Hall of Shame #20: Simply the BEST (Holdings)
Five years ago, between July to October of 2007, Town fans were witnessing one of the most calamitous, bewildering and overlong sagas in the club’s history: Swindon Town + BEST Holdings equals our 20th entry into the Swindon Town Hall of Shame. Writes Westbury Red.
The 2006/07 campaign had seen Town convincingly limp to third place and therefore automatic promotion from League Two. As we all breathed the biggest collective sigh of relief since the Soviets took their nukes out of Cuba (that may be a tad melodramatic), Town fans knew that fresh ideas were needed both on and off the pitch.
Town manager Paul Sturrock took on Dennis Wise’s squad and maintained the promotion run without ever wowing the fans, meanwhile the Board were keeping the club going on an absolute shoestring (that may be a tad understated). It’s safe to say that failure to gain promotion in 2007 would have probably resulted in a grizzly future for Swindon but luckily that is for parallel dimension to consider.
On July 3rd 2007, it was announced that a new consortium were in negotiations with Town’s owners. Due diligence was to begin and information that investment was forthcoming was a welcome piece of news as there was a small matter of a £900,000 CVA payment that seemed to be forever suffocating the club.
The consortium would include many of the current crop of Board members. Sir Seton Wills, who had pumped money in to Swindon when required, would be staying as would Martyn Starnes, Bob Holt, Sandy Gray and the clubs general manager, the ever popular (ahem) Mike Diamandis. James Wills and chairman Willie Carson would be leaving the club. Director Bob Holt described the talks as “fantastic news for all the loyal supporters of Swindon Town”, it was hard not to read this as a dig towards those who had backed the popular Bill Power’s failed takeover attempt in 2006.
So far nothing there is nothing major to report, right? WRONG. On July 11th the club announced that former Queen’s Park Rangers and Fulham defender Rufus Brevett would be joining as the clubs new Sporting Director.
Brevett had recently called time on his playing career after a final, erm, payday with non-league giants Oxford United and was in the process of obtaining his coaching badges. Andy Cryer of the Swindon Advertiser hilariously entertained Brevett’s arrival as an example of the consortium flexing their “financial muscle”. Paul Sturrock observed that Brevett seemed “a nice lad” and explained that his new go-to guy would act as a liasor between him and the owners. What could go wrong?
…and then, silence.
Deathly silence is hardly the greatest indication of positivity when a club announces a takeover a few weeks before. The agreed deal to sign Adebayo Akinfenwa fell through due to injury concerns while Sturrock voiced his frustration over the protracted negotiations by telling the press that he “had pre-planned a lot and am exasperated now because the fruition of what I wanted to do has been hindered in the time frame. A lot of the people I would probably have targeted have been gobbled up”.
Swindon Town’s pre-season was hardly exciting within the transfer market. Sturrock brought in Barry Corr after his successful loan spell while fellow ‘Luggy’ darlings Hasney Aljofree and Craig Easton arrived having already worked under Town’s manager. The £50,000 for Aljofree was all Town spent that summer, a depressing fact as the club had made a pretty penny with the sale of Lukas Jutkiewicz to Everton. Also arriving in July were free transfer signings Chris Blackburn and Miguel Comminges along with future ‘cash-cow’ Ben Tozer.
Despite our precarious position, Sturrock took his threadbare squad to Austria where they took on European no-marks Jiul Petrosani, SV Brandl bau Bad Ischl and Rodengo Saiano. At least it was sunny.
As the summer progressed, new faces started to trickle in. Steve Adams joined Luggy’s ‘Old Boys Brigade’ having played for him at Plymouth Argyle and Sheffield Wednesday and a mysterious Spanish forward by the name of Ibon Perez Arrieta linked up, he would become the first acquisition under the influence of BEST Holdings.
The season started with Town stumbling to a 1-1 draw at Northampton Town with little idea on what would happen next behind-the-scenes. However, on August 14th Swindon Town announced that they were to be taken over by a predominately-Portuguese operated company, BEST Holdings.
Days passed with a lot of guesswork being conjured up by supporters and these discussions were enhanced when American businessman Jim Little was appointed chairman designate for the new potential owners. The Harvard College postgraduate had previously been involved with Cork City F.C. but his arrival to the County Ground was completely out-of-the-blue. Little would become the most vocal member of the consortium.
The new chairman (designate) stated that the owner’s goal was “to add to the long history that the club already has. We have plans and it should be an exciting season ahead” and finishing with the reiteration that BEST were “in this for the long haul although even in this year, I would ask all our supporters to make sure they have a season ticket – because I think our fans can expect some great things”. Well this was all terribly exciting was it not?
