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February 2021

Crooks and thieves have often destroyed football clubs, but fake news is the bigger enemy

by Tony Attwood

Remember Portsmouth. Cup winning team with a long proud history?

Remember Leeds being torn to shreds?  Or Cardiff?  Or if you really keep your eyes on such things, and to prove it is not just Britain, remember Malaga?

Or if you really, really follow football how about Chester City, Darlington, Hereford Utd., Maidstone Utd.   The list of clubs that went bankrupt is astonishing: Chelsea, Coventry City, Rangers, Leeds… and again to show it’s not just the UK – think of Parma if you want another one overseas.

Of course a club can get into financial trouble not just because it is run by loonies or crooks, but more often than not the owners are in one of those two categories – including the “trust me – I know how to do this” category of crook.

Sadly, quite often memories fade and history gets re-written.  Ask 99% of Arsenal fans for the names of the club’s greatest benefactors and they won’t be able to tell you.  Most of the names will be unknown unless they have studied the history of Woolwich Arsenal – although due to a range of negative publicity from rivals our greatest benefactor of all time is considered by some Arsenal fans who haven’t read their history to be a crook!  In fact he risked his fortune for the club, and when he left the club, left them as the greatest club in England.

And unless you have read the Woolwich Arsenal book I often mention, you won’t know how a bunch of 19th century toffs tried to oust the working men who set up and ran Arsenal in its early league days, seemingly on the basis that working men had no idea how to run a football club properly.

But returning to the present day, never ever has there been a case like that of Millwall in the past year – a case in which what appears to be at best a group of people who by their own admission were very lax in correcting errors and false impressions or at worst were an absolute collection of crooks and raketeers, nearly got away with persuading the local council to issue a compulsory order on Millwall’s ground.  Indeed a most senior member of the government seems to be implicated.  If nothing else many of the people involved failed to ask reasonable questions and failed to consider, “is this real, or is it just fake news?”

I come back to this topic not just because I have often covered issues on corruption and crooks in football on Untold, but because there are people who claim to be Arsenal supporters who without evidence suggest there is skulduggery going on in the Arsenal finances today.   For anyone who has eyes to read, this is what skulduggery and scheming really looks like.  And yes, it might all be just a set of mistakes and failing to correct misunderstandings, but the consequences could have been huge.

My topic is (as you will know if you have been following the tale) the Compulsory Purchase Order served on Millwall in which an offshore registered company Renewal attempted to persuade the local council to make the purchase order on Millwall’s ground –  a 20,000 seater stadium in Bermondsey, south-east London.  (Millwall used to play north of the Thames but moved south in 1910 to a new ground, three years before Arsenal moved in the opposite direction.  The current ground was built in 1993).

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The whole £1bn (yes one billion pound) project took the concept of either fake news or “lack of attention to detail” and turned it into a corrupt money making scheme.

Throughout the whole affair Renewal made a series of at best “not quite accurate” and at worst “totally fake and false” claims on funding pledges for their scheme, in order to get Boris Johnson, then the Mayor of London, now the UK’s foreign secretary and a man centrally involved in negotiating the UK’s departure from the EU, to give a £20m grant so what the Guardian calls, the “land-grab scheme” could go ahead.  The loan gave what turned out to be the fake project a vast amount of tax payers’ money and what the Guardian calls the “rubber stamp of authenticity.”

Now, at last, Sir Steve Bullock, head of the local council that was on the edge of approving the whole scheme and kicking Millwall out, has finally quit as a director of the sporting foundation at the heart of the scheme.  But that does not let him off the charge that he should never, ever have been in both camps.

It is easy to see all this as a little local difficulty – nothing to do with Arsenal etc – but given the odd way some people see Arsenal’s finances, and because I do care about football as a vibrant living entity, from grassroots to the Premier League, I think it is important.

We talk a lot about fake news but the whole housing zone bid application was nothing but fake news taken up (in my opinion, and of course it is only that) to a level previously only known by the government of North Korea. It even goes beyond “£350m a week for the NHS if we leave the EU” and other similar fake news tales of the last few years.

There was the endless, endless fake news story that Sport England had awarded £2m funding.  This was a perfect example of fake news in the sense that when repeated often enough people believe it no matter how much it is denied.   It is on the same plain as “change managers and everything will be better”.   The trick was the real fake news trick: Sport England was mentioned 31 times in reports as having “significant financial involvement” which it didn’t.  Fake news merchants surrounding Arsenal say, “Wenger out!” at the behest of TalkSport often enough and people believe it is obviously needed.

Next, Onside Youth, a young person’s charity of considerable repute, was called a “key stakeholder” and an organisation that was committed to funding.  This was yet another fake news story, put out as a press release and repeated over and over with many newspapers willingly and happily re-printing the tale without checking.

