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Pilgrims protest as Christmas is cancelled

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Matt Slater | 09:43 UK time, Thursday, 23 December 2010

A year ago yesterday, Plymouth Argyle's board of directors gathered to discuss a new five-year plan for the club.

Twelve months on, the Pilgrims should have planning permission for a 46,000-seat stadium, a settled squad of committed players, a growing fan-base here and abroad, the Premier League in their sights and all the benefits of a "sound financial footing".

How's that working out?

Erm...well, the club is haemorrhaging cash and cannot pay its staff or taxes. The stadium plans are in disarray, attendances are falling and the squad is overpaid and under-performing. Oh, and they were relegated to League One in May and face an HM Revenue and Customs winding-up order in February. If this was Stalin's five-year plan he'd be calling for the firing squad.

And yet Home Park seems strangely becalmed. Not a peep has been heard from Argyle's Japanese majority shareholder Yasuaki Kagami, club chairman Sir Roy Gardner hasn't shown his face for months (he's been busy elsewhere) and the club's five other board members appear to have lost their voices too, at least in terms of going on the record. I have tried!

Meanwhile, the club's 125 employees are wondering if they'll see their December wages (or the rest of November's, for that matter) and manager Peter Reid is paying for the heating out of his own pocket.

Whether the directors are embarrassed, in denial or out of their depth, the conclusion is the same: the Pilgrims are floundering and if things don't change fast we could be looking at English professional football's first liquidation since 1992.

Happier times at Home Park

Happier times at Plymouth Argyle but Home Park crowds have been falling since 2005

I should pause there for a moment and let that sink in.

A large part of this job is selling stories internally, convincing the boss that this tale or that one is going to be a blockbuster. But the flipside is when you have to pour water on an excitable editor's desire for a new line.

Over the years, football's numerous scrapes with insolvency have fallen into the latter category. For almost two decades club after club has thrown itself at the mercy of Companies Court, only to be rescued by at last minute by a white knight or the stubborn refusal of their fans to let a community asset die.

I fervently hope one or perhaps both of those scenarios are still possible for a Devon institution now 124 years old, I just worry that a lethal combination of absence, complacency and incompetence could be the undoing of a club that only two years ago was reflecting on its seventh straight season of progress up the league ladder.

So what happened?

Like most tales of decline, there are as many different starting points as there are people to talk to about this - over the last fortnight I've had at least a dozen conversations with people connected to the club and I've heard a dozen different "something changed" anecdotes. Football clubs are the exception to the old maxim about success having many fathers and failure being an orphan.

But in the interest of brevity (and wanting to save something for future pieces on what will be a developing story over the next month) I will focus on the most fundamental causes for Argyle's predicament.

The first is that old favourite: hope. The upswing in Argyle's fortunes that started under Paul Sturrock's managerial reign in 2000, continued for most of the next eight years. During that time the club claimed two league titles and consolidated itself in the Championship. That brought the tantalising prospect of a first promotion to the top flight within touching distance.

Less fashionable clubs, with smaller crowds, have been promoted to the Premier League, but not many. The departure of managers like Sturrock, Tony Pulis and Ian Holloway, all hinted at a fundamental problem with the club's ability to finance a genuine tilt at promotion.

This problem spawned the next one: a series of ill-considered attempts to transform the business.

The by now traditional search for a foreign sugar daddy was too hastily conducted and then shoddily implemented. This eventually resulted in Argyle being left with a majority shareholder, the lesser-spotted Kagami, who appears to know nothing about English football or Plymouth. He's probably none too pleased either as he was sold an unlikely dream: a Premier League shop window for Japanese fans and players.

But even more damaging than selling to an absentee landlord was the decision to enter the property development business. I can count on one hand the number of times this has gone well for a football team.

I won't dwell too long on the board's attempts to transform Home Park into the South West's answer to Cowboys Stadium (although I'm happy to discuss it further below) but they have much in common with the bigger project they were so closely connected to, England's bid to host the 2018 World Cup: doomed and expensive.

The driving forces behind this were the aforementioned Gardner, a former chairman of the pre-Glazer Manchester United plc, and Keith Todd. Neither has exactly covered himself in glory since teaming up with Kagami to take a controlling 51% share of the club in 2009 but they have busied themselves with setting up spin-off companies to take advantage of the new and improved Home Park, should that white elephant ever clamber off the drawing board.

David Friio and Paul Sturrock parade the 2002 Division Three trophy

Argyle legends David Friio and Paul Sturrock parade the 2002 Division Three trophy

Unfortunately, you can also add all the other usual mistakes to the Argyle charge sheet: a rapid turnover in the dug-out, dubious decisions in the transfer market and a Pompey-esque approach to remuneration. Argyle tick almost every crisis club box.

So let's recap. The Pilgrims are burning money (Championship wages on mediocre League One gates), they have borrowed cash on a flawed redevelopment plan, the existing directors appear to have had enough (or have no more to give) and football's white knight factory isn't as productive as it once was. And everything, and I mean everything, is mortgaged already.

The situation is dire and Argyle fans, be they in Plymouth, Osaka or Boston, need to step up. A supporters' trust is being formed (its first official meeting is 15 January) and that's a start.

It won't be enough on its own, though, and with the club due back in court on 12 January to face another winding-up petition from the taxman - this time for an unpaid bill by the club's parent company - I only hope it is not too late.

