Out of the Wok, into the Fire….Feb 12th, 2013 | By Russ | Category: Articles by Russell Dempsey, Blues News, Lead Article
The rumours are picking up, thick and fast, that a buyer is imminently putting in an offer for Birmingham City. Apparently, according to Joys and Sorrows’ good mate at Often Partisan a “Sports Management Company” has expressed an interest in buying our club. This has split the fanbase, somewhat. I know for a fact that some – such as editor of Made in Brum fanzine Big Dave Thomas – would happily accept a ten point deduction, administration and relegation to be shot of Carson Yeung (and Lee Clark, but we’ll leave managerial speculation for another time), whilst others would rather ‘ride the present storm’, perhaps hoping we get a new owner, but keeping Yeung if – at least – it meant we can retain Championship status.
It made me think, would we really be dropping out of the frying pan, and into the fire, if we were to be bought out, by associates of Carson Yeung? The thinking seems to be, that Carson Yeung’s initial naivety, and subsequent arrest for alleged money laundering, has lead to our present position, and you’d have to concede that it can’t be denied that this has played a huge part. Is it so simple, however, to suggest we would be in the Premiership now, if he hadn’t been arrested, or if he had remained tight-lipped about the money we had to spend, that lead to clubs “holding us to ransom” over transfer fees and wages, that perhaps let a few ‘cheaper’ players slip between our fingers, and ‘lumbered’ us with Zigic’s large wage. I personally believe Zigic is a good player, on his day our BEST player but I can’t argue with the fact that we ARE lumbered with his wages. His agent seems to agree with that contention!
The fact is, Chris Hughton and Alex McLeish may BOTH have left our club because of the post-arrest situation, but we can’t have our cake AND eat it. If McLeish, who seemed culpable in our post-Carling Cup relegation, had stayed, we’d never have seen the attractive football, and may well not have had the positive experiences in the European arena. So, if we accept McLeish’s departure, we must also accept Chris Hughton’s. Especially as he didn’t jump ship to try to relegate the Villa With that, not too many people were against the idea in principle, of Lee Clark’s appointment. There was so much talk of needing a young, hungry manager, in the ilk of Hughton; and people blanched in fear at the prospect of Neil Warnock, Billy Davies and Roy Keane. Some – quite rightly – pointed out his lack of Championship experience, but the general consensus was that Clark had been ‘hard-done-by’ like Hughton had been, and deserved his chance. I digress somewhat, the point I’m making is, even without Yeung’s trial, we may yet have been destined to have had Lee Clark in charge, and be in the position we are in now.
With the failure of the ‘firesale’ to arrive, it seems Yeung and Pannu can’t be accused of ‘asset stripping’, though Pannu’s extremely high expenses (£430k) are questionable, they wouldn’t have looked so out of place were it not for our financial uncertainty…caused in its turn by the court case and freezing of Yeung’s assets. In fact, if Pannu had taken a more modest amount, I think many Blues fans would have applauded his efforts – in unison with the unsung heroes at Blues, the admin staff – to keep our club afloat without the help of its owner. His hands have been tied, just as much as Clark’s since Carson’s arrest. That being said, I still think Pannu owes it to us, an explanation as to why he saw fit to spend so much in ‘expenses’. He was rather more open and upfront than the MP’s in the expenses scandal, after all, he knew these books would be made public, but in the absence of official confirmation, he has opened himself to accusations of waste, in times he is surely aware are acutely tight for fans and – supposedly – the football club.
Anyway, the desire amongst fans to see a new owner in place was ignited by Paladini’s well-chosen media soundbites, where he promised transfer funds, and suggested he wanted to buy the club in time to deal during the January transfer window. Now that has passed, it seems Paladini may have been bluffing, or at least didn’t have an offer acceptable to Pannu. Maybe Pannu was protecting his revenue/expenses streams? As I say, some folks are still dead set on ousting Yeung. The phrase ‘we can’t be any worse off’ has popped up a number of times on the Joys and Sorrows Forum. Is this true, though? We could end up with a Rangers or Portsmouth style situation. It’s too simple to look at the likes of Southampton, because MKDons/Wimbledon and Coventry aren’t in the Premier League are they? They (Southampton) also have the talismanic Lambert scoring goals for fun, which could propel any team up the divisions, and his loyalty can only be applauded for its rarity in the modern game. Zigic’s loyalty has been put down to greed, but is it really? He won the Cup with our team, and has ALWAYS said he was settled in Birmingham, even when he was a part of the ‘Unbeatables’.