Of course both Onside Youth and Sport England wrote again and again to demand that the charity Renewal had set up as its front organisation, (Surrey Canal Sports Foundation), should stop this.  Yet a subsequent letter from Surrey Canal Sports Foundation stated “the foundation already has £12m in commitments from Sport England and the developer”.   Utter total fake news which was lapped up by the local media without checking.

Next, Renewal built another fake news story: that former javelin world-record holder Steve Backley MBE was a director of the Surrey Canal charity.  He was not.

In short it was all fake, or perhaps all said in error – I obviously don’t know which since I wasn’t there.  And yet Lewisham Council were ready to go with the scheme, and the £20m grant to the scheme was approved by Boris Johnson while Mayor of London.  All done without checking.

If you know your English fairy stories this is the Emperor’s New Clothes writ big.  Only one councillor, Alan Hall, played the part of the credulous child and refused to believe.

Sport England, the body that had enough wits about it to withdraw funding from the FA when their own fake news department made up tales about working on 3G pitches for local communities, have and have never had involvement in the scheme.  Of course they don’t.  They deal with the real world.

OK, I suspect very few readers of Untold have much of a warm word to say about Millwall FC but Millwall, almost totally on its own has suggested over and over that it was insane to have an inexperienced developer like Renewal take on such a scheme as this.   As a club committed to the area they have been in for over 100 years they expressed their willingness to be involved in a serious development scheme.

And yet deputy mayor Alan Smith ignored Millwall FC and signed off the housing bid document in March 2015, without even checking with Sport England and others that all the claims were true.

All everyone, the council, the Mayor of London etc etc, joined in for the obvious reason: in the age of fake news, everyone believes a story if it is told often enough.

Worse Lewisham Council prepared a “due diligence” report.   Due diligence now means, therefore, accepting what is said and not even checking on Google.  Apparently they did this because they knew Mushtaq Malik, CEO of Renewal, of old and thought he was a good bloke. PricewaterhouseCoopers prepared the report.   They didn’t check either although I must be cautious here since I don’t know if it was part of their remit to check.  Maybe it was agreed they would just write up what they were told.  If so, I’d have thought that’s not really the best use of their esteemed name.

A statement recently issued says,

“At no stage has Renewal nor the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation suggested to any third party that a legally binding funding agreement was in place with Sport England.  It has always been the case that numerous hurdles would need to be jumped and boxes ticked in order to turn the Sport England support into a concrete funding obligation. To that extent, neither Renewal nor the Surrey Canal Sports Foundation has had any intention to mislead anyone.

“However, Renewal acknowledges that it jumped the gun in referring to the clear support of Sport England in correspondence between 2011 and 2013 as a “pledge”. That was done in good faith, as that is how Renewal genuinely categorised the Sport England commitment – just like the £500K commitment from Lewisham, which is openly referred to as “a pledge”, but is equally subject to numerous hurdles, box ticking and full Mayor & Cabinet approval before turning into a binding commitment. In September 2014 Sport England emailed Renewal asking for the reference to “pledge” in an Energize brochure to be changed. Renewal accepts that it was slow out of the blocks in removing references to ‘pledge’ from the Sports Foundation website and ensuring that it was not repeated elsewhere, and Renewal apologises to Sport England for that.”

Remember the old phrase about eternal vigilance being the price of liberty.  Seems it might also be the price of keeping your football club.

Whatever the story, these days it pays to check.  Just in case anyone else has been slow off the blocks.

Arsenal History Books on Kindle

The novel “Making the Arsenal” by Tony Attwood which describes the events of 1910, which created the modern Arsenal FC, is now available for the first time on Kindle.  Full details are here.

Also available on Kindle, “Woolwich Arsenal: the club that changed football” the only comprehensive history of the rise of Arsenal as a league club, and the attempts to destroy the club, from within and without.   For full details please see here.

23 comments to Crooks and thieves have often destroyed football clubs, but fake news is the bigger enemy

  • Norman14

    The fact is that any government will only do what is best for their member/candidate and ultimately their party.
    Doing what is best for the people that they represent, who elect them and pay their overblown salaries and pensions, is way down the pecking order for them.

  • Freddy Uzambiana

    it really is over for wenger – this site seems to have given up on him now. Am i the only 1 who wants him to stay??

  • Mike T

    When Chelsea played Arsenal the other week the vast majority of the crowd that day were singing that they wanted AW to stay so you aren’t alone.

  • Stevegooner

    Mike T
    Weren’t singing it in September were they?

  • ossasa

    Is this the supporting Millwall site today . After a good result against Sutton things will be back to normal.

  • Mike T

    One swallow doesn’t make a summer as they say .