Quite simply, the club has about a month to find £4m or so in ready cash to pay off their tax bill, service their debts and get them through to the summer. If that can be achieved, the wage bill will then have to be slashed by about 70% to make the club self-sufficient once more.

The scary thing is that nobody is talking about administration as a serious option. Who would fund it? How much money could an administrator extract from the business to meet current liabilities? There are only so many times you can sell Bradley Wright-Phillips and Craig Noone.

It's not like the board weren't warned, it is right there in their most recent accounts: "Current liabilities exceed current assets by £3.1m...these conditions indicate a material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt over the company's ability to continue."

So I'm sorry to spoil everybody's Christmas but what's happening at Argyle is an outrage and everybody involved in football in this country should feel angry about it.

As well as my blogs, you can follow me when I'm out and about at http://twitter.com/bbc_matt

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    who owns the Ground? Am I right in thinking it has been separated from the club and is owned by some of the directors, who will in turn be walking away soon?

  • Comment number 2.

    Jethroupatree, as far as I'm aware, the stadium hasn't been sold to the holding company yet. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong.

    I'm willing to hazard a guess that more than half of the teams in the football league have had these sorts of problems, proving just how unsustainable the football business model is. Just a few years ago, Deloitte awarded us with the honour of being "best run football team in the country", or some such. The team wasn't exciting and results were mediocre, but we were surviving in the CCC, and breaking even. Then the clownish supporter element begged for a premiership push. Also, the team started to struggle. In desperation, the frugal model was abandoned, and now look what's happened.

    Stapleton is far from blameless in all of this, but I'd have the 2005 days of break-even CCC mediocrity back in a jiffy.

  • Comment number 3.

    Anyone wanting to find out more about the Argyle Fans' Trust that Matt Slater mentions can do so by visiting http://www.argyletrust.com/

  • Comment number 4.

    Good question! Home Park is still owned by the club but only because a deal to transfer it to a subsidiary called Home Park Properties Ltd fell through. No real explanation has been given for why this didn't happen. The original plan was for the club to lease the ground back from HPPL. But HPPL itself would be controlled by another newly-created company, Mastpoint Ltd (owned by Gardner, Todd, Kagami and a US investor). The idea here being to raise finance for a massive redevelopment of the site (hotel, conference centre, student flats etc) underpinned by the prospect of World Cup football in 2018, major concerts, Premier League football etc etc. The revenue projections for this plan were, shall we say, very optimistic. They also depended on land the club doesn't actually own (the council does) and on a very sympathetic stance on planning permission from the council (unlikely as Plymouth doesn't need student accom in that part of town, the council already has a massive leisure investment next door to Home Park, restrictive covenants of use on the whole site and so on and so on).

    So as I said above, the Home Park property play was no Highbury-Emirates masterplan.

  • Comment number 5.

    Thanks for info, Matt.

    Personally, I'm glad the sale hasn't gone through. The thought of our board of parasites stealing the stadium from us was beyond contempt. Scant consolation, though; if we are to survive, I think a stadium sale will be our only option. Those bemoaning us purchasing it for around £2 million several seasons ago may well be made to eat their words if its sale saves the club.

  • Comment number 6.

    Out of curiosity how many fans are they pulling in on any average week ? And didn't they have some grand plan to spread the brand in Asia, or did that completely go out the window with relegation ?

  • Comment number 7.

    As a supporter of Argyle for over 40 years I'm devastated at what the current Board have done to a club with a long and proud, if undistiunguished history. If we go out of buisness it will be a tragedy for the players, the manager, the club staff and the fans, all of whom deserve so, so much better.

    Can I use this forum to appeal to any potential white knights out there, please, please, don't let our club die. 30,000 fans at Wembley for the 1996 play off final and a catchment area of at least 500,000 people shows the potential that exists.

  • Comment number 8.

    Familiar tale I'm afraid. I'm sorry for the cliche but it's the fans I feel sorry for in this. People are over optimistic when it comes to success in football - over borrow - let alone overspend and then the fans are left with a club up to debt to it's eyeballs.
    The fans deserve better.

  • Comment number 9.

    The fact is, more is revealed in this blog about the club than the board tell us themselves. I think it's an utter disgrace the mess this club is in considering a few moons back we were thinking about FA Cup semi-finals and PremierLeague football.

    Yes we got relegated and it was a massive downer for all. But we're at that stage now that it's nothing to do with football anymore and instead sounds more like the Greek economy.

    Great blog Matt, and as a firm supporter of Plymouth Argyle football club I shall champion this blog on my own blog, my facebook, and my Twitter http://www.twitter.com/ChrisPJMartin

    Thanks you.
    Chris

  • Comment number 10.

    I hope things work out for Argyle, traditional football club who need support!

    http://www.inofftheghost.wordpress.com

  • Comment number 11.

    One day someone will wake up and realise that these are football clubs and not money making machines. I really hope the supporters trust can make something work.

    Look up the A38 a bit to Exeter and see a club that hit (almost) rock bottom, went down to the Conference and now, run by a supporters trust, are climbing their way back up in a sustainable manner. The hope is that they now don't get ambitions above the gates they can sustain.

    Does the fit & proper person test apply to the football league ? If not, why not ? If so, how has this Japanese person been allowed to take over the last football league club in Britain - there are no more league clubs for the next 85 miles further south west to Lands End.

