Wednesday, 7 September 2011
The tragic news of Michael Dye’s untimely death following an incident outside Wembley Stadium last night has come as a bitter blow to everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him. Lifelong Cardiff fan Mikey was a popular character who will be greatly missed by his family and friends.
Despite having been on nodding terms for decades, Mike and I weren’t properly introduced until an away game at Charlton in November 2007, after which our paths crossed at City matches on many more occasions. Although we never got to know each other well, Mike would often make a point of saying hello and having a chat whenever he spotted me at games. He was a sociable lad who always seemed to have a smile on his face and a joke or a story to tell.
Mikey and I were the same age and although our backgrounds differed, we had plenty in common. We both became Cardiff City fans while we were youngsters; we both supported the Bluebirds home and away throughout the Eighties and Nineties while the club was at its lowest ebb; we both witnessed the team’s improved fortunes in recent times; indeed, Mike and his family were sitting just a couple of rows behind me during the FA Cup final in 2008; we both organised transport for away matches and we made many mutual friends through football over the years.
Back in the days when City were attracting tiny crowds in the lower divisions of the Football League, Mikey developed friendships with a number of the Whitchurch-based supporters who nowadays travel to away games on my coaches. One of the lads was heading down to the Cardiff City Stadium earlier this evening to put a tribute on the old Ninian Park gates on behalf of the CF14 Blues.
The most fitting personal tribute I can pay Mikey is to say he was someone who never failed to make me smile or laugh whenever I spoke to him. He was very well-liked amongst City’s support and always seemed to have time for everyone he encountered. His death at the age of 44 is a genuine tragedy.
I’d like to offer my sincere condolences to Mike’s partner Nathalie, his children and all of his family and friends.
Rest in peace, Mikey. It’s an honour to have known you.
Sunday, 29 May 2011
As a tiny but persistent minority of City fans are continuing to use internet forums and the local press to call for Hammam’s return, I thought that now would be as a good a time as any to recall some of the Lebanese maverick’s weirdest, funniest and most significant pronouncements during his eleven-year association with the club.
The following quotes have been gathered from a variety of sources, including television and radio interviews, local and national press reports, official Cardiff City publications and statements on the club’s website. I believe they paint a vivid picture of the emotional rollercoaster that was the Hammam era. Hopefully, they will give some serious food for thought to those who believe his return would be a good thing for the Bluebirds:
“I am in a trance, dazed, swept off my feet, gobsmacked and perhaps hypnotized. In short, I am in love with Cardiff City Football Club.” (August 2000)
“I have been in football for twenty two years and have never seen such fanatical support for a team as I have seen in Cardiff. The only fans that seem to compare are possibly those of Newcastle United. They are the Toon Army. My dream is of a Welsh Army. Newcastle is a middle-sized city. We are a whole nation.” (August 2000)
“It is my opinion that Bobby Gould is ideal for what we need. We have to recruit new players within our very limited financial means and Bobby is second to none in that department. I am confident that Bobby will do an outstanding job here. Very importantly he is a hard working, genuine and honest man with very high moral standards.” (August 2000)
“As far as I’m concerned, this is a Welsh thing, a Cymru thing, a Celtic thing – not a Cardiff thing. How else can we dream of competing with Manchester United and Liverpool?” (August 2000)
“Football is always a passion and never a business. Of course, we have to make business decisions like every father and mother does when they run a family, but a family is not a business and Cardiff City Football Club is a family. It is neither a business nor a family football club, but simply a family.” (August 2000)
“Some people tell me that Swansea is the enemy. Swansea, for Pete’s sake! There is nothing wrong with Swansea but is that the extent of our ambition? Swansea will never be a big club and if they are being honest with themselves they will say so. If Swansea fans are Welsh and want to see top class football in Wales, then they should recognise that Cardiff is the only Welsh club with a cat in hell’s chance of making it.” (August 2000)
“Wales is football first and rugby second. We will always respect rugby but they should know that football rules. Football is the biggest game in the world and it’s the biggest game in Wales. If they want to make something of this then so be it. We will face them head on. We’ll play our games on Saturdays. Why should we change for rugby?” (August 2000)
“If members of our family misbehave or do something wrong, we will put up our hands, admit it and deal with it ourselves. As far as possible we don’t want to have to involve the police or the football authorities. We must deal with these things on our own terms. What we won’t accept are unscrupulous media people trying to feed on what has been a club weakness. If they go over the top against our family then we will take them on. Very simply the message is do not mess with the Bluebirds.” (August 2000)
“Bobby Gould and Billy Ayre have been told that unless it is an emergency, I only want to keep or sign players who can hold their own in the top half of the First Division or better. We are very severely restricted with our finances, but this is where Bobby is the master. He will look for people who will be very committed to our family. No big-time Charlies and no hangers-on. Players who do not fight for the family will be sent back to their wives or mothers and they can be big time there instead.” (August 2000)
