Tom Davies reports on the Plymouth takeover, as well as stadium issues at Truro and Wycombe
One of the League’s more enduring messes, at Plymouth Argyle, has seemingly reached a resolution. The local businessman James Brent’s takeover, agreed at the end of October, brings an end to a saga that lasted far longer than it should have. Brent will now take ownership of Argyle, while the city council has agreed to buy and rent back the club’s Home Park ground.
Plymouth went into administration in March. Since then, they have tumbled from the middle of League One to the foot of League Two. It has been a traumatic period, in which players went unpaid and various suitors hovered around without coming up with the resources to save the club. Brent’s initial bid was rejected by the administrator Brendan Guilfoyle in favour of one of questionable provenance from Truro City’s owner, Kevin Heaney. The Cornish businessman would have taken ownership of the ground – through a Gibraltar-based property firm, Bishop International – while our old chum Peter Ridsdale, at the club on one of his “interim chairmanship” gigs, would have taken over the club for £1, against a backdrop of £6 million debts. Count the alarm bells in that sentence.
Doubts surrounded Heaney’s ability to fund a takeover from the start and his bid unravelled in September. That left the way clear for Brent, chairman of the Akkeron Group hotel chain. Although settlements needed to be found with a number of creditors, including former manager Peter Reid, Brent’s takeover had also been held up by a dispute over Guilfoyle’s demand for £750,000 in administrator fees. Brent was unwilling to pay, arguing that it covered a period in which he was locked out of the takeover process. Guilfoyle said his company, the P&A Partnership, had “waived a significant amount in fees to ensure the survival of the club”. Brent has already agreed to pay the administrator £400,000, but he might yet have to pay more.
Either way, P&A emerge with little confidence from fans. “Guilfoyle kept saying that Heaney had proof of funds, but what was it?” asked the Argyle Fans’ Trust secretary Peter Ryan. “This needs to be investigated and the Football League should be reviewing how administrations of football clubs are conducted.”
The ground will be sold for £1.6m to the city council, who will rent it back to the club for £135,000 a year. Ridsdale will remain as “chairman of football operations”. Brent’s arrival has been well received, but it is not yet clear what formal role will be offered to supporters’ organisations. Things remain grim on the pitch, where a thin squad’s battle against relegation will be long and tough.
While Heaney was circling around Plymouth, his current club, Truro City, have had a bit of bother of their own. The club have risen swiftly up the divisions to the Conference South in recent seasons, but they now face a winding-up order over a six-figure unpaid tax bill. When their case was heard at the High Court at the end of October they secured an adjournment until January 16. Questions remain over the club’s future.
Heaney initially talked big at Truro. He spoke of a full-time playing squad and a new 16,000-capacity stadium as the club rose from the South Western League to non-League football’s second tier. But all has not gone to plan this season. Results have been patchy and players have reportedly gone unpaid.
At the hearing in October, the club’s barrister talked of possible “outside investment” being forthcoming as well as the possibility of funds being raised by a separate company selling a property. The freehold of the club’s existing Treyew Road ground was transferred last year to a company called Cornish Properties Ltd (where Heaney is a company director). Meanwhile, housing developer Persimmon Homes has a clause in a charge over the ground agreed with three companies in which Heaney is involved, which may or may not be significant.
There is also uncertainty at Wycombe Wanderers, where owner Steve Hayes has put tenants London Wasps, the rugby union club he also owns, up for sale. The decision follows the withdrawal of the council’s backing for a new 17,000-capacity stadium for both clubs, about which Wycombe fans had been sceptical. In that respect, fans are happy and the relationship between the supporters’ trust and club is better than it has ever been.
The Wasps issue, however, throws up questions over the future. Their tenancy at Adams Park is guaranteed until 2014, which gives Wycombe some income certainty. The picture is less clear after that. Adams Park does not strictly adhere to Premiership Rugby guidelines on access and capacity, so a new owner of Wasps could well look elsewhere. Wycombe have debts of around £4m, that are largely owed to Hayes himself (see WSC 271). The plan to build a shared stadium was largely based around Wasps’ perceived needs so the collapse of the sporting village development has put the football club back in a stronger position in the relationship. But Wycombe remain uncomfortably dependent on Hayes’s commitment.
From WSC 298 December 2011