Fan’s View 23/24 – No.45: Fleetwood at home

Article by Paul Beasley Thursday, April 4th, 2024  

Fan’s View 23/24 – No.45: Fleetwood at home

Oxford United 4 Fleetwood Town 0

My pre-match prediction was that we would win and win well. We did win. The score line says we won well and at times we did play very well. However, this performance was far from flawless. Good enough to beat the weaker teams in L1 but in my opinion not so if the opposition had been one of the current top six. We allowed the Cod Army a few very good opportunities on goal. The better sides would have scored some of them, probably getting at least two past Jamie Cumming. And defensively they wouldn’t have been as inept as Fleetwood were.

I think we were worthy of a four goal margin and if anything a bit pissed off that it wasn’t more but truthfully that’s neither here nor there. It’s more important that this banked clean sheet, however achieved, has psychological value. And we are never going to turn around the difference in our goal difference and Lincoln’s. It was 14 between this set of fixtures, now it is 12.

Something I’m not going along with is that Fleetwood were unlucky, which when flipped means we were lucky. Mrs FV, who listened to Radio Oxford through her head phones as we walked back to the car, informed me that Nick Harris kept referring to how unlucky the visitors were.

They hit the bar with a good free-kick in the first half with the score at 2-0 but is that unlucky? If they had hit the frame of the goal two or three times then perhaps, but they didn’t. Two of our goals were deflections but so what? They allowed us to get the shots in. They hadn’t closed down enough to get effective blocks in. It’s the percentage game. Fire off enough shots at the target with a fair amount of accuracy and power and you’ll get your reward, particularly against a defence as incompetent as Fleetwood’s. This is League One and not a particularly good vintage at that.

I didn’t think we started particularly well. Playing it around at the back but then what? It never looked to me like the next step was to get the ball to a midfielder somewhere near the centre circle to build from there and actually create something. If it did go forward from the back it was not accurate and we lost possession.

We nearly went behind in the 11th minute. A punt forward from visiting keeper Jay Lynch skimmed off the head of our captain Elliott Moore near the half way line and left Tom Lonergan through on goal. His first touch was poor, coming off his knee and his subsequent little chipped effort went wide.

My wish all along had been that we play the game as much as possible in the final third. Then we’d either get somewhere playing the football our players are capable of or, if that didn’t happen, the Fleetwood defence would make mistakes and chances would arrive anyway. Teams like this are very beatable.

It took nearly a quarter of an hour before we really took the game to them. A Josh Murphy cross field ball was collected by Mark Harris who turned it to Tyler Goodrham. With close control he weaved between two defenders then left it for Owen Dale. At this point I commented “we’ll score from this”. Honest. We had five yellow shirts in and around the penalty area. Dale returned the ball to Goodrham who put it back outside the area to Cameron Brannagan. Bran dummied to shoot with his left foot, beating his man in putting the ball onto his right. Deflection number one. 1-0.

From here on in we never looked back. Never in any danger of losing. We didn’t sit back, we went at them and registered twice more before the break.

We moved the ball quickly and slickly with neat control from many of our players. Very pleasing to witness.

Playing well and being on top means we are winning the battles. Number two on the half hour mark came when Brannagan blocked a Fleetwood pass and immediately slotted the ball through to Murphy. His second touch was an inviting ball in to the 6 yard box with two defenders facing their own goal making it very hard for them to deal with it. Harris came in between them both to slide the ball home. No deflections, lucky or otherwise, here.

Just before half time we’d got another and put the game to bed. We’d come close to extending our lead before then, including one Ruben Rodrigues effort after he had outrageously nutmegged Gavin Kilkenny.

The third came when a terrible Fleetwood clearance landed at Murphy’s feet just outside the D. He played in the rapidly overlapping Joe Bennett. His pass, helped along by a deflection (of course) found the unmarked Dale a couple of yards from goal who hit the ball into the ground and on to the back of the net.

Fleetwood were all over the place.

The second half was a bit of an anti-climax which is understandable. 

Carl Johnson should have pulled a goal back for our opponents but shot wide after some excellent work. He then mishit another which is probably an indication of why he didn’t start the game.

We were getting a touch sloppy but were having at least as many chances as they were.

