Fan’s View 2017/18 (no.20) Northampton at home

Article by Paul Beasley

Part1: Another Cup Defeat

For previous Checkatrade games this season I’ve not only boycotted but have had little or no interest in even knowing the score. (I know, I even surprised myself with the latter).  Following the abject showing at Vale Park I wanted reassurance that everything wasn’t going down the crapper so tuned in to Radio Oxford for the last quarter of an hour or so.

Losing, then lost, 4-3. We’re conceding goals by the shed load.

Won one, drawn one (but kind of lost because we were worse at penalties than some young boys from Brighton), and lost one, yet somehow we’ve made it through to the knockout stage of this ridiculous competition.

The best bit for me was afterwards when Selfy asked a bloke what he thought of the game. It went like this: Entertaining. Bad defending. Need to sort that defence out. Where is the usual left back? The left side centre-back and the left back, you might as well put a chair there. It’s only my second game, I’m from Portugal. I support a (Portuguese) second division side so I know what it is like to be bad.

Totally refreshing to hear such a candid view from a neutral.

Whilst hoping he had some inkling what this trophy is all about and why there were so few in attendance, I would have been intrigued to know what attracted him to this fixture in particular.

I’ve not had much to go on when I’ve heard recent complaints about OUFC’s current lack of marketing. Some have even said it is almost non-existent. Although I’ve seen a few posts on social media saying that something has been raised with the club but the poster has never received a reply, I’ve had no direct evidence of this. And anyway there’s been enough to fill the weekly FV with the football and financial digging I’ve become semi-obsessed with.

That’s until now.

I looked on it as a real positive when earlier this year the club opened the shop in the Covered Market giving Oxford United a presence in the city centre. That was something many fans thought long overdue.

Following a visit to Oxford on Monday 6 NOVEMBER I felt obliged to send the following e-mail to the Retail and Commercial Operations Manager.

This may come over as a bit of a moan but it’s written with the best of intentions.

I was really pleased when Oxford United opened the shop in the covered market in the belief that it would raise awareness of our football club in the wider community and possibly attract some tourists to home games.

As a shareholder and a season ticket holder for more years than I care to remember I am desperate for the football club to be a commercial success and given that we are up against it financially regarding Firoz Kassam’s continued ownership of the stadium it is vital that we take every opportunity to maximise revenue from the sources we have available.

Bearing this in mind I was really disappointed when yesterday at 10 to 5 I went into the covered market to show my wife where the shop is located to find a poster up in the window – Tickets on sale now for the following home games: Brighton and Hove Albion U21. 3rd October, AFC Wimbledon 7th October, Charlton Athletic 17th October. There was also an out of date poster for the over 60s Manor Club.

Not only are forthcoming fixtures not being brought to the attention of passers-by but to me this is sloppy in the extreme and makes OUFC look a bit of a joke. That hurts me.

I was expecting some kind of reply, explanation and possibly even thanks and if that had happened I probably wouldn’t have mentioned it here.

That I am doing so now is because this causes me concern about the way the non-footballing side of the club is being run.

I’m well aware that with Sumrith Thanakarnjanasuth (good job cut and paste is an easy operation, I’d never get the spelling right otherwise) having been in the building on quite a few occasions recently, Darryl will obviously have bigger priorities than a few out of date posters in a shop window.

So what prompted our Portuguese friend to be one of the 1,182 in attendance v MKD because it certainly wasn’t any slick up to date advertising by the club in the Covered Market?

TZ060832

Part 2:  Northampton Town FC finances and ownership

The nature of the business of Northampton Town Football Club Limited (The) which was incorporated in August 1922 is operation of sports facilities. The auditors having looked at the “full financial statements” deemed that the company is entitled to deliver abbreviated accounts under section 444(3) of the Companies Act 2006. So there’s not a lot of information to be had here, indicating they’re a small company. At least I think that’s what it means.

To 30/06/2016, “the company made a loss of £792k before exceptional items” and “the balance sheet highlights the company had net current liabilities (1.8m) and net liabilities (£592k) at the end of the year”.