  • Comment number 12.

    As an Exeter City fan, I hope Argyle doesn't go into liquidation. We've been through the nightmare that they're now facing, and I wouldnt wish it on any club, even our friends in green.

    I know it won't be easy, but I think they need to look at City as a good example of how best to run a club. Owned by the supporters and run by people who have a real affection and affinity with the club, we've gone from the Conference to our current position of upper table League 1.

    In the process, we've only ever paid out for one player!

    If you look at the last game against Sheffield Weds, the club asked supporters to help clear the snow from the pitch, and the supporters involvement meant that ours was the only game that remained on in the whole of L1 and L2... and the team rewarded us with a 5-1 victory!

    I really believe that a club is more than a business, and represents the community... and I hope Argyle fans use this as an opportunity to buy out there club and do what we did.

    There's nothing like going to a game and being able to sing "we own our football club"

  • Comment number 13.

    Matt,

    Not a supporter but always been my second team - I think your article was interesting. The original consortium that took over Argyle from McCauley contained Peter Jones - I believe the son of a local school teacher and succesful businessman. When he went, and I believe he was instrumental in Michael Foot getting a shirt, so did a lot of intelligence, decency, nous and love of Argyle. The idea that the club was being run by basically old fans died with him, and later Phil Gill's departure. Now it looks like a mess to me. The overriding impression is of financial motivation above and beyond the good of the club. The final nail for me, and I have not been to Home Park since, was the handling of stalwart Paul Wotton. Disgraceful I thought and illustrated the move from a great story built around loyalty, work rate and honest endeavour to something less enthralling.

  • Comment number 14.

    Good article Matt although sad to read. I hope we can emerge positively out of this.
    Would be good to hear some positive noises from any of the directors but they seem to be hiding away in shame at allowing this to happen.

  • Comment number 15.

    SJyelsnyA, who would want to spend £2m on a stadium unless they're going to make some good rent on it? As a taxpayer in the area, I'll be darned if I want to see the already skint council stepping in to bail out the club.

    A white Knight may well emerge from the shadows, but be careful that it's not a vulture looking to pick off the remaining assets of the PAFC carcass!

    There is one very simple fact about football, and that applies to pretty much every level.

    There is more going out of it, than there is coming into it.

    Players pockets are like black holes and the wages that many earn in comparison to the size of the business they are working for, just don't add up.

    Something drastic will need to be done at some point, as the figures just don't add up and it will all be FUBAR before we know it!

  • Comment number 16.

    Even though I am an Exeter City born and supporting lad, can I just wish the Argyle all the best in their fight against the parasitic money-men. We know a thing or two about this situation, what with the lunatic board of Spoon-benders, Jedi and, well, whatever he was. The Green Army is a vast diaspora, as I have witnessed in the USA and even in Afghanistan. Follow the model set by Exeter, mobilise your supporters, and TAKE YOUR CLUB BACK.

  • Comment number 17.

    Pleased to see Matt is blogging on Argyle's current plight. I'm sure this will bring the serious problems at Home Park to wider attention.
    With regards to Mr Kagami, I do believe the club's chief operating officer Tony Campbell when he said Kagami only ever wanted to be a minority shareholder and remain low key. Unfortunately for him, circumstances decreed that he was the only director able to buy out another director who wanted to leave the board, and consequently became a majority shareholder but he still has no interest in running the club. He still owns 'only' 38% of the shares (as opposed to over 50% on his own) and has already been forced to invest more money than he ever wanted to into Argyle. Gardner and Todd have, I feel, completely failed in their duties to the club. Not saying Kagami is blameless of course, and he has responsibilities he must meet, but I wouldn't cast him as the villain of the piece.

  • Comment number 18.

    Very worrying read for the future of Plymouth

    Matt, I remember reading your excellent and informative blogs about the Portsmouth situation earlier in the year, and I think I can recall you saying how the HMRC were going seriously after football these days and were challenging the football creditors rule - by the way how are their debts to football creditors?? - and how that there was likely to be another casualty in the future.

    I suppose one grace Portsmouth had was that they did have a couple of players that other clubs wanted so at least could generate some money - Smith, Wilson. I'm not sure who Plymouth have who could do this?

    And the other thing with Pompey is that their owner put them into administration, appointed Andronkou who proposed a CVA (which HMRC opposed), but that's not happened or seemingly on the way at Plymouth.

    Very worrying to hear that theres no comment or even sight of the men in charge at Plymouth - who on earth would be fighting for Plymouth in the courts / in getting money raised??

    Also really bad that Peter Reid is funding the heating himself - that surely can't continue for the simple reason that he doesn't have a bottomless pit, and apart from that why should he?. But the thing is they need the heating at this time in order to get matches on as no game = no matchday income.

    Finally, off topic, as a Spurs and Shrewsbury fan - how is David Button doing? We had him last season in division 2 and I was very impressed.

    Good luck Plymouth fans

  • Comment number 19.

    Interesting that Matt has unearthed more of this sad story than the Plymouth Evening Herald has managed over the last 5 years or so. It all started to go wrong when Peter Jones and Nic Warren left. I think they were tired of having to constrain Stapleton who, almost from Day 1 as Chairman, wanted the club to buy neighbouring Plymouth Cricket Club. When Jones and Warren moved on he was free to pursue his property development ambitions.

