Friday, 4 July 2014

Eales Up Inside Ya!

Eales Up Inside Ya!
or: "Elements of the past and the future combining to make something not quite as good as either".

So - initial thoughts today: Obviously disappointment that the apparent "fans' choice" of Charlie Methven and The Donald Family was not a part of the big news. But not really knowing how far they got in discussions, nor whether they were simply too late after the Eales deal had already been struck, it's difficult for me to comment too much on their plans. Especially as they are now pretty much in the shredder in Ian Lenagan's office.

Courier delivering the Methven bid takes IL by surprise.
Let's just leave it at the fact that Charlie Methven is most definitely first and foremost an enormous fan of the club (I've seen him up there in his club tie, tweed jacket, suede trousers and everything else), and I'm 100% sure that any investment proposition he put forward would have put the interests of the club first, regardless of whether it was the right choice. I'm not privy to enough of the goings-on to know on that front. But on intentions - absolutely it would have been.

Now, onto the Eales deal.

"Elements of the past and the future, combining to make something not quite as good as either"

For whatever reason IL chose to go ahead with the Eales deal over doing anything else (including just carrying on as you were), he is clearly just looking to get some of his investment back.

Which, despite what he's continually said since he became 'executive' chairman up until today, means the club owning a stadium. He obviously now realises (admits?) he isn't going to ever see a return on his money without adding property to his investment.

So Eales comes on board with a bit of extra cash and clout, and both of the major shareholders will now be hoping that one of the following two things happens:

1) They buy the Kassam Stadium from Uncle Firoz, having driven down the price with the now realistic threat of a move to Water Eaton. Kassam is clearly spooked by this prospect because otherwise he wouldn't have been on Radio Oxford yesterday, spinning a yarn about how he'd only ever sell to those with the best intentions for OUFC.


2) They actually get planning permission and build at Water Eaton. This means either buying out of the tenancy at the Kassam (thereby leaving King Firozymandias with an expensive car-boot sale location), or better still agree to let Kassam knock down his concrete carbuncle and build houses all over it in return for being let off any remaining leasehold payments.

Water Eaton: The New Manor?
Eitherway, they aren't doing either of the above for the sole good of Oxford United. Lenagan wants some of his money back (and I don't mind that so much, considering what he's put in), and Eales wants to make money from an investment. 

Planning permission for housing already exists at the Kassam Stadium, and at Water Eaton the possibilities for investment are currently endless - a new train station one hour from Marylebone and 10 minutes from centre of Oxford by train? I'm sure building a shitty 7,000-seater League Two stadium nearby would be peanuts compared to the potential housing and retail sites that could come along with it. And would the council block such a bright new future for the community's beloved football club? Where have we seen this sort of emotional blackmail before….??

And I'm reasonably sure of one thing: this is a takeover in all but name. Ian Lenagan may declare his family is not selling up or moving on, but the exit of Simon and Adrian from any involvement in the club and the reduction of Ian's portfolio to purely "Stadium Development" is a clear signal to me. 

Eales will almost certainly buy the remaining 40-odd % Woodstock Partners Ltd shares once the stadium development side of things is complete. Lenagan wants his money back - Eales isn't likely to give him the return he wants until he's getting a realistic asset against it.

I must stress that just because I've only been negative here, doesn't mean I don't think some good could come from this.  

As someone on the Yellows Forum pointed out to me tonight: would I be upset if Championship football came alongside a tidy profit for a new investor and a way out for the man who bankrolled us for eight years without losing his money? 

Of course not! And let's just hope that will happen and real investment in the PLAYING SQUAD and FOOTBALL MANAGEMENT is prioritised over building an attractive property portfolio. 

Reality check though: Let's not pretend today is not firstly an investment opportunity for the new guys coming in and a way for Lenagan to get some money back out. 

The press conference today was the warning bell for me. It said next to nothing about the playing side of things, but had a strong emphasis on the planning and stadium acquisition. 

I mean, for Christ's sake, the news about our current manager being sacked was according to Jerome Sale about 15 mins into the press conference! I can't say for sure as unusually for a football club press conference, the local press seemed not to be allowed to broadcast it live, and instead of hearing the most important bit of news on the ownership structure of my football club in a decade, I had to endure a bit of Barry White crooning and some hippy talk about this weekend's fucking Cowley Road carnival from BBC Radio Oxford.

As a mate texted me tonight: the press conference was for Kassam and the County Council's benefit, not for the supporters. The fact that we weren't even allowed to hear it first-hand pretty much tells us all we need to know about that.

"Hey Hudspeth! Hey Kassam! We mean business. Come to the table or the football club gets it!"
DO NOT forget what happened when Kassam bought the club. He initially invested and "saved" us as well. He bought OUFC for £1 and was able to wipe 90% of the debts with a clever CVA. He then sold the Manor Ground to his other company for £6m and sold it again for £12m. Ker-ching to him, not OUFC. Overall, Oxford United hasn't cost Firoz Kassam a fucking penny of his own money in the end. He has raked it all back with interest.

Kassam used OUFC as a community asset to essentially emotionally blackmail the council into getting a new stadium built. It worked. We got a new shitty concrete stadium and non-league football. He got a few more millions in his bank and offloaded the annoying whiny Oxford fans to a conman with a tan and no socks backed by his millionaire mate who was basically swizzled into a ridiculous rental agreement and a bunch of shit journeymen players. 

"I think the Journey has come to an end, Mr Kassam…"
And Kassam is STILL making eye-watering amounts of money from OUFC in rent, as well as other profits from the stadium, Ozone complex and the Holiday Inn, as every year the current owner of OUFC throws another £1m in to keep the asset-less club afloat.

What is to stop the current Eales/Lenagan situation not going the same way?

I hope I'm wrong. But let's not be blind to the lessons of what happened before, and take everything that is promised with a massive pinch of salt.

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