“The company signed a 150 year lease with Northampton Borough Council on 13 April 2004 regarding land at Sixfields. The rent is one peppercorn per year (if demanded)”. I kid you not. Seems to me NTFC have done rather well out of the Council one way and another. Just thinking if a certain Council closer to home had taken the same approach we might not now be in the situation we find ourselves.

“Northampton Town Ventures Limited is the immediate parent company owning 75.31% of the issued share capital and Fantastical Limited is the ultimate parent company.”

To the year ended 30 November 2016 Northampton Town Ventures Ltd was entitled to exemption under section 477 of the companies act relating to small companies and the accounts, if you can call them that, were delivered in accordance with the provision applicable to a micro-company. The only information is this: Current Assets £1,476,000, Creditors falling due within a year £1,475,000 giving net assets of £1k.

The private limited Fantastical Limited was incorporated on 15 October 2015. As for accounts for this company, I can’t find anything other than “for y/e 31 October 2016 the company was entitled to exemption under section 480 of the Companies Act relating to dormant companies.”

I’m not really getting very far here but things have moved on and looking at the people involved sheds a bit more light.

Fantastical Ltd has two officers, Kelvin Thomas, Director and David Bower, Solicitor. KT will be very familiar to Oxford fans and those a bit older who followed the FK takeover saga will be well aware of the latter too. KT is also a Director of Northampton Town Ventures Ltd and DB was Secretary before resigning on 21/09/17. There are two other officers, Gui Dong Zheng (GDZ) and Yat Ay Yeung (YAY) both appointed on 23/6/17. Both live in China with their occupations recorded as “none”.

Northampton Town Football Club (The) currently has six officers KT, Mr Bower, CDZ and YAY, all Directors plus a Secretary and Michael Wailing, Qualified Accountant.

Now we’re getting somewhere. An article from the Northampton Chronicle on 26 June this year provides the evidence.

“Kelvin Thomas has reassured Cobblers fans their club is in the safest of hands after the announcement that Chinese company 5USports have purchased a 60 per cent stake in the Sixfields outfit.” The following day that stake was reported at just 45%.  This explains it, “the firm now owns 45 per cent of the overall shares in the Cobblers (buying 60 per cent of Kelvin Thomas and his investors’ 75 per cent share).”

On 5USport the Chronicle reports it appears that they have “undergone rapid expansion with offices in Hong Kong, the UK, Spain and Brazil, largely carrying out marketing and content services for the sports channel Eurosport and operating as the Chinese distribution partner for memorabilia monolith Icons.com. The worldwide brand sells signed goods from the world’s top footballers and boasts the likes of Lionel Messi, Christiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney among their roster of famous names willing to autograph a range of gift items.”

“Thomas told the newspaper, 34-year-old striker Marc Richards’ image could be plastered on the side of a building’ in China.”  Really. And we can’t even blu-tack an up to date piece of paper in a shop window in our own city.

There used to be a company called Northampton Town F.C which was incorporated on 17 December 2002. The name of this company was changed to Ticket Chicory Limited in December 2015 and was dissolved in May 2017.

Phew, and this is all without touching on loans from Northampton Borough Council to the Cobblers totalling £13.5m to develop Sixfields including hotel and conference facilities. A year ago Pricewaterhouse Coopers produced a 32 page report for the Council entitled “Review of policies and procedures relating to the provision of loan finance to Northampton Town Football Club”. It includes the following, “The Football Club has now been sold to a new buyer and a memorandum of understanding is in place with the new owner. The Council has informed the police of the situation and has initiated a series of work streams to investigate the details of the loan agreement, whether there has been any fraudulent action and to seek recovery of the monies”.

The report also refers to other investigations including the work of KPMG, the external auditors. Just over a year ago KPMG said it was putting its report into the Sixfields dealings on hold so as not to affect Northamptonshire Police’s investigation. Last month they were given the green light to resume.