Little and Brevett were in attendance as Swindon beat the recently relegated Luton Town thanks to a late Craig Easton goal. There was a cautious feeling of excitement as things were beginning to be sorted finally. With Little confident that the completion of the takeover was a matter of weeks away, the new owners-in-waiting made their first significant investments on deadline day by bringing Jon-Paul McGovern and Billy Paynter to the club on permanent deals while Reading youngster Simon Cox joined on loan. Also, at some point, French-Central African player Franklin Anzite joined the club.
Further weeks of talks and uncertainty continued into September. The Football League Trophy fixture against Brentford raised a minor yet bizarre moment in Town’s history when Paul Sturrock named Mauro Almeida in his starting eleven. Now this wouldn’t normally cause any raised eyebrows but Almeida’s signing was only confirmed in the hours building up to the game. Almeida joined Ibon Arrieta and Anzite as examples of what Swindon Town fans could potentially expect in the future: The Three Amigos.
…and so to Jose Veiga…
On September 9th, Portuguese agent Jose Veiga was appointed as Swindon Town’s new General Manager – Oh! How Swindon were going all ‘big time’. Veiga had links through his agent work with names such as Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo and had also acted as GM for established Portuguese outfit Benfica. Veiga was not without controversy having been linked to some rather dodgy dealings in his native Portugal. Groovy.
Shhh! Enough of this pessimism and let us have a look at what Jim Little thought about Town’s new head honcho. Little described Veiga’s arrival Swindon as “an absolutely unbelievable coup, he is like the Jose Mourinho of football management”. That’s right folks, to Jim Little, Jose Mourinho was runner-up as the ‘Jose Mourinho of football management’ to Veiga. Sure, Little was probably referring to the business side of football but when you’ve got that quote in front of you it’s hard to not poke fun at it! Also, after Andy King’s previous comparison of Eric Sabin to Thierry Henry, it wasn’t hard to roll one’s eyes at such a statement.
Where this left Paul Sturrock nobody quite knew, I dare say that ‘Luggy’ would have been packing his bags in the very near future. Nevertheless, negotiations rumbled on and Sturrock was linked to Leicester City but sadly for him, nothing come of it. An irritated Sturrock stated that he needed “clarification like any football manager needs clarification to know their thoughts on the goals of the club”. If this were paradise, then there would be trouble.
BEST Holdings were present at the Sky Sports televised loss to Yeovil Town. Little, Jose Veiga and Rufus Brevett all kitted out in their matching Swindon Town ties looking pretty for the cameras. Jim Little even went on to the pitch at half-time to deliver a soaring speech that was (sort of) straight out of the Vince McMahon school of public speaking. Had this been a midweek fixture, the floodlights would have gone out and Little would have entered the ground with fireworks blazing and 80’s rock music pumping out of the speakers. Alas this did not happen and what Little said is largely forgotten, it was probably something along the lines of needing a 12th man, asking where they are and ‘let’s be avin you’, it was all the rage back then.
October!?! Seriously!?! Oh but don’t worry folks, the end is gloriously nigh.
Jim Little kindly confirmed in early October that all was not well with negotiations as the consortium feared getting stung for additional costs. Meanwhile, Bill Power waded in by stating that his offer was still on the table for the current Board to consider.
Town’s squad voted against going on strike (yes, it really was that bad) after receiving their wages but Bob Holt comes out a couple days later to state that the club were in big, big trouble and that BEST Holdings were no longer the preferred bidder. This series of unfortunate events led to inevitable protests by the then Swindon Town supporters. Can you blame us? No? I thought not.
Later, Jim Little tried to convince those listening that they were still looking to take the club over and warns Town fans that their actions were not happening (sorry about that Jimbo). Days after this statement, it was over. The club confirmed that BEST were not best fit for the job and had left the building.
What followed was a war of words between the club and the consortium, both looking to blame each other for the breakdown of negotiations. The clubs through a prolonged statement explaining payments and agreements etc while Mike Diamandis had an exclusive interview with the Evening Advertiser stating that BEST would not ‘play ball’.
My Head Hurts…
So there you have it, I have no doubt missed something out. Who would have thought that the people who funded the initial arrival of Simon Cox could prove such a disaster? What would have happened if Swindon became a feeder club for down-and-out European footballers in need of a club? I shudder to think but who cares? It did not happen.
What happened next?
- BEST Holdings flirted with Tranmere Rovers for a while, nothing happened.
- Andrew Fitton’s consortium led by the money of Andrew Black continues to run Swindon. Times are mostly good.
- Franklin Anzite shares a flat with Milan Misun, somewhere.
- Paul Sturrock eventually escaped and returned to Plymouth. It didn’t work out.
BEST Holdings… take your place in the Swindon Town Hall of Shame.
Images from BBC Football, Swindon Advertiser, Official Swindon Town website, Swindon Web.