“This is a huge club and we’re keeping all of our leading players. Even if someone offers silly money for Robert Earnshaw we will not let him go. Don’t ask me to put a transfer value on him because he is priceless.” (November 2000)
“A lot of the financial decisions I am making for the club no sane person would make and furthermore the breakneck speed we are moving at is insane. All the red lights and stop signs are being ignored. I am just doing it and while I am scared, I am not showing any signs of slowing down.” (August 2001)
“Nobody believes there is any limit as to what we can do or how far we can go and they are dragging me into that way of thinking. The danger is that I am not only thinking like that now, but I am acting like that. On the other hand, is this not the beauty of life – to court danger and take a chance when it is worth taking?” (August 2001)
“Reading has a great stadium – for Reading. It’s the sort of stadium we’d like to have for our reserves, youth and women’s teams. As for the Cardiff City first team, I am totally convinced we can be as big as any club in the world, so we must have a stadium to match that situation. Cardiff City are bigger as a club than Barcelona.” (September 2001)
“During the week, David O’Leary said he wanted Leeds United to start and end their FA Cup run in Cardiff. We simply obliged him.” (January 2002)
“On behalf of the club, all its decent fans and the good people of Wales, I would like to express my disgust and shock at the behaviour of some of the mindless morons who are the worst enemies of our club. I am talking about the people who were mainly throwing coins, although there was also a cigarette lighter, a very small glass bottle and many plastic bottles thrown. Incredibly, there was also a shoe. I feel speechless and humiliated.” (January 2002)
“In my twenty five years in football I have never witnessed such an orchestrated and vicious media campaign as the one that Cardiff City currently has to face. We will close ranks and fight together against this evil and wicked campaign. We will not get bitter, we will get better. I feel strong, focussed, in control and ready to face any situation.” (January 2002)
“I am a forgiving man and I hope that one day I can forgive the morons amongst our fans who brought disgrace to the club, and also the cruel, vile people in the media who treated us in a very savage, vicious and biased way.” (January 2002)
“The beauty of life is to have problems. Only the dead have no problems.” (January 2002)
“It is imperative that everyone understands and agrees the biggest enemy to the dream of Cardiff City being a top-notch club are the hooligans. But if you want to beat the hooligans, you don’t go and meet the saints. By showing these hooligans they are human beings and giving them a sense of feeling wanted, I might be able to help. You’ve got to meet them to beat them. We are a civilised nation and we must treat people in a civilised way.” (May 2002)
“There can be no doubt that Wales should have a football club at the top level of the Premiership. That club can only be Cardiff City. This club represents every Welsh man, woman and child.” (December 2002)
“This club belongs as much to Newport and Swansea, to Llanelli and Carmarthen, to St David’s and Aberystwyth, to Holyhead and Rhyl, to Newtown and Brecon, as to Cardiff and the Valleys. Of course, Cardiff is the bedrock of this great Welsh family. We are the capital and we should lead. But while the Valley boys are the throbbing heart of the club, it would be very wrong, selfish and suicidal to assume any sense of superiority over any town, village or city in Wales. First and foremost, we are all Welsh." (December 2002)
“All our present supporters must be big enough to assume a level of responsibility in attracting new Bluebirds from all over the country. They must adopt the motto: ‘each one reach one’. Reach out and be proud about what we are trying to do and don’t ever assume a sense of superiority over new recruits, as they are as important as anyone for our future.” (December 2002)
“Swansea is our Welsh brother. It is wrong to continue the historical stupidity of berating our brothers when they are not in top form. We belong to Swansea and want them to be happy for the success of their club – Cardiff City.” (December 2002)
“England is a great nation which we love and respect. In football, they have adopted us as one of their own. We are very thankful and very lucky to be so. We should always carry the Welsh flag or the St David’s flag with pride everywhere we go, but we should never, ever berate the English. Those who do are doing so because of a sense of inferiority. Those who shout ‘same old English always cheating’ are shaming their country and their club.” (December 2002)
“Any player with the potential to play in the Premiership is remaining with Cardiff City. End of story.” (January 2003)
“This is the beauty of Cardiff. It’s why I came to the club. Cardiff has the potential to be a major power. If we get the new stadium and are doing well in the Premiership, we can be bigger than Celtic and Rangers put together.” (August 2003)
“There are people who think we might sell some of our players to Premiership clubs in the next transfer window. To those losers I ask, how can that make any sense? I view clubs in the middle or bottom half of the Premiership as big enough only to be Cardiff’s nursery clubs.” (October 2003)
“Everyone wants something from time to time. I’m interested in going out with Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss. Talk about selling our best players is stupid and infantile. It’s just not going to happen. Clubs may want certain players, but you don’t always get what you want. If I do end up dating Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, then I might think about selling Robert Earnshaw and Danny Gabbidion, but not before.” (December 2003)