    It was Stapleton who pushed through the acquisition of the Home Park freehold from the council (something Jones and Warren had opposed) and so the course to oblivion was embarked upon, despite umpteen people warning him what was likely to happen. Stapleton sold the best team Argyle has had post war to help fund his purchase in much the same way that Luton Town sold their Championship level team a few seasons back (Ian Holloway quit as a consequence). Stapleton simply ignored the warnings about what would ensue if he neglected the team.

    The people who have jumped on the bandwagon since haven't helped. Pity. Some of us thought that Gardner might be a steadying influence but Stapleton is still at the club, as Vice Chairman, apparently untroubled by the money he has already made out of Argyle's plight (by selling a stake to Kagami who must now realise he was sold a pup). Todd seems to be out of his depth and drowning fast.

    And now anybody who has money and an interest in Argyle is reluctant to help because the financial strcutures are all so dodgy looking and complicated; something like 17 companies have apparently been set up. Who knows what for? To an observer it's just a complete shambles but to a fan like me it's nothing but a disgrace.

  • Comment number 20.

    Awful to read about yet another set of lower-division football fans being shafted by the money-making aspirations of their club's owners.

    Fingers crossed from this Leyton Orient supporter that ARgyle come through this and can continue in some form, even if a further drop down the leagues is the outcome.

  • Comment number 21.

    Thanks Matt for a most illuminating article; sadly, the local press hasn't really done much by way of digging into the background behind the mess that is currently PAFC. I suppose they have a hard job balancing their unofficial role as PR agency for the club with genuine investigative reporting. After reading this I am genuinely fearful for the future of the club I've supported through thick and (mostly) thin for over 40 years. Most of the comments about the current board I support; however let's not forget the previous manager Paul Sturrock, wildly successful in his first stint at Home Park, was conspicuously less so in his second and wasted considerable sums on transfers and wages for inferior players from the dire Scottish Premier League. This was extremely odd given that he'd been quoted previously as saying any team from the Championship - any team! - would have no problem finishing third in the SPL. So, not all the fault of the suits then.

  • Comment number 22.

    I'm sure there is someone out there who knows this, but how many football clubs are currently on winding up orders with HMRC? How many have there been over the past 12 months?
    It really is time that the Football hierachy stepped in to curb the business practices of football clubs in general. Extortionate players wages & bonuses, rip-off agent fees, unsustainable business models & ridiculous, unrealistic future planning are all to blame for the state of the British game.
    In this time of austerity, it is time to change.

  • Comment number 23.

    @Holdthosecuecards

    I think you missed the point I was making. We purchased the freehold to the stadium for around £2 million. The holding company was in line to purchase the stadium for around £7 million, which is more like its true value. I was stating that those who moaned when the club purchased the freehold for 2 million might be made to eat their words if it is the profit from the potential stadium sale that saves the club.

    You're right though, in that the stadium will most likely be sold to a disingenuous businessman who'll charge us an extortionate rent. Selling the stadium to save the club is all well and good, but it means that next time the club goes into financial freefall we'll have no assets to fall back on. One only has to look at Rotherham and Brighton and Hove as examples of a worst case scenario following stadium sale. Where on earth would we temporarily relocate to if made homeless? Exeter, most likely. What a thought!

  • Comment number 24.

    As a Watford fan I can sympathise. We have been there twice and both have come from the ambitions of a combination of manager and board with the belief that they are the ones that can do it by spending their way upwards. The result is excessive spending on players and ludicrous wage bills. Controlling costs is vital for small clubs and these costs have to be within the achievable income. The lunacy of the premier league and the supposed riches thereof is a destructive influence. This is aided and abetted by some players and their agents. Long contracts on high wages are diastrous. We have cut our wage bill but we still have two highly paid players who we can't play (and probably wouldn't want to anyway) but who we are paying substantial sums to in wages.
    However, the ambition of fans is also a major issue. Calls for "ambition" are very dangerous and fans never want to take part of the blame. Boards need to resist but the problem is that not everyone can be top and often significant numbers of so called fans will vote with their feet. Perhaps entertaining football and mediocre results might just be the best for most clubs. Beware the sugar daddy you court may be the agent of destruction!

  • Comment number 25.

    SJyelsnyA, agreed.

    Whilst a stadium can be considered an asset, in the current environment it's only worth is the land it's built on which doesn't bode well for the club. You might well end up with the council coming to the rescue and providing you with a long term lease in the same way Exeter do.

    Don't worry, we'll charge a reasonable rate for use of our ground, just clean up all the green after you.

    Actually, as a matter of pride, I wouldn't be surprised to see you approach the Chiefs first if it ever came to that.

    I'm struggling to see how the cash can be raised by player sales at the moment, so it does look gloomy.

    I hope to god that Ridsdale doesn't get his mitts on you!

  • Comment number 26.