  • Ando

    Surely, that’s. .
    “…Alan Hall played the part of the INcredulous child and refused to believe..”

  • ossasa

    Anyone read Amy Lawrence today? Good piece on Arsene.

  • Vince

    On other news, about the United/Saint Etienne game

    – 2 goals from ridiculous (and obvious) dives from Zlatan
    – 2 red cards forgotten (Martial elbow on Malcuit, and Pogba arm swing into Veretout neck, both clearly deliberate)
    – Actually Martial even avoided a second yellow for a deliberate handball on a Saivet free kick late in the game

    I can only imagine how much the pundits would be screaming if that happened to Arsenal…

  • para

    The victims have to stand up and talk, is that not what we tell our children who are bullied to do?

    Talk the truth and accept the consequences, or suffer in silence.

  • Pat

    As always with Arsenal, this bad result has been played up as if it was the end of everything. It is not – we play again on Monday and I have every confidence that we will turn in a very different performance.

    There is a long way still to go this season and many matches to play. As Arsene Wenger always says, judge Arsenal’s season at the end. Not in February. I do not believe the magician has lost his magic.

  • Gord

    Clattenburg is gone! Off to richer pastures in the Gulf States. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out!

    Hopefully a bunch of other “select group” idiots also decide to get out. Maybe this will force some changes in that horrible organization that screws up officiating EPL games.

  • Gord

    It’s possible he can teach the officials down there something useful. As he has readily demonstrated in the EPL since the concert incident, his honour is gone. I hope he doesn’t do any officiating down there.

    As I mentioned above, time to get rid of more dead wood.

  • Brickfields Gunners


    Is there any truth in that Mark Clattenburg is to add on to his collection of body tattoos by having a ‘MIKE RILEY YOU CAN KISS THIS !’ , tattooed to his buttocks ? Tastefully , of course !

    Is that why he was seen ‘walking all funny’ , or could it be due to an injury to his Coccyx after being kicked out or pushed out of the shady PIGMOB ?

    Among the things that he would most be missing out in the UK , would be the attending of Ed Sheeran concerts . As it is now already well known , the powers that be in PIGMOB didn’t really appreciate his taste in music and was censured for this .

  • Brickfields Gunners

    As for those who just KNEW that Bayern would walk it , you should have all made millions by betting on it. Congratulations to all the new millionaires .
    A few more wins like this , and you’d be rich enough to buy out the present shareholders , and take over the reins and thence on to greatness .

    As for me , I just stick to thing that I know and am trained for .But then again , occasionally your get off the known path and bet for a sure thing .

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Saying it as it is .

    A woman arrived at a party . While scanning the guests , the spotted an attractive man standing alone . She approached him , smiled and said ,
    ” Hello , my name is Carmen.”

    ” That’s a beautiful name , ” he replied. “Is it a family name ?”

    ” No ,” she replied, “as a matter of fact I gave it to myself. It represents the things that I enjoy the most -cars and men .Therefore I choose ‘Carmen’.”
    “What is your name ?” she asked .

    He answered , ” B.J. Tits n’golf ! “

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Any ever heard of Leeds City ?
    -Leeds City Football Club is a non-league football club that was the leading professional club in Leeds, England, before World War I. The original club was dissolved in 1919 due to financial irregularities .

    – The harsh punishment was handed down mostly because of the behaviour of the club’s directors, who refused to co-operate in an FA inquiry, and refused to hand over the club’s financial records.

    ‘ Leeds City remain the only club to be expelled from the League mid-season, and the only ones to be expelled from the League due to financial irregularities…’

  • Why don’t we hear about Barcelona?! If clanttenburg goes on shifting sides in the US hmmm he better be prepared because those guys down there don’t give a f… As always we are sentenced even before hearing us out but we always persevere.

  • finsbury

    there are literally of hundreds of millions of rea$on$ why the Arsenal get a bad press from those who aspire to be like Alan Partdrige

    or from the saluting fans of Oligarch’s who don’t have the footballs required to admit in public upon other peoples forums how exactly their club conduct their business, (but they are very polite!)

  • Pat with respect we are playing Sutton , which my local side ” the Moors ” beat 3-0 last week . Mind you a draw would be great I could go and watch the replay .

  • OT But who was it that first coined the phrase ” Fake News ” was it Untold or Pres Trump and what else do they have in common apart from there distrust of the media

  • Chris

    Well, just look at Trump’s last press conference where he told a bewildered audience of White House reporters – who know their facts that he won the election withthe most electoral votes since Ronald Reagan. Just go check, he does not even come close third.

    Yet the guy utters a total lie, or, let’s be magnanimous, a total distortion of facts and sticks with it ?!?!
    And I’m not even talking of the rest….just this easily verifiable fact.

    Like the scheweppes add is saying : in these times, what do you expect ?