“The most important factor to Cardiff City’s future is the new stadium, and next comes the Academy. Our youth development programme is absolutely vital. This Academy will benefit not only Cardiff City but the whole of Wales. Our aim is to produce top class players for this club and the Welsh national team. But those players who are not quite good enough for Cardiff will be able to play for Swansea, Wrexham or teams in the Welsh Premier League.” (December 2003)
“If somebody wants to bet me that Robert Earnshaw or Danny Gabbidon will be sold I will give them odds of 50-1. They can put down any amount up to £1m and I will cover it.” (January 2004)
“Russell Goodway, our political leader, is giving me the stadium for us to perform, not to sell players. Danny Gabbidion and Robert Earnshaw are not normal human beings. They are soldiers whose duty it is to put the club in a place that the people of Wales deserve. To sell the future of Wales is not on. I cannot see any advantage, financial or otherwise, in selling our best players. We don’t need the money, so they stay.” (February 2004)
“Gareth Whalley is the nicest man on earth and an excellent professional, but he will never get another contract like the one he has now at any other club in the land. I challenge him to put in a transfer request. Nobody would pay him even a third of what we pay him. We have brought this upon ourselves, but I’m sick and tired of being treated like a mug. Can you believe Gareth? £50,000 for one game! Who is he, Ronaldo?” (April 2004)
“When I came to the club I totally fell in love with it. I had to build a squad and put the club in the First Division quickly. We did that, but we also overpaid on wages and transfer fees. There was no mistake in overpaying. If we had not done that, we would not have had class players like Graham Kavanagh and Peter Thorne. That was the policy then, but now it’s time to say enough is enough.” (April 2004)
“The bad thing is we have created a culture within the club where money has no value. But overpaying is now done and dusted at Cardiff City. It has to stop. If it doesn’t I will ruin this club. I have to kill the culture of a free-for-all on money. We have lost the respect of the football world and we have to get it back.” (April 2004)
“I will bet anyone that we won’t sell Robert Earnshaw. The bet can be £50 or it can be £100,000. My message to anyone who thinks we will sell Earnie is this – put up or shut up.” (June 2004)
“I pour scorn on suggestions that Robert Earnshaw will be leaving. West Brom is a club I admire. It’s a well-run club and a good club, but in future years it’s the sort of club we are looking at to become one of our nursery clubs. When we get to where we want to be we’ll need a nursery club in the Midlands.” (July 2004)
“Robert Earnshaw will be leaving Cardiff City, but not for ten years at least. We are hell-bent on keeping Earnie and all of our other leading players.” (August 2004)
“Considering our financial situation, something had to give. That’s why we sold Robert Earnshaw to West Brom. We need to strengthen in a number of positions and we now have the funds to do that.” (September 2004)
“Our debt is nowhere near as big as has been suggested. We are robust, strong. Financial institutions have looked at us, agreed we are strong and have backed us. They would not do that if we did not have a strong business and a good plan. Strength is measured by whether financial institutions will lend you money. Where’s the worry?” (November 2004)
“Clearly there is a problem. You don’t sell your captain if there isn’t. But I have not told lies or misled anybody. The fans are mad with me and they should be. I am ultimately responsible. Whether I was duped or conned or given wrong information is neither here nor there. I have promised and been unable to deliver. I sold Robert Earnshaw and Graham Kavanagh, but I have taken massive personal risks for this club.” (March 2005)
“I will not run away and I will not hide. I have made some mistakes, big mistakes, but I have not done anything wrong deliberately. Right now I feel like a man in the ring alone and I have to fight the whole world, but I will do that. We will come through this without going into administration. Some players may have to be sold, but we will come through this. We will not fail. Once the stadium is started our debt will be no more than a cup of tea.” (March 2005)
“The police told me on Friday not to go to Ninian Park, but I went and I talked to the fans outside the ground. I wanted to answer any questions they had for me. If somebody had punched me I would have fallen, but at least I would have fallen among my own people. I really hope the fans rally round me now. I need only to fight those in front of me. I tell you honestly and truly, I am not raping this club.” (March 2005)
“I have let the fans down. It’s a major blow and tough times for the family. I think we might have to take a step or two backwards, and it’s very painful. We don’t want to get in a position to have ten points deducted and have some team of accountants of who will sack three quarters of the staff and sell all the players. It is our duty now to keep strong and stick together.” (March 2005)
“I have promised certain things that I have not been able to deliver at this point in time. I’m personally shattered, but I will continue fighting for this club until I have got them out of this situation. We all have to stand together and accept we might have to do some very painful things in the next few days or weeks.” (March 2005)
“We have worked to budgets that were way off the mark. It wasn’t that we were stupid or cavalier. We felt it was ok to lose maybe £1m or £1.5m a year, but the fact is we have been losing £3m, £4m or £5m. Even then we felt we would be okay with the new stadium on the way, but we were wrong.” (March 2005)
“Peter Ridsdale believes we will achieve everything we are aiming for. Of course, we have to get through our short-term problems and Peter is a man who can help us with that. I know what happened to him at Leeds United. He was close, so close to making that club a massive success. One problem got in his way and things went wrong from there, but he was very, very unlucky. His experience will be invaluable to us.” (March 2005)
