The whispers around Notts County and the volume they might reach

The bump to Earth of the opening day of the season 5-0 defeat to Notts County may have shaped the Bantams season but in eighteen days time the result may be wiped off the records.

The saga at Meadow Lane has rumbled all season with some great results on the field not being matched off it. The Munto Group turn out to be smoke and mirrors, Sol Campbell making a cameo, Peter Trembling buying the club for £1 and promising funding which never appeared.

Trips to the County Court to avoid winding up orders are far more common than one might have thought for a club that cherry picked the quality of the division at the start of the season and at the moment the club are subject to a HMRC 28 day settlement requirement. Ten days in and the proposed investments are still ethereal appearing in the mist but vaporising when attempted to be grasped.

Trembling – who now has eighteen days to find enough money to pay the debt to the Tax man as well as pay the £300,000 monthly wage bill – seems no different to most lower league chairmen running from pillar to post to try make ends meet – however – unlike his peers in Leagues One & Two the amounts talked of at County are needlessly large and inflated by greed.

Greed in the form of the way that players were recruited to “the project” – as Sven Goran Erikkson calls it – with Campbell’s recruitment seen as a poster boy for the needless expense. County’s progress to fifth in League Two from that 5-0 is eclipsed by Rochdale’s reported thrifty accent to the top of the division and a reminder to clubs like City who wanted last season to spend big for promotion that gestated teams more than expensive shopping is the better way to progress.

If County cannot find money for the Tax Man in just over two weeks they will apply for administration. A judge will sit and decide if creditors are better served by keeping the club going as an existing concern or if that protection would be a waste of resources. Typically the latter would happen if the cost of running the business – at least £300,000 a month for player wages in The Magpies case – are higher than the revenues which could be raised for creditors. Should it come to that day then Trembling will be hoping that player wages of £1.2m before a player can be sold in the transfer window can be realistically offset by a sale of the assets.

The near 150 year history of a club could come to an end if that judgement goes the wrong way, City’s defeat removed from the records, and football will once again face calls for credible regulation of the game, the owners and the finances.

And those calls will be whispers compared to the screams of this week, and no one will hear them.

Things start to fall apart at County

The 5-0 defeat to Notts County at the start of the season seemed like the first steps in a new Empire of football at Meadow Lane with the home team – Sven, Sol et al – inexorably rising through the leagues starting with a coasting of League Two. The Munto Group, funded in a Byzantine labyrinth of financial twists involving a “Middle East” organisation called QADBAK, were going to make a mark in sports starting with the oldest league club in football.

The Bantams were blown away by a set of very good footballers playing very well that day but that August afternoon seems increasingly long ago for the Magpies.

This week the Guardian released information to the effect that an investigation by Formula One into the QADBAK attempt to purchase the BMW Sauber team the findings of which seemed to be that QADBAK, Munto Group, County’s holding company Blenheim 1862 and First London all seemed to lead a trail back to a man called Russell King of whom the words “convicted fraudster” are often associated.

David Conn – the hero of football finance investigation – has spent months on unravelling this situation (and a similar oddity at Elland Road) and even his dedicated research has not been able to get to the bottom of the situation although his prompting has seen the Football League begin questioning County again.

County’s attitude to any questions on the people who own the club is aloof to say the least with head honcho at Meadow Lane Peter Trembling stating that “the people who need to know, know” when asked about the owners of the club who he characterised as “Middle East investors” that turn out to be based in Pakistan – not the Middle East – if indeed the location of incorporation of one of the many companies in the pyramid can be said to be a base. Trembling put down any queries or ill feeling County provoked as being a kind of sour grapes, as being jealousy.

One wonders what Trembling would say about Formula One’s rejection of the QADBAK money in their notoriously cash strapped sport. Hardly the stuff of envy the main reason that F1 sent QADBAK packing was because – well – they could not find any money at the end of the trail they followed and had more of a care over the sanctity of their sport than The Football League had.

The Football League took in whatever investment came into Meadow Lane with glee and welcomed Sven-Goran Eriksson to the lower leagues of the game with a level of investigation which they have twice felt the need to reopen. Sol Campbell walked away from County complaining that not much was happening to suggest that there was a revolution in progress and talk emerges that Eriksson might end up at Cadiz sharing his time between the two clubs should he be paid a few million pounds he was promised.

The worry – the worry when words like “fraudster”, “pyramid” and “no money at the end of the trail” start to be banded about is that at some point of putting sums between accounts then there will be a case where the cupboard is bare and the League Two all-star – assembled from the high earners of clubs like City and from the division above – would in short order find that the patience, the sympathy, the regard for football’s oldest club had gone. The adage of being nice on the way up because one would meet those people on the way back would come into force with the caveat that the rise had been – potentially – rather shallow.

Perhaps though the Formula One investigation has found one thing and another is the case. Perhaps County with the six figure debt winding up orders, the questions from Sven, the walking out of Sol and so on and so forth are simply a business who do business that way. Messy, but above board.

All of which concerns City little. County come again for a fourth game at Valley Parade after new year and will have the usual squad of quality players because unless the unravelling some see happening at Meadow Lane is more rapid than anyone could predict. Nevertheless though there will be an effect on the Bantams, and on everyone in football.

If – as doom sayers looking at the County situation would predict – everything at Meadow Lane build since the summer turns into a weight to drag the oldest club out of existence then the credibility of the game both in League Two and beyond suffers.

The attempts of clubs to raise money are hampered by another football failure and the integrity of the competition is damaged by the collection of Ben Davies, Graeme Lee et al assembled on what would be in this scenario false pretences unbalancing the league.

Moreover though such a situation demands questions of the footballing authorities and the Football League itself which at the moment seems to be less well governed than an organisation headed by Max Mosley and allows clubs to be bought and paid for with wind and ghosts.

Perhaps then calls for proper regulation of clubs, of owners and of the money in the game at this level might reach levels where they can not be ignored.

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