Just realised I’ve not yet mentioned David Cardoza. He was the former Chairman of Northampton Town Football Club (The) who sold to KT, Bower and Walling in November 2015 for one pound. That timing is important.

It also needs pointing out that the Council have not covered themselves in glory over this, either.

So it’s watch this space but as these things tend to rumble on for years, probably not any time soon.

Part 3: Oxford United 1 Northampton Town 2

Earlier this season, such was the entertainment value, I was encouraging non-attenders to get along to the Kassam Stadium. Now I’d be embarrassed to do so.

The pessimism in me is now nagging away. Its whispering that everything both on and off the field that has been built since DE and Michael Appleton entered the world of Oxford United is going down the crapper.

On the pitch the stats after seventeen league games aren’t that bad though when compared to two of the three seasons under Mapp.

We’re currently on 23 points. In Mapp’s first season after 17 games we’d only got 19 points in L2. The start to that campaign was horrendous. We lost the first four and after seven games had just three points. Game number 12 was pivotal. The 5-1 defeat at Cambridge. He learnt a lot about many of the players and I believe what L2 was actually about. Not long after I believe he introduced a sensible degree of pragmatism into our footballing style. That was when I became a big fan. He’d learnt and acted upon that learning. I’m fed up now of hearing the same old same old “we’ve got to learn from that” garbage on the Radio after yet another defeat. Yes we know. We also know actions speak louder than words. Tell us once, yes. Then bloody well show us.

In the promotion season we’d accumulated 33 points at this stage but last season, Mapp’s only one at this level, just 19.

The worry is though that we’re going backwards; that teams have worked out how to play us; that we’re not capable of playing different styles or mixing it up nor have we the players to do so.

There was so much worryingly wrong here that it is becoming a broken record:

Every team we come up against now appears to be physically bigger and taller than we are. We just don’t seem to have the right mix. I’m not saying we need a team of giants but I wish I didn’t keep getting the image of a lot of little guys in Bolton Wanderers shirts jumping out of a mini bus and heading for the Phoenix Club whenever we’ve lost another challenge. It’s all perception, I know. “How far away are they?” Not long back I thought we’d cracked this.

I’d say we probably win about 20%, if that, of balls in the air in midfield. Up front that’s even lower but that just isn’t Wes Thomas’s game, as we keep saying. John Obika did a bit better in that regard but then, well let’s not dwell on that.

We really do need an outlet because we yet again played most of our football in front of the vast majority of the Northampton team. And we do it slowly. I thought under Pep we were going to still play football but do so quicker than under Mapp and with more attacking intent. I must have dreamt this because that’s not what is happening.

We lacked movement, we didn’t provide many, if any, options to the man on the ball and for the most part it was so easy for the Cobblers to defend against.

Size isn’t everything though and even the little guys can get stuck in giving that 110% but seriously, which team wanted it more? Rarely did I think we gave as much as them in the challenge. In the second half, after he thought he’d been fouled and not got anything for it, a riled up Jack Payne really went for it. If every player did that, in a common sense way, throughout the entire game, we’d almost certainly have got something out of it. The other I noticed with a bit of bite was Xemi in the few minutes he was given and he also added something in trying to drive us forward. That said, he’s another who isn’t the biggest or quickest around.

There’s still no getting away from the fact that we’ve got some very good footballers at the club at the moment but many of them are not at present playing anywhere near their best.

Ryan Ledson is a player I rate but he had an absolute stinker here. In the first couple of minutes I observed that he looked leaden legged and it didn’t get any better. He’ll not have another day as bad as this for a very long time and won’t need telling how he performed. I’m not an advocate of “get him off” but I was surprised when he came out for the second period even though we’d been forced to make one substitution already.

Time and again players turned and ran into trouble or got caught on the ball. He wasn’t the only one.

There were a few little glimpses of quality football but nothing to hint that we were a properly organised fighting unit with spirit and belief. We produced about 10% of what is required to win football matches. There’s a gulf to be filled with heart, application and work-rate.