“Those who are angry with me are right to feel that way. They love this club and I have made mistakes. I am mad at myself because things have reached this point, but I am not going to point fingers and look for somebody to blame. I am going to fix the problems. That is my way.” (March 2005)
“These problems have knocked me back personally. The stadium delay is a setback, but I am also disappointed with our internal budgeting. Someone who is ignorant of the exact situation, looking in from the outside, would think we have massive financial problems in the long term, but we don’t. The cash problems will disappear in seconds when the new stadium project starts.” (March 2005)
“When I succeed, and I will, I will stay to enjoy the fruits of that success. I will not run away from the problems. I am here for the long haul. I will be here when Cardiff build a new stadium and move forward on the pitch. I am feeling buoyant and strong.” (March 2005)
“There are a million and one reasons for James Collins to stay, and his personality is among them. He has such ability and he is Cardiff through and through. Our young players are the future. They are the lifeblood of Cardiff City.” (June 2005)
“There are termites within the club, the media and more significantly the fans. Some so-called supporters are losers who have no moral fabric. They can’t accept that life and events sometimes knock you back, and that very successful people can and do make mistakes. We aim to be winners and root out the losers, so I say bring all the bastards on! Fighting is our bread and butter. The dream is our soup.” (July 2005)
“Comparisons between Cardiff City and the Cardiff Blues are infantile. There is no serious comparison between the two clubs. The rugby club is a baby compared to Cardiff City. It’s like asking a world boxing champion to fight a two year-old.” (December 2005)
“Swansea should be congratulated on their fantastic achievements. I am personally very happy for them. They are a Welsh club and they are our little brothers.” (April 2006)
“We are trying to get the highest quality players we can within our limited means, but we are working within severe financial restrictions and cannot pay huge fees or salaries. We have to demonstrate to the banks and the council that we can successfully work within this financial programme and I believe we can do that. Players who are good enough for the Championship will have to go because good is not good enough for us now. We are moving towards very good and excellent.” (July 2006)
“You’ve heard of sexy football. Well, we are now playing orgy football. The opposition know they are going to get it, but they don’t know when or from whom.” (October 2006)
“I am devastated, but like any father I was prepared to sacrifice myself for my family. I know I’ve done the right thing and I have the inner satisfaction of doing what is right for my family. I’m keeping my integrity. The club is bigger than any one man. It’s aiming to reach the pinnacle and I had to move on to make that possible.” (October 2006)
“The new people will have the fiscal muscle needed to make the stadium move a much smoother process than if I had stayed. They will also be able to improve the team. I’m jealous of the new owners. They have little risk and in Peter Ridsdale they have an outstanding administrator who is a football man to the core.” (October 2006)
“I’m a man with strong financial clout, but nowhere near enough clout to take Cardiff City forward. This club has proved far too big for one individual to handle. It has outgrown me. While I am shattered by all this, I knew I had to resign for the sake of my Cardiff family.” (October 2006)
“Dave Jones is a complete football manager rather than just a coach. He gets the right blend in the team, knows when to buy and sell players, is superb tactically and an excellent and practical administrator. He’s a real leader.” (October 2006)
“People have asked me about other clubs, but it is as if my wife is dying and you are asking me if I am thinking of going out with another woman. Of course, a married man always has temptations, but I am not in that frame of mind and investing elsewhere seems highly unlikely.” (October 2006)
“I want to stress that I never want the football club back. I want to move on with my life and the decision has been made to leave the United Kingdom for good. I am never coming back. I say again, I just want to get on with my life and be with my family.” (December 2007)
“I am not Langston and I cannot tell it what to do. Langston got fed up with me long ago. I have no power over it.” (December 2007)
“I never want to hurt Cardiff City and never would. I love the club and I love the fans. All I want is a future for Cardiff City Football Club, but I won’t be a part of it. I want the fans to remember me and love me.” (December 2007)
“TG and Sam Hammam working together would be a dream team. It’s something I want with a passion. Cardiff City would come out fighting for the new season, back to its best. I don’t want to be involved on the financial side – that’s where I made my mistakes. But I can put the football back into Cardiff City. I have the contacts needed.” (July 2010)
“I am more than willing to work alongside the Malaysian investors. They should either pay Langston what is owed or let me back onboard. I have football knowledge and can contribute on the football side. The club does not have football leader to steady the ship. We cannot waste time. We should agree now and take our club forward together.” (May 2011)
Thursday, 13 January 2011
Since the turn of the year, debate has once again been raging on the Cardiff City message boards with regard to Sam Hammam and the mysterious Langston loan notes agreement. The arguments have been further fuelled in recent days by fanciful Media Wales reports suggesting that the Bluebirds’ former-owner could be set to make a dramatic return to the club.