    Yep. This article ticks all the boxes. Sadly, however, it will go unnoticed. As will Argyle. If they do go into liquidation, it will mean nothing to the majority, who will blindly carry on until it happens to THEIR team, and the broadsheet press will STILL fill their pages with big colour pictures of Premiership games when they should be helping to level the playing field for clubs in the lower divisions; the Guardian/Observer believes that football consists of the Premiership, and London clubs playing in the Championship; it doesn't even cover League One or Two games. Argyle have the misfortune to exist in a relatively poor financially geographical area, and have pumped money into a structure without considering the lack of free money in this area; especially during times such as these, and asking supporters to return time and again to watch highly-paid "stars" who have little or no interest in the history or reality that is Argyle. Sturrock was successful because he had financial support from the Board, and knew enough about the level we were playing at back then to create a team of non-stars who were able to think and act as a team. Reid - I believe - is on the same path. But he hasn't got the time, or the Board he needs to accomplish the feat. I wish the Trust well, but can't help think it's too little, too late.

    Peace

    Lyndhurstman

  • Comment number 27.

    Lets hope the new FA Chairman will sort out these sorts of problems that clubs continually get themselves into. I thought that every club had to show that they had enough money to get themselves through a season!! If this is right then surely the FA should come down very hard on the directors of the club and possibly stop them being directors of football clubs for 10 years or more.

    It's always the fans that get the heartache and worries. Why haven't directors sorted out contracts for players that mean if they go down a division then they take a cut in wages or bonus's. Also when will clubs stop paying stupid amounts for players and also putting money into the hands of agents. Lets hope more clubs are like Blackpool who have refused or paid very little to them.

    I hope Plymouth survive as a fotball fan.

  • Comment number 28.

    With the exception of the last decade, flying high in the Championship, Plymouth always have been - and always will be - a fairly small club.

    Their owners (and those of their fans who don't get it) need to see the club for what it is.

    And act accordingly.

    Mid-table in the Championship *is* success.

    Staying clear of League 2 *is* success.

    And staying solvent (or rather, returning to solvency) *is* success.








  • Comment number 29.

    So, that could be the football team gone, possibly followed by the airport and then maybe the dockyard............ Plymouth RIP.

  • Comment number 30.

    @ The Midland 20.

    True. All of it. We HAD stability, but lost it. The Board (especially this one) have a lot to answer for. The only influence the supporters have had up to now is withdrawl of their financial commitment. Now they are exercising it in response to two seasons of indifference by the Board, who were ENTIRELY focused on the WC Bid. Fiddles and the Immolation of the Italian capital, anyone?

    Peace

    Lyndhurstman

  • Comment number 31.

    Er, professional football doesn't stop at League 2 / Div 4.

    "Whether the directors are embarrassed, in denial or out of their depth, the conclusion is the same: the Pilgrims are floundering and if things don't change fast we could be looking at English professional football's first liquidation since 1992."

    So this statement is rubbish, I give you Halifax Town, Telford United, Chester City. Wimbledon went bust and morphed into MK Dons and AFC. Ilkeston Town and many others slightly down are still by any standards 'professional' clubs, i.e. most players on f/t contracts.

    Pro football goes way beyond League 2, Matt.

  • Comment number 32.

    Right, it's almost Crimbo time but before I go some replies (in reverse order):

    Nick_Hove_Actually (27) - Couldn't agree more. The situation at Plymouth is a consequence of years of "light-touch regulation" & general Wild West behaviour. Money pours in through the front door and barely touches the sides before it is wheeled out the back by players & agents. I still hope the FA/PL/FL will eventually realise this and massively tighten up the regulation of the game...but I wouldn't put any money on that happening.

    lyndhurstman (26) - I hope you're wrong and now is certainly not the time to give up. Argyle fans need to get organised and start making lots of noise. A city of Plymouth's size needs a football team and the council knows it. Apply pressure wherever possible, work every lever, call on the Devon diaspora!

    Hold those cue cards (25) - It's funny you mention the council riding to the rescue. I'd say that was probably the best-case scenario but I fear it is unlikely. Does Plymouth City Council have £3m sitting around in the bank account? I'm told they sold the bus company not long ago but recent budget cuts have placed real pressure on local gov. And even if they could buy the ground back, could they do it in time to save the club?

    John of HWycombe (24) - Absolutely, and this is why relegation (particularly from Ch'ship to L1...no parachute payments) is a killer. Plymouth's position, however, is made worse by being a relatively big payer in Ch'ship in 1st place. Their wage bill is nearly four times Oldham Athletic's!!!! And it's not just the players. The coaching staff are on top-end Ch'ship money even now. Clubs have to start putting relegation clauses into contracts and generally incentivising pay a lot more. And if they don't (because they're worried they'll be at a competitive disadvantage) the FA/PL/FL must make them!!

    SJyelsnya (23) - Whole HPPL/Mastpoint situation v opaque and I warn all clubs to think long and hard about separating club from ground...particularly if you've just brought them together again! The 2007 deal with the council was a pretty good one and the debt to Lombard isn't really the problem. It's the subsequent mortgages on ground, PA system (!) and season ticket sales that worry me...not to mention the money wasted on the whole 2018 project, including fancy pitch that club still hasn't paid for!!!!

    Whiteoutloud (22) - Funny thing is, this season was actually going quite well on that front (compared to last few), and then we had Sheff Wed and PAFC in space of a month. Last season was a disaster. Pompey, Southend, Cardiff, Preston and a loads of non-league teams.