The only goal of the half was to be ours. It didn’t arrive until seven minutes remained of the 90. Brannagan intercepted another poor pass out from the back and set up Harris for his second. Even I will admit that this was quite a large deflection. Defenders fault for putting himself in that position and not setting himself for a proper block?

I’ve been a bit confused about Cumming since day one and still am so I’ll keep comments to outfield players only.

None had a bad game. Those that had been off form recently were back closer to their best. That comes with confidence which is generated when a team is playing well and is vastly superior to their opponents.

Josh Murphy was outstanding. From time to time there’s a player that looks “a class above”. That was him here. He doesn’t look like he’s sprinting flat out but he’s deceptively quick. He had the beating of defenders almost all the time. He delivers dangerous balls and can cut in from either side and bend a shot at goal with either foot. Championship level definitely. He’s been that in the past. 50 starts for Cardiff who paid £11m for him. He’s now showing that that was no fluke.

Murph was voted man of the match and unquestionably he’s been our best player in the last month. Here though I’d argue he had a very strong rival in Cameron Brannagan. Bran was everywhere. The heartbeat of the team. Always available to receive the ball, didn’t give it away, getting stuck in, full of energy.

I’ve been critical of Des Buckingham but can do nothing but compliment this showing. Picking the best eleven players at a club doesn’t always equate to the best team. No Greg Leigh starting? Although he did get a few minutes at the end. Some scratching of heads. Taking the season as a whole he has been one of our best players but listening to Tim R on Radio Oxford helped with my understanding. Four at the back. Two conventional full-backs playing as full-backs and not wing backs (getting forward occasionally I may add) thus providing proper defensive cover behind our attacking wide men, Dale and Murphy. Partnerships are being formed and understanding is becoming more evident.

This shows the strength and size of our squad when one considers the number of players on the payroll that are not getting a look in or just a few minutes here and there.

We brought on James Henry, Billy Bodin and Marcus Browne. Initially they didn’t do anything to help raise our tempo to that which it had been when we were kicking the other way but by the end they were part of our knocking on the door to get a few more.

Josh McEachran and Jordan Thorniley remained seated.

The “small knock” on the side of Will Goodwin’s leg must have been a bigger small knock than first thought. He wasn’t in the squad.

Loan signing Tyler Burey was nowhere again. Nor was another loanee Fin Stevens who went off at half time in that hammering at Bolton and has not been seen since. As is often rightly pointed out a manager can only pick eleven to start and seven subs. Some have to miss out.

It’s only just come to my attention that Jay Matete returned to Sunderland on 27 March having undergone knee surgery. The last game he played for us was on 24 February against Orient when he went off after 75 minutes.

We’ve also just learned that Kyle Edwards will miss the remainder of the 2023/24 season through injury. We permanently signed him in January until the end of the season. We knew he was injured. We hoped he would be able to play in the last month of the campaign. Wonder how this will play out. We could end up getting him fit then he can bugger off and sign for someone else ready for 2024/25. Is there an element of guilt for starting him on that very cold November evening against Bolton? A fit Edwards is a player I’d want in my team/squad from the little I’ve seen of him.

Oisin Smyth? Stephan Negru?

We’ve also got players out on loan. Easily forgotten. Stuart Findlay, Steve Seddon, Ed McGinty, Gaitlin O’Donkor and Josh Johnson. 

I don’t know what percentage of the wages we’re paying for these loan players, both in and out, but overall I would hazard a guess that we’ve got a high wage bill.

The reason I raise this now is because the accounts for y/e 30 June 2023 have recently been lodged at Companies House. Colin will give his expert opinion on these at some stage as he does with all the other clubs we’ve faced. I leave that to him as he knows what he’s talking about in this regard a lot more than I do. However I have to say the loss I guessed would be £6m was about right. Bringing the negative equity total to £24m and that was with £2m worth being converted to shares. We also made a profit of approx. £1.6m by selling Luke McNally to Burnley.

