Last night the Channel 4 showed a powerful documentary about wealthy businessmen and consortium buying football clubs in England.
‘Dispatches – How to buy a football club’ featured an undercover reporter claiming to represent a wealthy group of investors in a journey that took the reporter to the brink of buying a League One football club.
The documentary also focuses on the murky and confusing ownership structures in the Premier League and Championship the true state of English football and the lack of transparency that will disturb many English football fans.
The documentary tells the story of London Nominees and the ‘Football Fund’ two intertwined investment vehicles the latter fronted by Bryan Robson, and their involvement and scheming to buy upto three football clubs through complicated ownership and investment schemes.
The individuals involved were portrayed to have a well connected structure within the English football and Asian political structures with the documentary featuring the marketing, business model and structure of the proposed takeover.
The London Nominees consortium held meetings in Thailand with the Dispatches reporter, to discuss the purchase of a football club, in which former England captain Bryan Robson is at the forefront as a figure of power and connections for the group which view clubs as a commodity to be bought, developed and then sold.
The former England captain at the heart of the opening scenes comes across as brash, slightly greedy but not overtly dishonest, even seeking assurances that any investment would not involve asset stripping a future investment for ground development rights.
Robson however is quickly exposed as mainly a figurehead in the group designed to add respectability, the power residing with businessmen and owner of Manchester United’s Bankok bar Joe Sim, a man who claims connections across the footballing community.
During negotiations with the Dispatches reporter Mr Sim continuously leverages a relationship however fleeting with Sir Alex Ferguson, to convey an image of respectability and power and it becomes clear that Mr Sim is the driving force behind London Nominees.
Mr Sim claimed to have a personal relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson that seemed credible during the interactions between the reporter and Sim, the reporter even speaking to the Scotsman on the phone during a dinner between the pair.
Whilst the extent of this relationship is not clear Mr Sim certainly leverages any contact for indirect financial gain and this raises interesting questions, it is important to note that Sir Alex Ferguson has been quick to distance himself from Mr Sim and his investment operations.
As the documentary unfolds both Sim and Robson make bold claims of the potential of future deals that could occur due to the pairs connections, they talk of exploiting connections and the English loan system to develop not just one but potentially three clubs fully aware that this breeches Football League rules.
The consortium is filmed indicating that it is prepared to operate a complex shell game with the authorities, plotting to hide their true intentions and power from the governing bodies and overcome fair competition rules.
This is an eye opening and disturbing documentary showing how the influx of money in the game has opened the game up to prospectors who are willing to bend/break the rules to turn sport into profit, whilst unsuccessful on this occasion it is almost impossible to know if Mr Sim or the Football fund actually already own one or more clubs in the Football League.
Whilst it may not be surprising that some are willing to be dishonest, it is startling how deep this apparent conspiracy goes and how little say/control the average fan has over the actions of businessmen often plotting thousands of miles away.
This documentary is a must watch for any fan of English Football