By Tony Attwood
If you want to know something strange about football then all you have to do is study the life and times of Peter Ridsdale, a man who has been associated with Leeds United, Plymouth Argyle, Cardiff City, Barnsley and currently Preston North End. The latter is particularly interesting since he has also been disqualified from acting as a director of any company for seven and a half years, after a company that he owned during his time at Cardiff City (WH Sports Group) went bust in April 2009, owing £442,353 in unpaid tax and VAT.
Or put that another way, if you are a citizen of the UK, he walked off with £442,353 of your money.
We’ve covered what he did at Leeds and Cardiff before, so I won’t go through the whole sorry story again. But here’s just one. He “apologised” after he “misled” fans when he offered season ticket sales for 2011 season early, saying that all money would be used to buy players. He then conceded that the money raised had been used on settling debts.
Now back at Prston, both Ridsdale and PNE claim that Ridsdale is not a director of Preston and doesn’t sign any documents within the club. He is, the club claims, an adviser to Hemmings on financial investment in Preston and that he has cleared his status with the Football League. One oddity is that there is no chairman at Preston FC although the club web site lists him as chairman. There is a deputy chair, one executive director and three non-executive directors.
He was at Leeds when they did their living the dream stuff in the Champs League semi-final and before the club suddenly collapsed with debts of more than £100m and most of the team unpaid for. That time HMRC were owed approximately £7m, but amazingly none of the directors were disqualified from being part of football.
Ridsdale told the BBC “I am currently undertaking a role of Chairman of Football at Preston North End but am not a director nor at any time have I sought to be one.” But people don’t have to be called chairmen to be chairmen or called directors to be directors – at least in British law. To avoid playing games with words the law incorporates the notion of the “directing mind”.
What is fascinating is that Ridsdale has had a series of odd misadventures with clubs – and while for most of us a disaster the size of Leeds United would be enough to have us hiding away in a rabbit warren in Tasmania, Ridsdale keeps on running up to clubs and offering to fix them.
The game seems to be that he sets up his own company which is then paid a lot of money by the football club of which he is the controlling mind, for providing services to the club. These events however are not disclosed to the company’s liquidator, who ultimately finds out what’s been going on through other means. This state of affairs is aided by the failure to file accounts with Companies House on at least three occasions. Meanwhile some actions seem to involve his wife, and she too has now been banned as a director.
The latest news from Preston is that Ridsdale is “Chairman of Football” which is outside the remit of the law in terms of debarring him from being a director. But the Football League’s regulations define a Director means as a person operating the powers that are usually associated with the powers of a director of a company incorporated under the 2006 Act (as a Company limited by shares or by guarantee).
But now it turns out that Ridsdale is employed by one of the companies owned by the Preston North End owner Trevor Hemmings, rather than by Preston North End itself which is as curious as why PNE would want a man with Ridsdale’s record in the club in the first place.
Responsibility for having Mr Ridsdale in football rests with the Football Association and the Football League and they are saying little or nothing about it. Instead Mr Ridsdale continues at Preston North End.
The point is also that Mr Ridsdale is not a one-off – the fact that it is so easy to manipulate financial matters in football, and that there are serious suggestions being made about the integrity of the game, and the possibility of using football as a means of money laundering means that every week we find more that suggests there is something terribly rotten going on in football.