However we’re now nearly a year on and 30 June 2024 will be upon us in three months. I’m going to estimate the loss for this period to be at least £7m. Our business model has been to sell one player a season for a sizeable sum. The year before McNally it was Rob Atkinson. Nothing significant since McNally and of course we don’t want to be losing our best players. But throw in the cost of the move away from the Kassam Stadium and the worry that the heads of terms remain unsigned over six months after Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet approved in principle to the lease of the “Triangle” to OUFC and alarm bells ring out. And that’s without the planning side of things at Cherwell.

For now though I’m going to focus on the football.

Blackpool and Stevenage each dropping points in 0-0 draws to Wycombe at home and Charlton away respectively was helpful. They’ve each played the same number of games as us. The Tangerines are six points worse off than us. Stevenage are now three points behind with a slightly inferior goal difference. Second last game of the season they come a visiting in front of the bloody Sky TV cameras on a Friday night. That’s not ideal at all. We have a game three days before whereas Stevenage won’t have played for six days.

That game for us on the Tuesday is home to Lincoln. If matters stay much as they are now that fixture will be immense. Same games played, same points, but their goal difference is 12 better than ours. They are on phenomenal form having picked up 32 points of the last 36 they’ve played for and have not lost since New Year’s Day. A likely “must win” game for us. That doesn’t need saying. Forget about these fixtures and let’s focus on Burton away this Saturday.

They’re not quite in the relegation places but have played more matches than the two teams below them. When those catch up games are played Cheltenham and Port Vale could go above them. The Brewers form is the opposite of Lincoln’s. Of the last nine games they’ve lost seven and drawn two. I’d be expecting them to be fighting for their lives but having recently witnessed our wins against Vale and Fleetwood I’m not sure how it works anymore. One thing is for sure though, we won’t get anywhere with complacency.

Fleetwood Town Financial Analysis by Colin Barson

Although Fleetwood Town are another club who publish only abbreviated “small company” accounts, meaning that there isn’t a lot of the usual benchmarking information that we analyse in these reports, it doesn’t mean there isn’t much to say about Fleetwood, their finances, and their ownership. Oh, no, there is much to tell, as it’s not every day that I do one of these reports where the club owner is currently doing 13 years in prison for fraud!

So, before we go on to the juicy tails of multi-million pound frauds, money laundering, attempted jury nobbling, and many of the other activities of the, football club owning, wrong’uns of this world (including an appearance from those lot at the wrong end of the A420) let’s have a look at what we do know about Fleetwood’s finances.

From what little is published, and a brief glance at the table below, we can see that only one club in our division had smaller crowds, only one club had a higher negative equity, and only one club (Wycombe) had less cash in the bank at year’s end. They lost £1,661,672 for the year ended 30 June 2022, a figure that would apparently have been much higher but for player trading. There is no P&L published, but a look at the accounts does provide a brief snapshot in the Directors’ Report. It tells us that their turnover in 2022 was £7.3m, which means their expenditure, when taking the aforementioned loss into account, was approximately £9m. Their 2023 accounts have just come out, and for that year they lost just over £6m (sound familiar?) and had a negative equity of just shy of £31m, all of it owed to group companies. Fleetwood’s Directors’ Report stated income as £6.1m for 2023, meaning their expenditure was £12.1m, quite a bit for such a small club.

There is an adjustment in the 2023 accounts to the 2022 P&L and it shows Cost of Sale being re-stated from £1,174,248 to £5,413,465 and Administrative Expenses decreasing by the same amount from £8,081,236 to £3,842,019. As we know Cost of Sale is usually player wages, so how they can understate it by £4.3m is, in my view, highly suspicious. Given that we’re talking about a club being run by a fraudster, I suspect it may have been an attempt to get around SCMP in some way, but I’ll leave that to the EFL to sort out. It’s not as if the EFL have a track record of missing this kind of thing until it’s too late, is it? I wouldn’t be surprised to see Fleetwood being put on the EFL naughty step and have a points deduction at some point in the near future. But that’s the least of their problems………

