OWNERS of football clubs come and go. Chairmen, players and sponsors come and go. Managers come and go – a lot. The only constant over the years are the fans.
So there is an inevitability that Andrew Black, the mega-wealthy founder of betting exchange Betfair, wants to end his association with Swindon Town FC after five years.
Neither is it a shock that the original investors who bought the club in 2008 and brought some sorely-needed stability, have invested £13 million so far.
The figure in the story that emerged last Thursday which surprised me most was not the £13m debt, nor the stigma of ‘administration’, but that Black’s shareholding is a whopping 98 per cent.
Originally it was thought that then-chairman Andrew Fitton, former Perpetual Fund owner Martyn Arbib and Black had stumped up £3m each to acquire a controlling interest in the club, with fellow board members Jeremy Wray and Russell Backhouse presumably shovelling in some more cash on top.
Fitton and Arbib have since apparently stepped back, leaving Black with virtually the whole burden of providing the club’s finances.
So the £4.5m playing budget for the 2012/12 season has come entirely from his pocket.
Black is a racing man and principal partner in Michael Owen’s stables in Cheshire where former Lambourn trainer Tom Dascombe is in charge.
He has no emotional ties to football let alone Swindon. He was a moneybags mate of the prime movers in the takeover.
Clearly it was never his intention to carry the financial load alone – and we should be grateful he has done.
Three months ago the benign Black bared his teeth and ousted his lifelong friend Wray as chairman, bringing in career diplomat Sir William Patey, whose main brief seems to have been to acquire new investment.
The wheels were not turning as fast as Black wanted hence the decision to hasten his exit and the need to find new owners.
Wray insists that Black is not a man to leave Swindon in the lurch. And I believe him.
I also believe Chief Executive Nick Watkins, who insists that ‘there is no debt to HMRC, no debt to the banks, no bank overdrafts and no major creditor issues’.
Make what you will of Watkins’ remark that ‘the debts due to the shareholders, in the event of the club being sold, will be treated very kindly’.
Does that mean Black, Fitton and Co will not insist on all of their debt being repaid? The new owners – and we are assured there are credible foreign and domestic suitors – can buy into an upwardly mobile club with a charismatic manager and a strong squad on the cusp of the Championship. Plenty of preliminary work has also been done on the issue of ground re-development, where presumably any investors could envisage making some potential profit.
That scenario does not seem to me like Armageddon, as you might think from reading the fans’ forums and some reprehensible ‘journalism’ in the Football League Paper.
Change is coming and change is unsettling. We will be lucky to get investors like the men behind Swindon Football Holdings Ltd.
Manager Di Canio, at least, seems remarkably chipper about future prospects and that after describing his side’s latest display as their worst performance since losing in the FA Cup to Macclesfield.
Swindon remain very much in the mix, in third place in the league with games in hand, after a 2-0 win against Shrewsbury on Saturday.
As was the case so often in our championship-winning run last season, Swindon are so superior to the majority of their rivals that they need turn it on for just ten minutes to win games.
That’s what happened against the very limited Shrews, whose sole threat came from pacy winger Jon Taylor, a player our manager may have coveted in other circumstances.
Our play in the first half on Saturday did not look like rewarding the Herculean efforts of groundsman Marcus Cassidy, his staff and the scores of volunteers who helped clear snow from the pitch. The breakthrough early in the second period came from what looked like a soft penalty given for a foul on Andy Williams.
Chris Martin showed no hesitation in taking the ball and his spot kick was emphatically dispatched.
Four minutes later, it was game over, Williams heading home a Gary Roberts nod back.
Even then, the one-way traffic we have become used to in recent weeks did not materialise and the Shrews might have made it a nervous last ten minutes had not Wes Foderingham expertly saved Mark Richards’ late penalty.
This was not the scintillating Swindon of the past month. But the real Swindon had better turn up for the crackerjack of a game at leaders Tranmere on Saturday.
Ronnie Moore’s side are still smarting from the 5-0 humiliation at the hands of Town before Christmas.
We will have to do it, of course, without the help of first-choice midfielder Danny Hollands, who limped off with a toe injury.
And whether he and Chris Martin can extend their loans until the end of the promotion challenge may hinge on whether our old mate Charlie Austin earns a lucrative move away from Burnley – which will send some much-needed cash back to the County Ground.
Let’s also hope the club can afford to rebuff Crystal Palace’s approach for Matt Ritchie as they prepare for life after Manchester United target Wilfried Zaha.
The Swindon fans would be up in arms about a Ritchie transfer. Fans, who are the bedrock of any club – not the owners who are only in temporary custody of its welfare.