Mr Black with the spanner in the works
Bitter Gillespie gives his take on how Swindon Town got into this position; with an owner who wants out, a manager and technical team who resigned, but a team that’s siting proudly top of League One…
It seems a lifetime ago or more when Swindon Town was suffering its second administration, and these bleak dark days summoned the undertaker. Forever in the debt of Sir Seton Wills the club stumbled from one financial disaster to another. Forever led by Swindonian old boys done good, cowboys and crooks; and dark days have a habit of grabbing you where it hurts after Paolo’s resignation.
Yet dark shadows only appear where there is light from another source. If we cast our minds back we can trace the journey to this new point of Paolo’s resignation, a soothsayer would say he could see it coming. As the tale begins from from dark shadows but then appeared a consortium from the hallows of Savernake Forest and the rambling Wiltshire Downs where horses gallop and jockeys whip their hides, steaming in the early morning mist. There appeared grainy images of man in comfortable suits. There appeared a man called Andrew Fitton. From early on, I had always imagined him quaffing his 1963 Glenlivet in his comfortable slippers in his gleaming bespoke Harvey Jones kitchen, smiling at the common sense of his business plan. Andrew convinced himself his plan made sense, and he set about convincing others, but not before finishing the last Creamy Wild Mushroom and Thyme Tartlet.
As I imagine, the first to arrive was Jeremy Wray in his 1936 MG PB Airline Coupe, stepping out onto the Fitton’s gravelled drive in his chequered pink Ralph Lauren shirt, sniffing the country air with his characteristic wry smile. Their initial meeting confirmed they needed a larger cash injection than they could provide, plus a safe pair of hands. The safe pair of hands arrived in the guise of Nick ‘safe pair of hands’ Watkins. Immediately his safe pair of hands demonstrated their worth, when he instigated the call to J.T McGreiver and Son Undertakers, of Collingbounre Ducis. Just as J.T McGreiver Senior had finished measuring up and pricing the quote for the walnut and mahogany (whose invoice would only see 10 pence in the pound, at the most) at an address in SN1, Nick Watkins stopped them in their tracks. With the all clear, Nick, Jeremy and Andrew then squeezed into Jeremy’s 1936 MG and sped off to Henley-on-Thames, where by luck Sir Martyn Arbib was hosting post regatta hors d’oeuvre’s and champagne shindig where several ‘cash rich’ animals where present.
It was here that Andrew Fitton flashed his brilliance by convincing equestrian fanatics Sir Martyn and Mr Andrew Black that football was the game to invest in. O they laughed and laughed, for some considerable time, as Fitton was never usually one for such wit. Eventually they realised he was deadly serious. He sold them the idea of a ‘sleeping giant club’ in waiting. After wrongly guessing at 57 possible other clubs, Andrew gave up the jokes and laid it on the line. The sleeping giant was Swindon Town, that God foresaken sprawl just down the Hungerford/Marlborough road, where the bypass roads were built for a real purpose. O they laughed. They even remarked hysterically about the time when Willie Carson pledged his little jockey self to Swindon Town, and O they laughed.
“This is no pissing joke” exclaimed Andrew. He left them his plans and asked them to give him a call over the weekend, but they had to be quick. He went to leave and then realised he had lost Jeremy to the influence of Blow Pop Martini and the Crème Cassis and Champagne. It then became a lost weekend in Henley-on-Thames courtesy of Sir Martyn.
Sir Martyn and Mr Black mused over the plans and they did stack up; a sustainable business plan for a football club. Sir Martyn humoured Mr Black with a bet of £10 million that he would never invest in an unfashionable football club. Mr Black grasped the bait, placed a pantomime horse head over his torso and ran semi-naked round the grounds of Sir Martyn’s Italian sunken gardens. He arrived back to their table some 30 minutes later sweating and steaming like a Grand National winner and said, “Fitton you’re on”. Jeremy collapsed on his back, and Fitton immediately made the call to his lawyer to set the football rolling.
Mr Black spent many long nights thereafter, torturing himself over his decision and the faith he had placed in Andrew Fitton and his muskerteer’s assembled to take on this strategic investment mission. Piece by piece the plan was undertaken. It began by branding a new but bygone club crest and laying red carpets enblazened with this crest. Ties were made sporting the crest, pyjamas, slippers, and blazer badges. The new consortium communicated with the supporters and gave them little snippets that the club were moving forward. Those snippets would include programme stands, painted steps and lining the urinials with scented blossom (well the latter did not transpire), but nevertheless the supporters could scent a good sustainable future, for the first time since Bert Head.
Nobody was promising the Premiership, nobody was promising Glen Hoddle, Ossie Ardilles or Lou Macari. Of course they were right, as in stepped Maurice Malpas. Nice chap, and he looked so good in the comfortable club suit, tie and slippers. “O yes, there’s a lovely layered spring to this carpet,” remarked Maurice to Andrew. They consortium looked no further, they had their man.
Sensible salaries, no agent fees, no prima donnas, no frills, no hairdriers, gel and washbags. This was a sustainable business plan football club. “You’ll see your money back Mr Black” was the promise made. Sir Martyn and Mr Black even visited the County Ground to see a 6 nil demolition of Port Vale. Yet Jeremy had found Sir Martyn back in the lounge catching the Channel 4 racing in the 35th minute.
However as we know in hindsight and as we know with football, very rarely does a plan come to fruition. Of course Andrew realised this and after much soul searching he sacked his man, but he let him keep the slippers and a cut-off piece of carpet. So out from the cold of Hartlepool stepped Danny Wilson.
We need not look back too nostalgically but one tuft of mud possibly prevented the club promotion, and with it the heart of Andrew Fitton sunk to the floor the very moment the final whistle sounded. He knew to mount another promotion charge next season would need another cash injection to placate the now expectant fans. He knew the careful, methodical, logical, sustainable approach would be a hard sell, as fans could only be brought by carpets, slippers and ties for so long.
It wasn’t easy but in the bleak mid winter of the next season Fitton had to sack his second manager. This was not what was meant to be for sustainability can only be sought with consistency and stability; and now he had was breaking that rule of thumb. Meanwhile the social media feeds spread the names of who was in the running to save the club from relegation. Cue Paul Hart. Bugger!
Four days after the fateful fall into the bottom tier of the Football League Fitton resigned. The man who convinced Mr Black to invest a huge sum of cash was gone. The alarm bells were ringing in the Black residence, think of all the horses I could have nurtured, but instead I am paying for prima donnas to swan around with hair clips and alice bands.
Yet how were we to know that we were in for an Italian summer. Jeremy took over the steering wheel and in blew the most astonishing Italian through the door. It’s at times like this you can’t believe your luck. “Yes Paolo! Of course Paolo. I loved you at Upton Park Paolo,” gleamed Jeremy. Paolo spelt out his strategy, mission and vision, and there are times where you just cannot turn something down.
For a period of time Swindon Town probably had the best interim Chairman/manager partnership in its history. Except I fear they did not check out the financial details fully with their biggest benefactor. With each and every media extravaganza and with each and every player of extremely good terms and conditions that were pushed out of the door, Mr Black flinched in his chair whilst stroking his cat wryly. “This game needs to stop!”
Mr Black calmly lifted the phone to Sir Ernst Stavro Blofeld Patey. “I need you for a mission. Mr Black with the Spanner in the Works, we shall call it.” From that point the game for Wray and Paolo was up. Unless of course Paolo has the last laugh? As I have a feeling this story is just beginning.
And I haven’t mentioned horsemeat yet!