001 with an offer of £3.5 million from a finance company called GMAC. From August of that year, Scardino and Storrie were repeatedly assured that the GMAC loan was almost done but not a single penny ever materialised – now the finance for Bhatia and Strang was being brokered by the same source that failed to appear for Scardino.

On the morning of the crucial meeting with the Football League on August 4, it was an­nounced that the Bhatia/Strang deal had col­lapsed. However, a new consortium, assembled by but not including former chairman Pavis, were allegedly about to take over. Armed with this new deal, the administrators con­vinced the League to give Notts a stay of ex­ecution for another month.

Notts County have to convince the League on September 8 that the deal is either completed, or very close to com­pletion. Otherw­ise, the world’s old­est League club will finally go out of business.

From WSC 200 October 2003. What was happening this month

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