Trying to find some perspective at Swindon Town…

STFC007 provides his perspective on the last few weeks at Swindon Town after reports of financial doom, a takeover and apparent threats of Paolo Di Canio’s resignation.

Where to start?

Well, let me start with declaring upfront that I am not in the know, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who may be in the know. I’m just a Swindon Town fan who, like many others, has observed the recent developments in disbelief; articles in newspapers, coverage on the radio and television as well as on social networking sites, some which made more sense than others but overall the situation has left most of us scratching our head. There are still so many questions, but as yet not that many answers.

Reflecting on the current situation, the removal of Jeremy Wray – a well respected and articulate Chairman – now seems a pivitol point in triggering a succession of events that have been difficult to comprehend let alone explain. His replacement, Sir William Patey was appointed with the brief it seemed to better represent – and act in accordance with the views of – the board, both to the outside world as well as towards the manager, Paolo Di Canio. Besides that, his remit was also to attract ‘new investment’.

But little did I know that ‘new investment’ was actually just code for ‘new owners’ as suddenly this is what was being reported. Well, what had triggered this? A change of heart? Perhaps Andrew Black was fed up with the club, fed up with ever increasing financial demands from the manager for new players, some of whom spent little time on the pitch or even the bench, some who were ‘regime unfriendly’ and subsequently were frozen out and their contract paid off.

Fair enough I guess; in the end it’s his money and if I would be in that position, I think I would have raised a few frowned eyebrows from time to time. And let’s not forget that in our time of need, Mr Black together with others, stepped in and contributed to what the club is today. In that case, I thought it was time for the new Chairman to leverage some of his contacts in the Middle-East…

Then came the bombshell, articles started to appear mentioning Swindon Town going into Administration. We had experienced a temporary transfer embargo, but this was due to the transfer amount set by the tribunal for Collins and Archibald-Henville, and then settled. The board had sanctioned attracting players with larger than average wages in a drive to successfully execute their three-year plan, but surely we’re not being shut down because of unpaid bills, debts to banks or HMRC demands?

And that is where my main gripe is – well one of them – that the reporting of the media was geared towards the possibility of Administration  rather than focused on the sale of the club and possible new owners.

I recall reading an article by BBC Wiltshire commentator Wise with this unwise headline: “Swindon Town up for Sale to avoid administration” making it seems that because of imminent administration, Swindon were up for sale. There was also a Twitter message from Swindon Advertiser journalist Sam Morshead : “I have been investigating stories re possibility of Administration this week. Believe decision needs to be made before Fri board meeting”. This was then followed the following day by The Adver with the url containing the sensationalist wording: “town considering administration”. A poorly chosen title of a url surely. But to his credit, Sam Morshead has since covered the developments excellently, keeping fans updated on the latest information at all hours of the day and night, including on TheWashbag Podcast.

Swindon Town were forced to put out an official statement that they weren’t considering anything of the sort, but the damage was already done, Pandora’s box had been opened… with wide reaching and costly implications.

The sensationalist style of writing had not gone un-noticed as the national press cottoned on and triggered a flurry of poorly written and in most cases inaccurate articles. BBC 5live commentator and Gene Hunt wannabe Adderley paid credit to his name and put the boot in on Twitter, quickly followed by reports in the mainstream media. But not wanting to be outdone, the cherry on the cake was to be placed by Mr Dunlavy, writing for the Football League Paper – but he decided to wrench it up a few notches. Like the other articles, he went overboard, but a bit too far making accusations along the way. An apology, retraction and donation to charity followed, but again, the damage had already been done.

Listening to the local BBC Radio in the car on the way to the County Ground where Swindon were due to play Shrewsbury, the emphasis and pre-match comments from Wise were again about administration even saying that the fans did not want to hear it, but still continued. I recall it was around 14:15 and I could not help come to the conclusion – not helped by the excitable intonation of his voice – that maybe the he was getting some sort of perverse kick out of all of this. It wasn’t good listening to at all.

The ever growing administration snowball rolled on as new owners were to be found before the end of January. Otherwise players had to be sold to fund the operational costs of running the club as the owner was no longer willing to fund the club from that date. What?? Is that possible? Does the Football League allow such actions? I know he has done a lot for the club, but this date? Selling a house – a transaction performed many thousand of times each year – takes a long time, let alone the sale of a football club…..

And with the transfer window closing by the end of January – the same date as the day the sale of the club was to be completed – a few nervous days were ahead. There seemed interest in Collins and others, but it was Ritchie who eventually went for a fraction of what the League Two player of the year was meant to be worth 6 months prior. It was sad news to hear that one of our best players had to leave to cover operational costs until the sales was completed as the current owner was no longer willing to fund the club. I cannot help that if the all of this was handled and reported differently from the start, Ritchie may perhaps not have been at the club but we would have received a lot more than we did. And what about the January deadline, why not the start, or end of the season?

The club seemed to have found new owners – pending Football League ratification – while Mr Black waived the outstanding 13M or so loan. Waving debts is not the same as waiving the costs, which the club may still incur in it’s future operation.

Well, it could have been worse, more players could have gone, but that was not the end of the story. Three loan players had been lined-up and word got out, only for the Football League to determine they could not be ratified until the sales of the club was concluded. Great planning indeed.

With Ritchie apparently sold behind his back, Paolo Di Canio felt compelled to release a statement where the expressed his disappointment and was considering his position. He received a great welcome at Crawley from the Swindon fans, showing to Di Canio their appreciation. As if things weren’t bad enough, BBC Wiltshire Wise tried to out-do Geoff Shreaves after the match when interviewing Gary Roberts. I paraphrase:

Wise: “All Football League clubs were sent a communication that Swindon players were up for sale. You were on that list as well.”
Roberts: “Was I?”

Classy, journalism at its best.

Where does this leave the Swindon Town supporters? Well, same as last week, and the month before, and the year before that, and the decade before that. Supporting our club whatever happens. Players come and players go, same for owners of a club. They should each strive to add a little to what’s already there and when they leave the club, leave it in a better position than when they joined.

In hindsight, the details and the reporting of the sale of the club should have been to just that. The board could have sold players in January at a reasonable return to fund the upcoming period without anyone knowing what alternatives how ever unlikely. I don’t blame Black for wanting to sell the club, in fact I am grateful he stepped in when he did so we still have a club, but holding it to ransom – at least it seems that way from the outside – is something I can’t get my head round.

Sir William Patey seems to have his job by getting new investment; only time will tell what role he really played in securing this. The new owners are unknown – with the exception of Jed McCrory who was named – and until the sale has been completed we won’t find out much more.

I just hope now that the sale is completed soon. Most important at this stage though is for the new owners to ensure Paolo Di Canio remains with the club at least until the end of the season. If they can do that and the 3 loanees – originally meant to join at the end of January – can be added to the squad, we can then quickly put the whole affair behind us and push on to be in the mix for promotion at the end of the season.

Let’s hope we can soon talk only about footballing matters on the pitch rather than off it.


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