    Gazzathegreen (21) - Interesting that you bring up Sturrock pt2. It's a subject that has divided opinion amongst those I've spoken to in last few weeks. All agree that first stint was the very best of times, but some say the second coming was a disaster and lay portion of blame for current troubles at PS's door. Others, however, say the rot had started and PS has carried the can for the directors. He clearly made a few bad calls in the transfer market but I'm reliably told that the contracts won't all his doing, including a couple of controversial ones. He also, it has to be said, was struggling a bit with his health at the time.

    macgreen (19) - The role played in this by Paul Stapleton (vice-chair) is very interesting. On the one hand you have a local guy who seems to genuinely care. But on the other you've got a long-standing director/shareholder who has presided over the club's steady decline. I've tried to talk to him and he would only say they're all working very hard to find a solution and might have some good news soon. He sounded pretty spooked to me.

    mtrenners (18) - HMRC is gunning for a football club. It's as simple as that. They are convinced that Plymouth, and other clubs, are using money meant for the public purse as working capital. It is therefore their duty to take legal action to get what's owed to them (ie us) and prevent insolvent companies for running up further debts they cannot pay.

    Jon H (17) - The whole Kagami-Synan-Campbell nexus is really hard to fathom. As far as I can tell, Synan is an old business associate of Campbell (a local Plymouth businessman and Argyle fan). They've had dealings in Far East. Synan, an interesting character who went to live in Japan straight out of high school, works for Kagami. He's been involved in coffee shops, property etc but none of these businesses have been spectacular successes. Kagami comes from money but he's no Abramovich. His main business is importing second-tier US food brands to Japan. His brother, on the other hand, has done very well for himself as he owns the Disney franchise in Japan. I think Campbell sold Synan a dream, Synan whispered in Kagami's ear, Kagami spotted a chance to do something that would delight the family/grab headlines. Unfortunately, due diligence was negligible (work permits for Japanese players???) and Kagami has had to throw good money after bad. But for how much longer?

    Right, that's enough for now. Try to enjoy Christmas but then get yourselves mobilised to save your club. Don't forget, this could be an opportunity. And don't be too proud to look at Exeter City for guidance!!!!!!

  • Comment number 33.

    It looks like the same Keith Todd that wrecked ICL so badly that it became a absorbed into Fujitsu and all the Intellectual Property (of which there was a lot) either got p**sed away or sold at bargain basement prices?

    I think it would be interesting to add up how much ahareholder value Todd and he predecessor at ICL Peter Bonfield destroyed in their reigns as Chief Execs at a number of businesses. It's just a shame that Todd has to be part of destroy Argyle as well.

  • Comment number 34.

    Having just seen my club on the brink, I know how it feels for Plymouth fans. Fortunately we were rescued at the last minute and can look forward tentatively to better times under Mandaric - We'd have been doomed if it wen't for him and it is still a long way back

    I wish you all the best.

  • Comment number 35.

    Fantastic blog Matt. Die hard Argyle fan that i am its painful to see the club unfold like it has been for a couple of years now. At present this all seems to be being played out in the media. well researched article, yo have obviously done your homework. Thank you for bringing it into the public domain once more where our 'silent 7' (directors) are shamed.

  • Comment number 36.

    A really great piece, but very depressing.

    All this is very sad in the year Michael Foot, a great Argyle fan.

  • Comment number 37.

    I was a young Bootneck based in Plymouth in late 80's/early 90's and used to go and see Plymouth a fair bit. It would be a huge shame considering the catchment area to see the city lose their club.

    Having said that, I've watched games all over Europe; Dresden, Berlin, Naples, Milan, Barcelona, Paris, Hamburg, Zagreb, Belgrade, Bucharest....but I've never seen an idiot minority as idiotic as I used to see at Plymouth. Ripping their own stadium's seating up, attacking and abusive to their own stewards. That's my main memory of watching Plymouth play.

    For those muppets they deserve nothing less. For the vast majority of real Devon football supporters I hope it works out ok.

  • Comment number 38.

    Dan MacCauley

  • Comment number 39.

    Cracking blog Matt.

    All the best to you Plymouth fans in trying to raise the money and getting a good foundation for the future of your club.

  • Comment number 40.

    I know that this might be a bizarre thought but go back to the twenties. Argyle finished second in League Three six times in a row, when only the top team got promoted. Many thought that the reason was that it would be a disaster to get promoted, they could not afford League Two, so second was good enough.

    All these years later they have been proved correct, Argyle over-reached themselves, Plymouth is poor, the westcountry is poor, it cannot afford higher status. Michael Foot, who recently died will be weeping in his grave over all this.

  • Comment number 41.

    As an imported Argyle fan, the issues are fundamental. Argyle are the potentially the biggest club in it's area, with a catchment area other clubs would dream of. For a 'community' club, it lacks a community who will support it thru thick and, more importantly, thin times. Look at the clubs at Yorks (Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford,) Northeast (Newcastle, Sunderland, Middlesboro) etc. These clubs all have had a recent history of dropping down divisions yet still maintain gates of near 20,000 plus, despite having successful clubs nearby. Argyle does not have this excuse. The first thing any team in lower divisions needs is money thru turnstiles. If the community does not turn up, whose fault is it?? Its sad to see a club of Argyles potential being threatened but I can't help feeling.........who is really to blame. Argyle have done significant work for the city and its community, maybe the community needs to pay back in kind...........by attending games thru thick and thin!! I personally would not plough money as an investor (if I was fortunate enough to be in a position to) into Argyle as I do not believe the community back the club as much as it says it does. The ones I really feel sorry for are the diehards, who turn up without fail week in and week out because I fear they are heroically trying to support a club that the local area is not interested in supporting. If the community are as upset as they say they are, I would say shut up and put up, go to the games, support the team and help them by doing what supporters should do in the first instance, pay to watch your team. Then maybe, just maybe, Argyle has a chance to do a Leeds or even better........a Blackpool. Stop it, I'm dreaming again!!

