OPINION: Morecambe fans need more answers from would-be owner
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The Morecambe fans’ group issued a 340-word update concerning a meeting representatives held with the club’s owner, Jason Whittingham, and the would-be purchaser, Sarbjot Johal, 48 hours earlier.
Morecambe has been on the market since September 2022 with Johal named in a club statement as the likely new owner – subject to passing EFL checks – after previously purchasing equity.
While he’s been visible in terms of attending matches, little had been heard from the 20-year-old except for a post which appeared on BBC Radio Lancashire Sport’s Twitter handle a week-and-a-half ago.
In the wake of online scrutiny being placed on Johal’s proposed takeover, it claimed he had confirmed he was ready to submit an application with the intention of buying the club.
Johal’s ability to complete a takeover and fund the Shrimps had come into question given the financial positions of two of his companies – Vitanic and Lovely Drinks – as outlined at Companies House.
While the Trust’s statement ran to 340 words, it was the following 84 which stood out: “Sarbjot was also keen to impress to us that the financial position and performance of the trading entities within the Sarb Capital group are vastly changed from the financial statements currently on public record at Companies House.
“Whilst no further evidence was provided in the meeting, in our discussions it was mutually understood that the evidence to support the financial viability of the takeover will be provided to the EFL, who will perform the appropriate due diligence through the EFL Owners and Directors test.”
On that basis, it seems Johal claimed his companies are in better financial health than previously published.
However, he didn’t reveal how that transformation had taken place, nor provide evidence to back up his claim – though he will reportedly do so to the EFL.
Also on the agenda is another company associated with Johal, namely Sarb Capital.
A private equity firm, that was the vehicle by which he had acquired his equity in the club.
Its LinkedIn profile claims it was founded in 2019 and is a company with 51-200 employees, yet its’ website has recently been taken down amid allegations of involvement in crypto-based investment schemes.
In the Trust’s statement, it added: “Sarb Capital have told us that the accusations of any involvement in a crypto-based investment platform are wholly untrue, and that an investigation is ongoing into the website alongside legal action taken with the allegation of copyright infringement and defamation.”
You’d hope then, that – in order to draw a line under those allegations – Sarb Capital would eventually be making it clear against whom any legal action is, or has been, taken.
There is another question in all of this. Why Morecambe?
What makes a League One club in the North West of England an attractive proposition to a 20-year-old with no apparent connection to the area?
Admittedly, examples of ‘the local resident done good’ acquiring their hometown club are becoming increasingly few and far between – especially the higher up the football pyramid you look – but it’s a question worth posing.
The outlay would be enormous. First and foremost, you can bet Derek Adams would want an increased playing budget to help him try and compete with clubs who have the benefit of a bigger support base or a wealthy backer – or both.
Next on the manager’s shopping list would doubtless be a training ground to call their own.
Nobody would be expecting a similar facility to the one on which Manchester City spent £200m.
However, lower down the footballing food chain, Blackpool have submitted a planning application for a new training ground after acquiring almost 100 acres of land.
That proposal was for eight full-size training pitches, a half-size indoor pitch, a smaller nine-a-side pitch, two smaller goalkeeper training spaces and an eco-friendly training centre with classrooms, medical areas, office space and a gym.
That, along with a redeveloped stand at Bloomfield Road, are projects thought to have a total cost of between £30m and £40m.
It isn’t as if the lower leagues are awash with money either.
In a column for our sister paper, the Blackpool Gazette, Blackpool Supporters’ Trust outlined the vast difference in terms of who takes what from broadcasting revenue.
BST said roughly £5 in every six goes to the Premier League and clubs receiving parachute payments.
Of the remainder, the Championship takes 80 per cent and clubs in League One share just 12 per cent.
Of course, it could be that Johal is a fit and proper person to take charge of a football club – but you can forgive Morecambe fans for any feelings of anxiety or cynicism.
The Shrimps experienced well documented ownership issues before being purchased by Bond Group in 2018.
Ironically, given the crisis last year that enveloped their other club, rugby union outfit Worcester Warriors, their stewardship of Morecambe has seemed almost serene by comparison.
Yes, it’s fair to say the relationship with former boss Jim Bentley had deteriorated before his departure in the autumn of 2019.
The idea of approaching Paul Ince over a director of football role shortly after their arrival was quickly shelved as, let’s be honest, that should have been way down the list of priorities given the club’s position at the time.
By accident or design, leaving day-to-day operations to Rod Taylor, Graham Howse, Charlie Appleyard, James Wakefield, Mick Horton, Ben Sadler and John Schofield, coupled with Adams’ on-pitch achievements, has helped put the club in the position it’s in.
These were questions we’d hoped to ask after contacting Johal via social media last week – but have yet to receive a response.
What happens next is the key question. All eyes are on the EFL.