Yesterday I wrote of how the latest Ashley-King skirmish was going to play out in court today.
I said that we wouldn’t get a verdict on the costs Sevco owe, but that we might be in for another bombshell, in terms of what the Ibrox club has been up to since the last court date between these two warring parties.
And right on cue, that bomb was dropped.
The judge, who had brought everyone together in the hope that sanity had prevailed, and that some kind of settlement had been reached, or might be reached, was exasperated when he found out that, instead, Sports Direct have a brand new set of grievances.
He announced that he was “firing a warning shot” in the hope that something will give.
He set another hearing date for January.
It is incredible, at times, how glacially slow the court system is. But it gets there in the end, and in the meantime it is expensive. Sports Direct has run up huge bills already and clearly has an appetite to keep on doing so … especially as King will end up paying them.
That Sports Direct raised fresh issues with the conduct of both Elite and Sevco will not surprise even the most casual reader of this blog and a handful of others … it has been readily apparent since the last hearing that King is paying not one bit of heed to the written order.
And that suits Ashley and his people right down to the ground, of course, because they just keep on adding to the pile.
They just keep on building the bonfire.
You could argue that there’s some kind of smart stratagem at play here for King, in pushing this as far down the road as he can … but actually, he is creating additional dangers for his club here.
Because this has to drop sometime.
This road doesn’t go on forever.
There is an endpoint, as there always is when King is in court. Don’t forget, this is a guy who’s tried this trick many times in the past and every single time he’s done it he has finally been forced to comply. Along the way he’s run up costs and suffered embarrassing defeats.
He didn’t win a single round against SARS in South Africa.
He didn’t win a single round against the Takeover Panel either.
He has lost every courtroom battle he has had with Ashley. Every single one.
He knows that sooner or later the judge will force him to get the wallet out … and in the meantime Ashley is content for him to do it, like a taxi driver who is happy for you to take as long as you like in the kebab shop because the meter’s running the whole time.
Ashley won’t rush this; why should he?
The longer it takes the worse it will be for King and the Ibrox club.
For openers, they need a new shirt manufacturer for next season. The process of finding one should be well underway already, and yet here’s King arguing the toss in court with the distributor, with the old manufacturer gearing up to sue when it’s over.
The longer it lasts the less chance they have of finding a solution. And it’s not the only thing that’s going wrong. It seems readily apparent that King has decided to keep Elite sweet, knowing that he can’t fight a war on two fronts.
Remember, he’s been told that the deal with them is null and void; accepting that won’t stop Ashley coming after him. What it will do is open him up to certain litigation from them. So perhaps it’s wise not to break that arrangement although Ashley has a court order that says they should do exactly that.
On the surface, that too makes a certain amount of sense. But of course, all that’s actually done is force Ashley to take Elite to court as well … creating a whole new set of problems, because, of course, Elite can sue Sevco for any damages that they incur here regardless. King’s stink always gets on those around him. It’s the cost of doing business with the man. What makes this set of circumstances different is that there’s a domino effect here.
Eventually, Ashley will scorch the earth. All around this deal will be burned to ash; Sevco’s relationships with everyone on the commercial side are under threat now. The chances of them ever getting any favourable outcome with Sports Direct is virtually zero whilst King is on the board.
That’s why the judge’s “warning shot” is going to ricochet back on King too.
Because how do you deal with a man like this? You can’t allow him to continually get away with this stuff, and that’s all Sports Direct’s lawyers have to say when this matter reconvenes in January. As long as he refuses to toe the line, they will keep on bringing this stuff up. The courts will have to hold hearing after hearing, and Sports Direct can simply keep on saying that King refuses to play it straight until finally the patience of the courts runs out.
And today it’s clear that it won’t be long coming.
So what’s the endgame here except for delay?
And why is delay potentially dangerous to King, apart from the fact that this case gets progressively more expensive the longer it drags on?
Well, consider this; the new hearing is set for January.
We don’t know what the costs will be, but they’re likely to be significant. The question is, when will they drop?
Today the Ibrox club issued over £6 million in new shares … they’ve gone to existing shareholders in a deal that’s either providing working capital to get them to the end of the current season, or it’s another debt for equity swap. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to what they need and it might well be the last time the mugs in the boardroom play ball.
It doesn’t really matter; King’s intransigence has chucked even more money in the pot on the strength of an unwinnable hand. Ashley is holding all the good cards here. If the judge rules that King has to pay up in January then King has just enough time to flog off some of the family silver before the window shuts, and that’s bye-bye whatever league challenge remains. If he fails to and then can’t pay the bill, that’s administration, a points deduction and the same outcome.
If the bill lands over the summer, that’s the ten in a row campaign hampered before it even starts and if Gerrard is still in situ that’s when you might expect him to walk. Of course, if they’ve sacked him then whoever comes in will have been given no guarantees and no money to spend.
The overall picture could hardly be less serious either.
Their chances of ever being released from Ashley’s grip on the retail deal is exactly zero. If the fans decide to boycott, and make that clear, they’ll jeopardise shirt sponsorship deals and whatever merchandising deal they manage to get. Continue to boycott and Ashley will bill them for unsold stock.
One of the great revenue engines of a football club looks like being denied to Sevco far into the future, and the longer this case drags out the worse the deal at the end is going to be.
Sevco fans who tell you this won’t impact on them do not know what they are talking about.
This is a disaster that just keeps on growing in size.
There is no happy ending … except for ours.
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