On 5 January, Supporters’ Trust board member and football finance expert Keith Morgan outlined his thoughts concerning the loan notes and their likely impact on the club’s future in a lengthy post on the popular Cardiff City Online message board.
Within a matter of hours, self-styled Bluebirds oracle and staunch Sam Hammam supporter Carl Curtis had responded angrily on Annis Abraham’s message board. Curtis boldly stated that Morgan was “not in charge of all the facts” and was “on many issues factually incorrect.” He then published one of his notorious ‘updates’, in which he made a variety of unsubstantiated claims regarding the nature of the debt and the ways in which the club’s directors will have to deal with it.
In my opinion, Curtis’s piece was hopelessly one-sided and littered with inaccuracies. However, by the same token I’m not convinced that Morgan’s take on the current situation is entirely accurate either. Therefore, I think that now would be an ideal time to re-examine the information that is already available in the public domain regarding the loan notes debt. I’ve decided to pay particular attention to the lawsuit that Langston brought against the football club in August 2007, as I believe it is fundamental to understanding the issue.
The following review is based upon the information contained in copies of the club’s audited accounts from June 2004 to May 2009, the December 2006 notice to shareholders that was circulated ahead of the club’s January 2007 Extraordinary General Meeting, a transcript of Mr Justice Briggs’ March 2008 rulings on the legal battle between the Langston Corporation and Cardiff City Football Club and a variety of press cuttings from 2005 to present:
September 2004 – The First Loan Notes Agreement
The original agreement was drawn up in September 2004, when the previously-unknown Langston Corporation gave the football club an unsecured loan of £24 million. The bulk of that money was used to pay off Citibank, who at that stage were owed £21,766,000 and were charging the club interest on the arrears at a hefty rate. The loan notes deal meant the club became liable for interest at 7% per annum until January 2008, when a further 5% per annum was payable out of non-football profits from the new stadium development. The debt was repayable in full by 31 December 2011.
In the event, the stadium project suffered one delay after another and the club’s financial situation grew steadily worse. In October 2006, Sam Hammam stepped down as Chairman, ex-Leeds United supremo Peter Ridsdale took over the Ninian Park hot seat, and a restructured loan notes agreement with the Langston Corporation was negotiated almost immediately.
October 2006 – The Second Loan Notes Agreement
In late-October 2006, the Swiss-based Panamanian-registered company agreed to write down the loan notes debt from £24 million to £15 million in exchange for an entitlement to future income up to a maximum of £9 million arising from the sale of the naming rights at the new stadium. All historic interest was waived as a part of the deal, while interest on the remaining £15 million was set at 7% per annum.
The interest began accruing in March 2007, although the amended agreement stipulated that no payments of either the principle sum or interest were necessary until December 2016. The new agreement also meant that Langston became eligible for a £5 million ‘bonus’ payment if the Bluebirds managed to gain promotion to the Premier League before December 2011 or, if later, at any time that the principle sum of £15 million remained outstanding.
August 2007 – The Langston Litigation
On 14 August 2007, the Langston Corporation dropped an enormous bombshell on Cardiff City and its supporters when the company launched a major litigation against the football club. London-based law firm Hextalls issued a press statement revealing they had been instructed by Langston to commence legal proceedings against the Bluebirds to recover funds totalling £31,528,321.
The statement said: “Our client’s claim is that this sum is due for payment now as a result of the club’s inability to meet certain deadlines as well as breaching the terms of its loan agreement in respect of the capital sum plus interest. In the event that the club cannot meet its liabilities to our client, then the alternative is for the current board of directors to resign and our client to endorse the appointment of a new board and new management.”