P1060833

Waiting patiently to be waved by the ultras

Unlike most teams at home we rarely take the game to the opposition from the off. It was as if we were the away side here. Oh, wait. Well at least the Ultra’s tried their best to inject some atmosphere in the second largest home gate of the season. Only Pompey have brought more travellers than the Cobblers and this was the second largest turnout of supporters of the yellows too.

Given the way the game started and the way we now don’t defend properly at all, that we conceded early on surprised no-one. We got what we deserved.

Curtis Nelson had positioned himself just right to get the ball away and did exactly what was needed. Only one problem though, it was thin air he headed because James Henry had jumped up in front of him getting his nut on the ball first and sending it into the danger area.  Communication? Yes, there was then a bit of pushing and wrestling but you have to win the right to whinge. We won nothing. Where was that extra desire to keep the ball out? We had a man on the near post but not far. If there had been we would have had a good chance of preventing the goal. As the ball was crossing the line John-Joe O’Toole had a big handful of Ledson’s shirt. That’s cheating, but cheating or not, the right side took the three points.

Northampton have been described as just a big physical side but they had a couple of tricky customers on the ball and one guy produced some quality close control that probably could only have been seen by the spectators directly opposite, it was that subtle.

Every time I see O’Toole I think he is a law unto himself and whilst he’s getting to grips with those he’s up against, the officials never seem to get to grips with him. He’s very adept at leaning back into a player, reaching backwards and holding their shirt before going down and claiming a foul which ridiculously is actually given from time to time. On one occasion in front of the south Stand he shoved his hand into an Oxford player’s face in direct view of the officials. We didn’t even get a free kick. Kevin Johnson was a particularly weak referee.  Do we need or want a player like O’Toole?

If matters were not already bad enough on the pitch and in the treatment room, disaster struck in the 43rd minute. It looked bad when Nelson went down and if it is his achilles then it will be a long time before we see him again, if at all. I will say this for him though, just after it had happened he managed with one working leg to block a shot. Attitude like that throughout the side would not go amiss. Up to that point I thought he’d been our best player.

Amazingly the heavy gloom was lifted somewhat just after the restart following our captain’s exit on a stretcher. In keeping with the way we’d been playing, a cock up was involved in the creation of the equaliser. Dwight Tiendalli had got well forward from the right back position then passed the ball a long way back towards the centre circle straight to Chris Long who is on loan from Burnley. He’s on loan at Northampton not Oxford. I’ve not laid into Tiendalli previously, as others have, but will just say he did not have a good game and leave it at that.

Long tried to knock the ball over John Mousinho and if he’d been successful would have had a clear 50 yard sprint toward goal. Instead Mous’s face prevented this happening and James Henry took the loose ball on his chest, turned and put the ball through the gap Thomas was moving into. The finish was low and perfect. That’s what he can do and boy does he do it well. Feed him like that and he will score. Northampton had been taken by surprise and defensively were not ready. Our usual pattern of play provides nothing in the way of surprises and every opportunity for a defence to set themselves up to achieve maximum resistance.

Henry deserves credit too for the assist but is only half the player on the left that he is on the right. Robbie Hall on the right was again the man most likely to get through the resistance.

Befitting of the way we’ve been playing these last few games, we still managed to go in at the interval a goal behind. Shakes head.

Ledson was hugely to blame for this. When he received the ball the nearest opposition player was eight yards away. He had the option to play an easy ball to Tiendalli or try a Lunny pass way out to the left wing. Instead we had what came over as a rabbit in a headlights moment when he turned backwards into trouble and lost the ball. His legs didn’t have enough in them to allow a sprint back and recovery. Aaron Martin who’d just replaced Nelson was culpable too. He back tracked, was easily beaten and dived as if a rugby player attempting to reach the try line. Other than that I didn’t think our defending was any worse for the change.

I can’t really think of anything positive to end on and there’s no merit in saying things can only get better because after our FA Cup performance they didn’t. I’ll still be at Home Park next Saturday though, hoping that there will be a change of fortune. However if the evidence is that there won’t be, as was the case after a matter of minutes here, I’ll be fuming even more so than I am now.