Peter Trembling on Notts County, wages and Sven
Yesterday, the Post reported how the Serious Fraud Office was assessing claims made in a Panorama programme which looked at the takeover of Notts County. Guy Woodford spoke to one of the men at the heart of the saga.
IT was back in 2005, Peter Trembling says, that he embarked on the long journey which would eventually lead to him becoming first the executive chairman and then, for a short time, the owner of Notts County.
Mr Trembling spoke to the Post in the wake of the Panorama programme, broadcast last night, investigating Bahrain-based businessman Russell King.
The programme claimed that, while Mr King did not hold an official role at the club, he had significant influence.
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It also said there were serious questions over the £5 million guarantee that secured the takeover of the Magpies by Munto Finance from the Supporters' Trust in July 2009.
And it claimed Mr King had used County boss Sven-Goran Eriksson as part of a bid to try to secure exclusive rights to North Korean gold, iron and coal.
The Serious Fraud Office says it is assessing allegations arising from the programme, to see whether to start a formal investigation.
Mr Trembling has now told how he became involved with Mr King.
He says he was introduced to Mr King, who was then based in Jersey, by his friend Nathan Willett in 2005.
Mr Trembling said he had become close friends with Mr Willett after meeting him through work in Dubai in 2000.
He said: "Russell King wanted to get involved in my business at the time, Affinity Partnerships, which worked with lots of banks as a credit card consultant. He said he had contacts all over the world and I'd make a lot of money."
Mr Trembling said that, in the following year, Mr King and Mr Willett left Jersey for Bahrain. He said he stayed in touch with them and, in early 2009, they contacted him asking his advice about investing in an English football club.
"They had tried to buy Newcastle United," he said. "I told them they were better off going for a smaller club and building it up. At one stage, they were looking at all sorts of clubs. Liverpool was on the radar. Then they said they had the money to buy Notts County."
Mr Trembling said he did not specifically recommend Notts County to Mr King and Mr Willett.
In May 2009, he said, the pair approached him about running the club, subject to a takeover going through.
"They said they had Sven-Goran Eriksson," he said. "I and friends checked it out and it seemed genuine."
The purchase of Notts County by Munto Finance for £1 from then Magpies chairman John Armstrong-Holmes was approved in July of the same year, with Mr Trembling appointed executive chairman.
He said it was in September or October of that year, with the Magpies' 2009-10 League Two campaign still in its early stages, that he realised something was wrong.
"At one stage, I was in Taiwan, meeting their football association," he said.
"I got a call while out there from the club's finance department saying they didn't have money to pay wages that month. I ended up putting in £500,000 of my money to keep it afloat.
"Nathan Willett gave me assurances I'd get that back. He said there was going to be money put into Notts County's account by some date mid-November. Then he said 'it's been delayed'."
Mr Trembling bought the club from Munto Finance in December 2009 and spent two months trying to find new backers before selling his 90% stake to current owner Ray Trew for £1 in February 2010.
He said: "There were people who came along looking to put the club in administration. But we spoke to Ray Trew and his team and they were intent on making it work."
Mr Trew inherited debts which, he said, had eventually amounted to more than £7m. He also claimed at a press conference that Munto Finance had not invested money into the club.
Mr Trembling said concerns about players who were signed while he was executive chairman being on big money were wide of the mark.
He said: "People talk about the high wages but only two players were on high wages. There's a lot of exaggeration about the wages."
However, he said, as concern grew over the lack of investment in the club, he was forced to act when manager Hans Backe wanted to bring in more players.
"When he gave me the list of players he wanted to sign in the loan window, I said 'no, I can't sanction this'.
"We had Kasper Schmeichel, who was a huge expense, and I said, 'we can't go on on the basis that the money will come in."
But, speaking of the 2009-10 season overall, he said: "The season ended fantastically. The club can go all the way to the Championship. It has the fan base to support it. I worked closely with Sven and I still speak to him a lot. He was terribly sad and disappointed the way it turned out."
Following the Panorama programme and yesterday's Post story, Iris Smith, chairwoman of Notts County Supporters' Club, said: "I hope the Panorama programme does bring things to light and does put the whole unsavoury saga to bed.
"The deal could have left the club in dire circumstances if Ray Trew hadn't popped up."
The Post has been unable to contact Russell King or Nathan Willett. However, Panorama says Mr King has denied any involvement in the running of Notts County.