Peter Ridsdale responded by saying: “We are astonished at the press release sent out today appearing to come from someone representing the Langston Corporation. Cardiff City’s board and Cardiff City Council have for some time been trying to identify who Langston are and have continually come up against a brick wall. We simply don’t know who they are. Sam Hammam, the club’s previous Chairman, has been acting as an intermediary with Langston and we have been in constant dialogue with him. He has always refused to divulge the identity of Langston and therefore we have never had any direct dialogue with them.”
Director Steve Borley dismissed Langston’s lawsuit as “scaremongering, posturing and misinformation.” He added: “This club is more stable now than it has been for years. The new stadium project will go ahead, there is no danger to that, and we are all focussed on moving forward. The board are totally behind Peter Ridsdale. Cardiff City would not be in the good state it is in now if it wasn’t for him. He has led us through the turmoil.”
Two days later, Ridsdale produced an agreement dated 24 October 2006 which he claimed proved the club had no obligations to pay Langston any money before December 2016. He told the Western Mail: “Without this document we wouldn’t have a new football stadium project. It was essential in order for us to demonstrate to the Council that we had a robust financial position so we could go ahead with the stadium. As far as we are concerned, it is legally binding. It is signed by the Langston Corporation and it is the document upon which all of the funding requirements for the new stadium project have been based.”
In another interview with the Wales on Sunday, Ridsdale said: “You have to ask if there is someone out there whose agenda is to destabilise the club. A lawsuit is certainly a strange way for Langston to try and get their money back as it’s in their interests for the club to prosper and we have a legally-binding agreement with them. The way this is being handled is surprising. Only someone who wants to cause the current board problems would take this route. You have to question who is behind it.”
Langston applied to the High Court for a summary judgement, which meant they were seeking a verdict in their favour without the necessity of a full trail as they believed the club had no legitimate defence against their claims. The first skirmish in the legal battle took place on 12 November, when Hextalls demanded the disclosure of various documents held by the club. City’s lawyers, Nabarro, had already given a written undertaking to provide the relevant papers, but Hextalls nevertheless took the matter to court. A brief hearing ruled the documents had to be presented by the club to Langston within seven days, but the plaintiff’s application for costs was dismissed by the judge.
Within a week, Hextalls had issued a further statement on behalf of Langston. It read: “With no prompting by Langston, Cardiff City Football Club has raised the spectre of administration. Hextalls is instructed to state that administration is not an option being considered by Langston. The success of the club on and off the pitch and the completion of the new stadium are in the interests of everybody. All that Langston wants is to be paid what is due to it. As previously stated, Langston has lost confidence in the board of directors, who should relinquish control of the club to Langston.”
Peter Ridsdale replied by saying: “If the court case goes ahead and the ruling goes in Langston’s favour, there won’t be any alternative other than administration, so they won’t get any of the money they are owed. I believe they would be lucky to get a penny in the pound. If Langston lose the court hearing and the judge deems it can go to a full trial, that wouldn’t happen for at least 18 months because of the legal paperwork involved. However, there is a third option, which is the common sense one. Namely that Sam Hammam sits down and talks to us and the court case is called off.”
The High Court hearing was originally scheduled for 10 December, but just three days before that date it was revealed that Langston’s lawyers had applied for an adjournment. In an open letter to Hextalls, Nabarro said: “Your client’s unwillingness to proceed on Monday gives rise to a strong inference that it believes it will be unsuccessful. The club has robustly defended itself and will continue to do so. Our client has no intention of wasting further money on costs and very reluctantly agrees to adjourn.”
In response, Hextalls issued another statement on Langston’s behalf claiming the adjournment was down to the football club. They said: “The true position is that Cardiff City failed to serve its evidence in accordance with court rules. It is a consequence of the club’s failures that have led to the summary judgement hearing being deferred to another date. Langston remains confident that it will successfully recover the monies that are due to it.”
On 10 December, PMG director and major club investor Mike Hall spoke to the South Wales Echo about the ongoing situation. Hall said: “For the avoidance of doubt, Cardiff City Football Club is totally committed to repaying Langston in full. But there is no way we will ever entertain Sam Hammam or Langston having anything to do with the running of the club. Paul Guy (Hall’s business partner) and I have no axe to grind with Sam Hammam. There is no personal grievance. We have acted in the best interests of Cardiff City – not with words, but with cash. The legal action by Langston is unwarranted and aggressive. It is placing a financial stranglehold on the club.”