  • Comment number 42.

    A few points,
    - Why should Yasuaki Kagimi fail the "fit and proper" test? It is there to filter out known total disasters like the man in charge when Chester bit the dust. How *he* passed the test is another matter.
    - Plymouth are probably in too deep for this but Bournemouth are fighting their (our) way out of debt with a chairman whose pockets are not particularly deep but who is not afraid of hard work. Of course it helps that the team is doing well on the pitch. Stapelton looks to be your best candidate but I don't know if he is good enough or has the power to implement what needs to be done.
    - I thought Ian Holloway left because he wanted to be in charge of a larger club, Leicester's gates are historically around twice Plymouth's and they normally play a division higher. Of course he was sacked there and is now back with a smaller club.
    - Talking about Todd, ICL used to live on government contracts. Thatcher killed that cosy relationship and they had to find a larger company to take them over. Consolidation happens, look at DEC (a far larger company), Wang, Nixdorf or a lot of other companies.
    - Are clubs *allowed* to put 'relegation clauses' into contracts? I think the PFA have blocked that route, although they are standard in Germany (for example).
    - well done Exeter, and I hope they keep it 'sustainable'. Their natural place is a division below you, this is about as good as it gets for them.
    - best of luck, except on Sunday.

  • Comment number 43.

    I feel for the true Plymouth fans, but sadly they are not the only club that are feeling the pinch at the moment. Football Club's all over the country need to get there own houses in order. It's about becoming realistic and not demanding the dream.

    We can all dream of playing in the Premier League, but its another level, but its a level that can be achieved in the right manner. That has been proved by the likes of Burnley, Soke, Blackpool, West Brom and Wigan to name but a few. OK, the dream never lasted for some, but they are still here to tell the story, due to making drastic cuts and instilling a sustainable budget.

    For those clubs attempting to buy promotion, its a gamble that has so often failed, leaving the fans to pick up the pieces after money rich owners scurry away with what profits they can prize away out of the business for 'services rendered'. Portsmouth being a prime example of how owners came and went, taking out the corn, without putting any in.

    So what is the answer for club's teetering on the brink? It's not easy to answer, but if you have the time to do so; Slash your budget; Rebuild; Become sustainable; and the dream will follow.

    If not, then the dream will filter away, as will your club.

  • Comment number 44.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 45.

    A fascinating synopsis of an ogoing problem - with considerable objectivity. It leaves me with a key observation and question: If the Kagami motivation was as naive as Matt suggests, he was simply conned into investing money in an unknown club, with unknown potential in an unknown country. What was his UK arm up to? And, more important, where does this now leave him? Surely he has a moral responsibility to intervene - or was he just specualting to accumulate. Did he expect to buy a controlling interest and sit back whilst the revenue rolled in? Surely a successful businessman (even Japanese) must realise that he might have some further business involvement. Perhaps he is still largely unaware of what is happening to a club of which he knows nothing, in a City he has barely visited in a Country his compatriots tried to defeat by seriously mistreating prisoners of war.

  • Comment number 46.

    As with the other Exeter fans on this page, I sincerely hope Plymouth get out of this mess. We're rightly proud of the fact that we own our club, and I hope that Argyle take the same route to saving theirs. From a Grecian who is hoping to see you up at the Park in April.

  • Comment number 47.

    It seems as though I read this blog every month but with a different team. By the end of 2011 I wonder how many clubs will be in a similar position as Plymouth, Sheffield Wednesday (were), etc?

    One club will go bust in the next year -no idea who, but it's bound to happen - unfortunately

  • Comment number 48.

    Unfortunately, as has already been muted, the current business model for football in this country, and probably the world, isn't sustainable. Too much money at the top of the game, provided by companies such as Sky fail to ripple down the leagues.
    It sets a bad example for the lower leagues when players see the astronominal and quite frankly, obscene, wages that the "top" players receive.
    Too many agents causes distractions between clubs and players, and the whole football model becomes top heavy.
    The Exeter City model, where effectively the fans own the club, appears to be one of the ways forward. However, management by committee does have its problems.
    I own a part of, via the website myfootballclub.co.uk, Ebbsfleet United.
    We reside in the Blue Square South League and the club is effectively owned by the supporters.
    The model doesn't always work, we haven't reached a critical mass yet where we can feel safe beyond one season, but it's a start and shows what can be achieved when people get together.
    Good luck to the guys at Plymouth, but I must admit that I can't see many "Get Out of Jail"cards.
    Any White Knight who comes along now MUST pass the Leagues fit and proper rules, there are too many people in the game at present who I don't think do.

  • Comment number 49.

    Very well-informed blog. Mr Ridsdale conspicuous by his absence from the story mind.

    I wonder if those facts are entirely unrelated.

  • Comment number 50.

    Most fans and commentators are missing the point. Why would a Japanese property developer be interested in Plymouth? Home Park - wrong. Devonport Dockyard - right.
    Suppose all the nuclear submarine work moves to Faslane and everything else to Portsmouth. The american owners will sell the dockyard to a property developer and turn the area into the largest marina in Europe, together with holiday flats and infrastructure.
    That's why the Japenese are in Plymouth.

