In October 2016, with Swindon hovering just above the relegation zone in Division 1 (sound familiar?) I wrote a piece entitled ‘What happens when the Power goes out?’ that was posted on the Washbag website.
As a long-time season ticket holder, I tried to take a balanced position on what was a hot topic for supporters at the time, after a poor start to the season that eventually ended in relegation (sound familiar?)
It was not a particularly well-informed position as I didn’t know anybody directly involved in the running of the club (still don’t) and even less about the intricacies of corporate finance. Just the simple views of an ordinary ‘happy clappy’ fan, if you like.
Hat-trick of administrations?
Having witnessed two bouts of administration at the club, I didn’t have much appetite to join the ‘Power Out’ brigade at the time. With no one in the wings eager to take the reins, what was the alternative? Surely if Power had pulled the plug, then we would be back where we were after Andrew Black departed, desperately looking for any Tom, Dick or Jed to throw us a lifebelt?
I am old enough to remember the enforced relegation after the shenanigans of Brian Hillier. I also remember the era of Terry Brady at the turn of the century when it felt like the club was being used as a pawn in a property development battle. A time when imaginary helicopter flights to and from the ground were claimed as business expenses to take money out of the club. For long-suffering Swindon fans, it has been a consistent pattern of abuse.
Then in 2013, along came Lee Power to rescue us (or so it seemed at the time) from the short-lived reign of Jed McRory, who appeared no better than the other chancers we’d experienced before.
Businessman or asset stripper?
For years now, Power has made no secret of his intentions as the owner of our club. As a ‘businessman’, he openly sees his ownership as a way of making money for himself.
Back then, and even now, I have no problem with this approach, providing the club benefits in the process. Surely, I argued at the time, we’re better off with someone who can turn a profit, providing a fair percentage of that profit goes back into the club. If Power had been willing to declare specified percentages of running profits (assuming there were any) to be split between himself and reinvestment in the club, then I could have supported that.
But he never did. He never made it clear how our club was being run or where the money was going. (And there was plenty of it coming in from transfer fees, sell-on clauses and other investment.) So how could we, or can we, ever trust him?
Clarity is Power’s Kryptonite
A lack of transparency has always been the biggest issue with Power. If every transfer fee is ‘undisclosed’ and he is entitled to syphon off any money he wants, wherever he wants, this is a recipe for disaster.
Then, throw in an extraordinary ownership dispute with an agent and an international footballer, neither of whom are legally entitled to be owners of a football club, and you can begin to see where all this is heading. (To be fair to my younger self, in 2016 we were never to know things were going to get this hideous.)
Now, five years on, I can see this whole sorry episode was destined to end in disaster. For our club, if not for Power.
Yes, it’s true, we were not much more than a Nathan Thompson hamstring away from the Championship in 2015. We could possibly have used that to springboard on to further successes which might have allowed Power to sell up to an interested party. Maybe some benevolent Thai business mogul who fancied overseeing a return to our former glories in the Premier League, in exchange for eternal love and respect.
But, back on planet earth, the likely scenario was always going to be the one we now face. At the inevitably bitter end, a ‘businessman’ only interested in profit was always going to take everything he possibly could out of the club for his own personal gain, no matter what the consequences.
Power has never cared about our club – it is just a vehicle for profit to him. I’m sorry to say, I failed to appreciate the consequences of that when I wrote my original article. Now, we’re facing the gravest crisis in the club’s 142-year history.
Can we trust the man from Sydney?
So, is Paolo look-alike, Clem Morfuni the answer? The signs are promising. At last, someone willing to communicate with the fans who doesn’t appear to have something to hide. Someone with a plan they’re openly willing to share. Above all, if the Trust, who collectively know so much more about these things than I do, seem willing to trust him, that’s good enough for me.
And, anyway, what are the alternatives? Able (are you Power is disguise?) or administration? Some hanker after the fan-owned models recently in place at Portsmouth and Wycombe Wanderers. While I understand the appeal of this model in theory, the fact that both these clubs are now back in the hands of wealthy individuals suggest this model has serious limitations – unless one or two of the fans involved have very deep pockets.
As we all know only too well, this rollercoaster ride is set to continue with nothing but uncertainty ahead. Clem aside, there isn’t much cause for optimism.
A likely points deduction (thanks again, Mr Power) and a lack of any type of stability, financial or otherwise, point to many more gloomy Saturdays ahead. For the first time in our history, a spell in the National League may be a real possibility.
I’ve grown up thinking this would be a fate worse than losing to Oxford seven times in a row, but maybe I’m mellowing with age. Would that really be so bad, if it meant we got Power out and our club back?
In the meantime, I’m following the advice of the Trust and will refuse to buy season tickets (or anything else from the club) for me and my son, while Power remains in charge.
This ongoing negativity has sucked every last bit of fun out of supporting my team. So, yes, I’d gladly swap all that for the odd season, or ten, in the conference.
It’s the memories that matter
Maybe that’s because, with more than 50 years and thousands of games behind me, I am now convinced that what makes football fandom fantastic is not so much the league your team is playing in but, more, the memories generated along the way.
Like two 26,000 crowds at the County Ground in the same week back in 1980, beating Chester 4-2 back in Division 4 in 1986, the incessant ‘Lou Macari’s Red and White Army’ chants from the Arthur Waite Stand at Selhurst Park in 1987, the exploits of Ardiles, Hoddle and Paolo, the two fabulous evenings in the play-offs against Charlton in 2010 and two more against Sheffield United in 2015 (yes, admittedly under Power’s stewardship), Plymouth and Salford away under Wellens, and so on and so on and so on. Great times, unforgettable memories.
Time to stick together
However low we sink in the next few months, and possibly years, I am certain this blip will only be temporary. The passion of the fans and our depth of feeling will ensure the good times return, one day soon-ish, on a more stable and sustainable platform.
But, for now, we have no choice but to make our voices heard together to ensure these dark storm clouds move on, as fast as possible.
Unlike back in 2016, I now wholeheartedly blame Lee Power for the mess we’re in today. I also blame myself for not spotting this disaster waiting to happen but, more than anyone, I blame the football authorities for allowing someone with ‘history’ at Cambridge United and Rushden and Diamonds to do it all over again at my beloved club. The Football League’s ‘fit and proper person’s test’, my arse.
Thank you to Trust member Richard Selbourne for this article….