By Tony Attwood
Way back, ten years ago in fact, the Daily Mail ran the headline (28 September 2006): English football ‘most corrupt in all Europe’
It was a theme Untold took up, but with a twist, for we have often argued that the corruption that is part of football is there not just because some people are corrupt, but because the bodies that control football (the FA and the League) are run by incompetent bunglers.
By way of example, three years on from that (Sept 2009) we ran the headline When the FA hand a corruption file over to FIFA you know football is out of control – a headline which has much more power now, since all our predictions from that era about Fifa were shown to be mild compared with the reality.
And as this little tale shows, that gross incompetence that is at the heart of footballing administration, is still there.
We ran a whole series on the issues of how money laundering has become a central part of the game of football in much of Europe, and then in 2010 ran British Football: corruption in progress which focused on Derby, Leeds, Barnsley and Cardiff.
It’s been a continuing theme. Last month the Telegraph told us that “eight Premier League managers were accused of receiving bungs in English football corruption investigation.”
Now Watford are being looked at after supplying a forged letter from their bank showing that the owner had more money in the bank than he apparently actually had. If found guilty Watford can have points deducted.
But as I will try and show below, that’s not the point at all. The point is how the deception was allowed to slip through the processes that are supposed to check such things.
This is not the first Watford run in with the authorities as their chief executive Scott Duxbury was found in 2007 to have “misled” the Premier League during the Carlos Tevez affair while he was at West Ham.
And it comes in a long line of incompetence all round (reminding me in passing of the time when Liverpool were up for sale and in 2010 revealed that “large foreign investors, from Syria” were ready to buy.
Of course that was at the time when George Gillett and Tom Hicks – two well known benefactors – had the club up for sale, and eventually the British taxpayer picked up the bill, owning the club via the state owned RBS bank. Those were the days when Portsmouth were just about surviving in court hearings and managed to set the new Football League record of four owners in one season and the tumble from FA Cup winner to League Two survivor.
The fact that corruption and incompetence goes on all the time means we become immune to the whole story. I mean, there is a limit to how many times one can write about Massimo Cellino at Leeds without losing one’s whole readership.
Or indeed about Venky’s “how hard can it be?” leadership of Blackburn. Just look at the revelations on 15 August this year about that club and you get a picture of what football is like these days.
Or remember Mr Richardson from Doncaster who hired two gentlemen to burn down Rovers’ Belle Vue stadium after his plans for a new stadium were rejected by the local council. He wanted to claim on the insurance and then sell the land for property development. (It went wrong when an ex-SAS man who Richardson hired as part of the arson plot dropped his mobile while doing the deed – corruption and incompetence).
Crooks and idiots in high places abound in English football – and to go back to Watford, it seems as if they created a letter which purported to come from HSBC, and related to the owner’s wealth. Only it didn’t come from HSBC, according to the Telegraph. Worse, no one at the Football League noticed.
The current Watford owners took over in 2012, and then signed 14 players on loan from the two other clubs they owned (Udinese – whom they bought after they were sunk by a betting scandal – and Grenada) and alerted those of us who look at such things that there might be something going on, by having six managers in three and a half years. Nothing illegal in that of course, but it is an indicator (think once more of Massimo Cellino).
I stress, a rapid turnover of staff is not proof of anything amiss – maybe they are just bad at recruitment. But all the way through this was executive chairman Raffaele Riva, and it seems it was (according to the Telegraph) Riva’s job to procure the bank letter to show that the new owners had the required funds to keep the club going.
Now Gino Pozzo has a spot of history, in that he was banned from running a club in Italy after being found to be involved in match-fixing. The tax authorities in Spain and Italy have also both been interested in Mr Pozzo and his family most recently in February in Spain. But that, of course, is not to say that he will be found guilty, or even charged.
And now we come to the odd bit. The Telegraph says, “Only two Premier League clubs have ever been docked points, with Middlesbrough losing three in 1996-97 for the unauthorised postponement of a fixture and Portsmouth nine in 2009-10 for going into administration. Both were subsequently relegated.”
So, only two issues in the history of the PL. Hardly much to bother about. Except…
As the Telegraph says, “There is nothing to indicate Pozzo himself had any knowledge that a forged HSBC letter had been obtained or submitted on his behalf, despite it allowing him to succeed his father, Giampaolo, as the club’s ultimate beneficial owner in the summer of 2014.
“The fabricated document states that the holding company which owns Watford, Hornets Investment Limited, had sufficient financial resources with the bank for it to issue “a cash-backed unsecured bank guarantee up to the amount of £7 million” during the 2014-15 season.”
But Hornets Investment has apparently never been a customer of HSBC, and the division of HSBC on whose headed paper the letter is written doesn’t deal with corporations.
Riva is quoted as saying he was asked to provide documents in 2014 when Watford was restructured, and asked a third party to do it. The newspaper then says, “Information received by The Telegraph indicates that the third party responsible for obtaining the letter admits to doing so but had no intention of it being used in any formal filing.”
And here we have the questions.
First, why create such a fake letter, if there was no intention of using it?
Second why was the fake letter then accepted by the Football League, WITHOUT ANYONE CHECKING IT.
Sorry I don’t normally do block caps, but really. What is the point of asking for this sort of letter, to confirm that an organisation has the required funds to be allowed to continue, AND THEN NOT DOING THE BASIC CHECKS TO SHOW THAT IT IS VALID?
Apparently an earlier letter showing Watford had the necessary funds was rejected by the Football League because it was out of date. Which suggests that the Football League’s entire compliance procedure amounted to checking the date on a letter.
The great tragedy in all this is not particularly Watford and a forged letter – it is quite possible that Watford had all the money but someone couldn’t lay his hands on the right letter that was required, and quickly knocked up a forgery. Wrongful, of course, but no suggestion that Watford didn’t have the cash.
No, the issue is that the Football League were so utterly, ludicrously, hopelessly, pathetically slipshod that they couldn’t be arsed to check even to the extent that Watford had an account with that bank, or that the division of the bank actually existed!!!!!
That, sadly, is the bit that is not really picked up by the media. That the people who couldn’t be even be bothered to make a simple phone call to check, are still running the Football League today.
All this comes after it has been made clear that the FA didn’t bother to check the background of Allardyce and the allegations against him, when making him England manager.
These are the people running football.
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