In a bizarre twist, Sam Hammam contacted close confidant Annis Abraham on 17 December and dictated an open letter to Echo sports writer Terry Phillips. Hammam said: “I want to stress that I never want the football club back. I want to move on with my life and the decision has been made to leave the United Kingdom for good. I am never coming back. I am drained and I am hurting. I have lost my power. My wings have been taken away from me. All I want now is for everyone to get their money. I say again, I just want to get on with my life and be with my family. I am not Langston and I cannot tell it what to do. Langston got fed up with me long ago. I have no power over it. I never want to hurt Cardiff City and never would. I love the club, I love the fans and hopefully this will be sorted in the New Year. All I want is a future for Cardiff City Football Club, but I won’t be a part of it. I love the club and want the fans to remember me and love me.”
Lifelong Bluebirds fan Abraham commented: “While Sam was on the phone I asked him: ‘Are you Langston? Please be honest if you think anything of me.’ He told me he is not Langston and said he can’t tell Langston what to do. Sam was different to the man I have known in the past. He was quiet and sounded drained. He said he won’t ever try to hurt Cardiff City.”
When asked by the Western Mail to comment on Hammam’s open letter, Peter Ridsdale said: “I don’t know what to make of it, but if you take it at face value then it reads like a cry for help from a man who is desperate to be loved again. Here is a man who, in my view, has lost the will of the Cardiff City supporters and is trying to get back in favour. I think it’s absurd really. The letter does not actually say anything and nor does it answer any of the questions that are important to the club and its fans. He does not tell us who Langston are or how they can be persuaded to find a solution to this situation once and for all. It is fine to claim to love the club, but it’s action that people expect, not words. While we are fighting to safeguard Cardiff City, it is my view that Sam Hammam’s statements are of no help to anyone but himself.”
The dispute finally came to a head during a two-day hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice on 12 and 13 March 2008. After listening to the lengthy legal arguments presented by David Wolfson QC on behalf of Cardiff City and Michael Driscoll QC on behalf of the Langston Corporation, the Honourable Mr Justice Briggs retired to consider the evidence. He delivered his verdict on 19 March and ruled in favour of the football club on all three of the technical points upon which Langston’s lawyers had based their request for a summary judgement without a full trial.
Judge Briggs stated that Langston’s claim was “plainly not a case for summary judgement”. He said the club “had a realistic prospect of establishing a defence” on each of the technicalities cited by the creditors as contraventions to the loan notes agreement. The judge refused Langston leave to appeal, saying: “I consider this to be a clear case and I do not consider that an appeal stands any reasonable chance of success.” He added: “In my judgement, the club has a real prospect of obtaining the remedy of rectification it seeks.”
Mr Justice Briggs concluded there was also a “real prospect” that a full trial would conclusively prove that Sam Hammam was “the governing mind and will” of the Langston Corporation at all times. His verdict was a resounding victory for the football club, who were awarded legal costs of around £80,000 at the plaintiff’s expense.
December 2009 – The Third Loan Notes Agreement
In December 2009, a number of further amendments to the loan notes deal were agreed with Langston representative Sam Hammam. The new agreement had five key terms, which were:
1) Payment by the club to Langston of £83,333 per calendar month starting in January 2010.
2) A reduction in the principle sum to £10 million (less any monthly payments made) if the debt was repaid in full by 31 December 2010.
3) Payment by the club to Langston of up to £5 million if the new stadium naming rights were sold and/or promotion to the Premier League was secured, together with a further payment of £5 million if the club either retained its Premier League status or was promoted a second time thereafter.
4) An undertaking by Langston to suspend any legal proceedings against the club until 31 December 2010.
5) An undertaking by both parties to reach an agreement covering the full term and settlement of the loan notes by 31 December 2010 if the principle sum had not been repaid by that date.
While discussing the new loan notes agreement during a meeting at the Cardiff City Stadium in December 2009, former-Chairman Peter Ridsdale told me that the deal would remain valid until December 2016. He claimed there were major incentives for early repayment of the debt which could see the club’s liability reduce significantly (eg: if the debt was settled in full by December 2010, the total payable would be £10 million; if it was paid in full by December 2011, the amount required by Langston would be £11 million; if it was settled by December 2012, the total sum would be £12 million; and so on until December 2016, when the remaining balance of £8,000,000 would be due.). He also stated that all interest, both historical and future, had been waived by Langston.
Judging by the post balance sheet events listed in the club’s independently audited accounts for the year ended 31 May 2009 (which were filed at Companies House in July 2010) I now have considerable doubts as to whether the latest amendments to the loan notes agreement are valid until December 2016 as Ridsdale suggested. My feeling is they probably expired at the end of last month. I guess we will have to wait until the May 2010 accounts are published before we can be absolutely sure about that, but what is already certain is that the club failed to meet the December repayment deadline, so the matter is still ongoing.
