The gross incompetence of England’s football authorities exposed, once again

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.

Recent tales from Untold 

Wenger ponders whether Yaya Sanogo will ever really be good enough for Arsenal. 

Why the TV audience for football is falling, and what it means for the future of football

How are some of this summer’s big value transfers doing thus far? A case study

With a quarter of the season gone, how much value have clubs got from their summer transfer spending?

Inattentive journalists and pundits totally bemused by the notion of offside

Manipulative, misleading and ill informed: the debate over empty seats at the Ems

Arsenal – Middlesbrough : 0-0 too slow and not precise enough in the passing



7 Replies to “The gross incompetence of England’s football authorities exposed, once again”

  1. The eight managers haven’t yet all been named and are currently under investigation by the police who will then (and only then) hand any relevant info onto the FA to conduct their investigation. If the police decide to charge any of the eight then it’s likely that the FA will put their investigation on hold until the results of any criminal charges and resultant (if any) sentences decided.
    This could take years.
    In the mean time……..

  2. There are many situations where a document on headed paper is taken on face value. I don’t know the expected level of backup checks in this sort of case (perhaps they will be more than before), but the implications for using a forged documents should be extreme.

    If an employee exposes his employer to these implications and risks discrediting the whole business and all transactions which will now need to be revisited with additional checks the sanctions again should be extreme.

    The big question for me is what does it say about the parties involved and where does the buck stop.

  3. like u mention above Tony’ crooks and idiots in high places abound in English football, maybe that’s the main reason why the FA make a huge mess and really make themself look like real crooks and idiots wearing a suit when they appointed Big Sam as the new England manager. from the recruitment team up to people at the higher place who suppose to give instruction to investigate the allegation about Big Sam wrong doing and misconduct during his past managerial career at club level before they gave him the job. they must be aware of his BBC lawsuit threats and not only that’ he never faced charges for misconduct (allegedly bung taking) by the FA and he never followed up threats to sue the BBC. to make matter worse (comedy gold by the FA) and really make themself look like total idiots’ when Big Sam was caught on tape bragging about his skill on how to get around FA rules, the FA even rewarded him nearly half a million quid as a farewell gift. if this suit wearing crooks and idiots continued to be the head of football in England’ u really are doomed

  4. The guy who investigated FIFA for years was asked once why there were so many crooks in FIFA. His reply was something along the lines that sports administration always had attracted the incompetent and corruptible. “If you can’t do, teach,” becomes “If you can’t play, administrate”.

    With all the money sloshing around in football, especially our PL, it’s bound to attract the worst, be it gambling syndicates, bent and shady owners and crooked/incompetent administrators. And let’s not forget all the bottom feeders: agents, PGMOL, PFA who pay silly money to their top man, and not least the commentators and pundits who are paid silly money. Why manage a club when spouting garbage is so much easier and pays so much more?

  5. @Robert’ i completely agree with u about all the money available especially in PL and how all the gambling syndicates/betting companies, shady owners and corrupt/incompetent admins also all the bottom feeders and failed manager turned pundits or so call experts who nonstop spouting gibberish, they all want pieces of the pie. also another thing is, how come the authorities around the world become so blinded for so many years that they cannot see that since Sepp Blatter become FIFA president, all of their business dealing is based on bribery to the core. even when he was found guilty of bribery and corruption, he basically admit that’s how FIFA does business and see nothing wrong with it. that’s how rotten world football is of corruption and bribery. and as long as the same crooks wearing suit still hold all the power and stayed in place, it’s just gonna be the same. i guess some’thing will never change

  6. Your reference to “all the money sloshing about in football” raises an interesting question.
    From where has it all come?
    Pre WW2 professional footballers were paid over and above the national average but not that much over.
    Some players played cricket in the close season, while many took part-time jobs.
    The immediate post-war years saw no remarkable change……until the twin
    forces of commercial television(and advertising) and satellite broadcasting came (gradually) on the scene.
    A “licence to print money” some called it.
    And along the way came a ruling freeing players from bondage by their employers, which quickly spawned the “player power” we have today.
    Players’ wages steadily escalated to the obscene level we have today and transfer fees had to follow.
    And where there is money, there is corruption, generally spreading from the top downwards.
    You now have it in FIFA, UEFA, the FA and the infamous PGMOL.
    Managers have no doubt been “at it” for years, envious at their players’ riches.
    It is difficult to forecast how or when this monstrous “bubble” will burst but burst it will.
    In order to feed the beast, ticket prices at football grounds and all the ancillary charges foisted on captive attenders continue to rise (as frequently as new kit issues).
    One day, sanity will return to the most widely followed of sports throughout our world. 😉

  7. Ordinary fans cold maybe help a little by NOT GIVING ANY MONEY TO SKY! I watch any game I want to, and always have done, without ever having given a single penny to those scumbags.

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