  • Comment number 51.

    I have to say that although I feel sorry for all the fans, it's about time that it was expected that football clubs should be saved by some wealthy benefactor because they're special. If the clubs can't run themselves properly, won't balance their books and can't (won't?) pay their tax bills on time then they should eventually be wound up like any other business would.

    About the only benefit of seeing a club go to the wall is that it might shock others into sorting themselves out.

  • Comment number 52.

    Sorry, made a typo above. I meant to say that it's about time that the expectation that football clubs should be saved from oblivion by some sugar daddy came to an end.

    Too much christmas food, messing with my head

  • Comment number 53.

    Sometimes it is for the better when a club doesn't move grounds! A lot of clubs lose their sense of identity...Have a read of this blog post I came across 'Identity Theft'!

    http://upper90magazine.wordpress.com/2010/12/19/identity-theft/

  • Comment number 54.

    The plunder of English football goes on. And yes - it matters that owners, even incompetent ones, are English. Other countries protect their clubs. Not ours. Perhaps we need a resurgence in scottish football. Any threat to arrangements north of the border from abroad is almost certain to prompt government intervention.

  • Comment number 55.

    Time has come to stop trying to solve football's ills on a club-by-club basis. A radical overhaul is called for.

    The government has set up a new enquiry. Time to stop being cynical and say it will achieve nothing. Time to get involved and make fan voices heard. First stop - people with the will and power to intervene (so bypass the FA!).

    There are enough people now who have faced the immanent demise of their local club to make the point that this is OUR game. It doesn't belong in the hands of absentee profiteers to whom the game of football is a mere add on to other sources of influence and income.

  • Comment number 56.

    As a Crystal Palace supporter who has suffered through two periods of administration in a decade, I would hope that there is a group of financially sound Argyle supporters who can put together a responsible ownership group and rescue the club. I am fed up reading about people who see football clubs as a way of feathering their own nests and don't care a jot about the club or the supporters. Running a football club in England is more than just operating a business. That is what separates it from sports here in the USA. We have franchises, you have clubs. Yours is the better system as long as it is run the way it should.

  • Comment number 57.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 58.

    good ridance to the filthy crooks who have gone and may the rest follow shortly.

  • Comment number 59.

    Re the comments about Home Park Properties Ltd, don't forget that company was served with a winding up petition which was heard at the same time as the one served on the club (and for both of those they were given 63 days reprieve). The petition presented to the holding company was the third to be published in the London Gazette relating to Plymouth Argyle.

    As for government intervention, a report is due in May 2011 on football governance as part of an overall review of the finance of sport within the DCMS Business Plan. The plan states that between now and then the DCMS aims to work with football bodies to consider how best to improve football governance, including options to support the co-operative ownership of football clubs by supporters and publish proposals for improving governance in sport.

    To a certain extent that is strengthening the new governance rules which have been introduced by the FA, Premier League and Football League. In the meantime the formation of a Trust is a necessity and it will no doubt be working closely with Supporters Direct.

    Hopefully this won't be too little too late for Plymouth Argyle. I wish you all the best.

  • Comment number 60.

    "It costs a fortchunne supportin' Plymith Org-ayl.............Newcastle away t'day.......that's a roight ol' poke, innit??"

  • Comment number 61.

    So....Mr. Ridsdale is officially an 'advisor'. Thank gawd they didn't use the term 'consultant' as that would be the final nail in the financial coffin if he is paid vast sums to tell the club, the players and the fans something they already know! The cynic in me says "whats in it for him?", the benelovant bit of me (well it is xmas/new year) says he is the white knight that Argyle needs - and then I read the latest article on the BBC Sport website which says...

    'But Ridsdale is perhaps best known for his six-year tenure at Leeds United up to his resignation in 2003. The club ran up debts of £100m between 2000 and 2003 under Ridsdale and other former directors'.

    My heart goes to my boots, I fear the end like Plymouth Breweries, Dewdneys pasties, smell of fish in the Barbican etc. etc. Will my old mans league winners medals (he played left back for Argyle) be worth any more if the team disappears?
    Lets hope that scenario will not arise.......

  • Comment number 62.

    This whole World Cup bid was a disaster for Argyle from the start. A 46,000 seater stadium at Home Park? Come on, let's get real here,we would never have filled it. I've been a supporter for 37 years and I am disgusted and angry by what has hapened to my team. A financial carrot was waved to a group of business men who became our board in this sorry tale. Things didn't exactly pan out according to their plan and they were off like a rocket, leaving us in a hapless mess. An invisible board with invisible foreign investors with no interest in our team's history or future. I used to be proud to say that Argyle, my team, were in football terms, an award winning well financed run football club. But, a few years later, what in hell's name has gone wrong. Stapleton, being the man who has tried his best to command, rightly or wrongly, our wayward ship throughout must have the answers and could write a book which would make very interesting reading into the crazy boardroom world of football. He has though possibly grasped a final lifeline from his friend Peter Risdale, who, like the man or not, read my other comments on previous blogs, is the only man who has offered us some help. We have to have faith in Stapleton and Risdale to get us out of this state of oblivion. Keep the faith and support. Argyle till I die.

  • Comment number 63.

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