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