Birmingham could end up with a LOT worse. So – do we have to stick with what we have? No! We could ‘twist’ and see if the “new owner” was simply on a par with what we could expect from Yeung. The prospective owner – it is rumoured – is one of Yeung’s business associates, who would take the club on ‘as a favour’ to Yeung. Perhaps to save face for Yeung, and keep one of his businesses out of administration. Perhaps as Yeung is desperate to offload, and there have been no serious takers (beyond what we can only assume was a paltry offer from Paladini, else why didn’t it happen?). Perhaps, as Yeung seems to feel (rightly or wrongly) that he WILL prove his innocence, it is with a view of Yeung buying us back once vindicated? Certainly, an owner willing to move heaven and earth to keep hold of ‘his’ club is something we would have dreamed of, in the days of Sullivan, the Golds and Karren Brady, who seemingly were only practising their trade before taking on their ‘real’ dream at West Ham United.
The fact is, the current owners could let us go into administration and seek to sell St Andrews, but equally so could ANY prospective new owner. If Yeung and Pannu had resigned themselves to letting BCFC rot, they could surely have negotiated with Paladini, regardless of his intentions or the identity of the backers Paladini himself didn’t name, beyond the Italian link. Associates of Yeung could certainly have more potential to act, as they would have to pass the ‘fit and proper‘ test and so would need to prove they had liquid assets. Some complain about the ‘fit and proper’ test, pointing towards Yeung’s passing it. Yet, as things stand, he is an innocent man only accused of crimes; and at the moment he passed the ‘fit and proper’ test, he hadn’t had his assets frozen.
Surely, if we are taken over by Yeung’s associates, we would find ourselves out of the wok, into the wok, at worst. The fire is achievable if we do nothing, or if we get our wish that the club is sold to the first “non-Chinese” consortium to show an interest. The first box that needs checking, in my view, is NOT whether the new owner knows/knew Carson Yeung, is NOT whether they are from Hong Kong or China, or not. It is the consideration that they want to make Birmingham City FC a successful club. When we won the Carling Cup, not many Blues fans would have disagreed with the assertion that that was exactly what Carson Yeung had in mind. Some people have blamed Yeung for our relegation, yet simultaneously blame Alex McLeish. Peter Pannu seems to have no doubt whatsoever where the blame lies. Certainly, he may be fibbing, but if so, he certainly appears to have put his cards on the table, and Aston Villa’s compensation in our direction certainly doesn’t add up to McLeish’s ‘untenable‘ claim…
I’m not suggesting our present regime is flawless, Pannu’s ill-advised flashing of cash and Yeung’s unfortunately timed arrest (the assets freeze is what did the real damage) are two simple examples to pick up on, but those who whinge about our lack of spending need to reflect on their words, the next time they whinge about Zigic’s salary. Who spent/spends that money? Who bought the players in (King, Davies, Burke) that we were all worried may head off to Wolves or Norwich? All I’m suggesting is that it is far too easy to suggest things ‘can only get better’. HMV and Blockbuster staff know that in this day and age it’s very difficult to balance the books. Where HMV and Blockbuster’s sadly redundant staff can blame Amazon and the economic downturn, Birmingham City can point the finger at an increasingly choosy fanbase, who demand the silky football of Chris Hughton’s era, the success of Alex McLeish’s era, the respect of Gill Merrick’s era, the youth policy of the Lee Clark era, and the management style of Barry Fry’s era. We can all play our part in keeping our club out of the fire. If that is some form of protest (please, not the bedsheets), cheering our players on, til the end of the road, spending our hard earned on season and match tickets, wearing the shirt with pride, then so be it. In the meantime, we just have to hope that Mr Pannu shows his gratitude to the fans who contributed towards his £100k salary by selling the club to people who will at very least stave off administration. Whilst I can sympathise with Big Dave’s opinion, that relegation would rid us of the ‘spectre’ of expectations, and mean we can all concentrate our efforts on supporting the team, any hopes of getting a decent new owner may be out of the window. PARTICULARLY (and this is where you have to be careful what you wish for!) if Aston Villa also become available as a cheap Championship club with the potential for Premier League football without having to escape League One first…
Keep Right On