Having considered all of the information that is already in the public domain, I have reached the conclusion that the loan notes agreement which is currently in effect is almost certainly the version that was drawn up in October 2006. To me, that appears by far the most logical scenario.
During his so-called ‘updates’ on Annis Abraham’s message board, Carl Curtis has repeatedly claimed that the terms of the agreement have reverted to those of the original deal (ie: £24 million plus interest backdated to September 2004) as a result of the club’s failure to repay the principle sum in its entirety by the end of December 2010. Personally, I don’t for one moment believe that’s an accurate reflection of the present situation.
After successfully fighting to preserve the terms of the October 2006 agreement during a lengthy and expensive High Court battle, it would have been utter madness for the club’s lawyers to sanction any further amendments to the deal which would have allowed the debt to rise to almost £35 million if it wasn’t repaid in full by the end of 2010. In my opinion, the Bluebirds’ legal representatives demonstrated in 2008 that they are a good deal smarter than that.
Unfortunately, many of the details with regard to the Langston situation that Cardiff City fans are currently reading on the internet forums are being supplied by a young man from Neath who has perhaps unwittingly set himself up as Sam Hammam’s personal information minister. Carl Curtis was apparently introduced to Hammam by Annis Abraham in June of last year and he appears to have been somewhat star struck by the experience. Ever since that initial meeting, Curtis has been speaking to the maverick Lebanese businessman on a regular basis and has been leading the calls for his return to the club.
Meanwhile, much of the alleged ‘information’ he has posted about the Langston affair on the message boards has been little more than pro-Hammam propaganda, some of which has probably come direct from the man himself. Those of us who have enjoyed close relationships with Sam in the past will no doubt have recognised his style in several of Curtis’s recent submissions.
As regards the loan notes issue, the version of events that Curtis has been furiously peddling for the last six months is undoubtedly the one that Hammam would want everybody to accept. However, I’m confident that a High Court judge would see things rather differently, although given the way that the 2007 summary judgement application worked out I’d be amazed if Langston would ever take this business back into court. In my opinion, which is based largely on Mr Justice Briggs’ rulings back in 2008, they haven’t got a leg to stand on.
Having done all of the necessary calculations, I firmly believe that the loan notes debt (including interest backdated to March 2007) currently stands at around the £18 million mark, although an additional £5 million will be payable if the team secures promotion to the Premier League and any money the club manages to raise from the eventual sale of the Cardiff City Stadium naming rights will also go to Langston. Crucially, however, the bulk of the debt (ie: the £15 million principle sum and interest) isn’t repayable until December 2016, so there is plenty of time yet for the Bluebirds’ hierarchy to negotiate a more favourable deal.
The Bizarre ‘Bring Back Sam’ Campaign
Thanks mainly to the timely intervention of wealthy Malaysian businessmen Vincent Tan and Dato Chan Tien Ghee, Cardiff City Football Club currently appears to be in its most stable financial position for many years. Meanwhile, the team is occupying second place in the Championship and looks to have a genuine chance of automatic promotion to the Premier League. Therefore, it seems utterly bizarre that a small but persistent group of supporters are rocking the boat by actively campaigning for the return of Sam Hammam – a volatile and divisive character who dragged the club up from the lower divisions but who also led it to the brink of financial disaster.
Nobody associated with Cardiff City has ever polarised opinion in quite the same way that Hammam does, so it’s understandable that feelings are running high following reports that he intends to get involved in the running of the club once more. Under the circumstances I think it’s entirely reasonable for people to question the motives of the individuals who are taking part in what appears to be a mini-crusade on Hammam’s behalf.
Bear in mind that one of the main protagonists has been honest enough to admit that he never wanted the club to leave Ninian Park and was happiest when the Bluebirds were playing in the lower leagues in front of small crowds, while another has long been considered Hammam’s staunchest ally here in South Wales.
So why are these particular supporters desperate to see such a temperamental and controversial figure as the ex-Wimbledon owner return to Cardiff while things are apparently going so well for the club? It’s a genuine puzzle and I won’t even try to solve it, but what I will say is that the timing of this peculiar episode couldn’t be much worse. The new regime is working hard to rectify the problems caused by a decade of financial mismanagement, the team is battling to win promotion to the top flight, and yet divisions are starting to appear within the Bluebirds’ fanbase because a small number of Sam Hammam's disciples want him back at the club. I was going to say you couldn’t make it up, but sadly you don’t have to.