I’ll begin with the ownership at the beginning, or at least the beginning of the current owner’s tenure. That owner is Andy Pilley, a local businessman who took the club over in 2004. At that time, they were a small club, playing in the 9th tier of the football pyramid, in front of an average crowd of 134. Pilley, who made his money in the energy supply market, in the words of a certain F. Kassam, then proceeded to take the club, and the town, on a journey. He bankrolled them through 6 promotions in ten years, before they ended up in League One where they’ve now spent ten seasons, making them the longest standing club in the division (OUFC are second longest). During that time, they’ve totally re-developed their stadium into a neat little ground which is very well appointed, including bars, restaurant, and executive areas including a five-star Boardroom. They opened their state-of-the art training complex Poolfoot Farm in 2016, with Sir Alex Ferguson doing the honours. Poolfoot Farm cost £8m and the club’s academy has Category Two status and has produced a number of current EFL players. The club have about 200 employees and Pilley employed over 200 people in his businesses in the town. This is a lot of employment for a small impoverished town at the end of the Fylde peninsula. Pilley also bought Irish club Waterford FC in 2022. He acquired them from an Essex businessman named Richard Forrest, who in turn acquired them from a certain Lee Power. This is the same Lee Power who presided over all sorts of dodgy goings on at Swindon Town. Pilley also formed another club, called Fleetwood United, who play in the United Arab Emirates.

To the untrained eye it could appear that Pilley has been the model owner, pouring tens of millions of his money into the town and the club, and he has understandably had his supporters there over the years. But it is the origin of this money, and how it has been amassed that is the real story that has come to light over the last few years. To say it is a tangled web of companies is an understatement, and I won’t try to unravel them here, but will give a bit of a broad brush, otherwise some of you reading this might fall asleep!

In 2002 Pilley formed BES Utilities and there are still BES companies involved with the club, and indeed based in offices at the club’s stadium today. Among these are BES Commercial Electricity Ltd, Business Energy Solutions Ltd, CX Global Holdings FZCO, Commercial Power Ltd, Power Grade Ltd, with the parent company being listed as Jaymel Limited. Their business was/is selling energy contracts to small businesses, charities and individuals through a network of telesales agents. The scam was that an energy broker, who is supposed to be independent, but were in fact part of the Pilley empire, would cold call a target offering to find them a better energy deal than they were currently on. These targets were usually small businesses but were sometimes charities or individuals. The target would then be told that a supplier had been found and the supplier would then contact them and (purporting to be independent of the broker) tie the target up to a long term deal, which ultimately ended up costing thousands of pounds more than they were led to believe.

I’ll quote the judges remarks after Pilley’s sentencing at Preston Crown Court:

 “At the heart of the fraud was a web of interconnected companies that misled innocent small businesses across the UK. Through sham company structures associated with Business Energy Solutions Ltd, BES Commercial Electricity Ltd and Commercial Power Ltd, Pilley and his associates were responsible for targeting small business owners and deceiving them into signing long-term energy contracts between 2014 and 2016. Cold-calling liars and manipulators duped very large numbers of honest and decent proprietors of sandwich shops, hair salons, small hotels and the like into long and expensive contracts for their gas and electricity. The bills they had to pay came to tens of millions of pounds… Pilley devised and enforced an elaborate pretence that the sales team were independent of the supply companies. The truth was that he owned them, and he called the shots.”

Pilley was convicted of two counts of running a business with the intention of defrauding creditors, one count of false representation, and one count of being concerned with the retention of criminal property, all related to BES and jailed for 13 years. Further to this nine of the sales agents involved have also been found guilty and received suspended jail sentences.

In a further twist, after the trial, one of the jurors claimed he’d been offered a bribe of £20,000 by two “burly men” to find Pilley guilty, and that other jurors had taken the bribe! It’s odd that he claimed it was to reach a GUILTY verdict, rather than a NOT GUILTY verdict, but I wonder (with absolutely no evidence whatsoever) if Pilley was behind it in an attempt to render his sentence unreliable, and get it overturned?

In respect of Fleetwood’s future there are strict EFL rules which should come into force however Andy Pilley still owns the football club. The EFL rules say people are disqualified from being the director of a club if they are sentenced to longer than 12 months in prison, and Pilley is no longer a formal director of Fleetwood Town having resigned upon his conviction last year. The EFL Owners’ and Directors’ Test says the definition of a director includes “a person having control over a club”. The rules further state that when an owner is convicted, the owner will need to divest their shares within 28 days, but 10 months on from Pilley’s conviction, although he has resigned as a director, he is still the owner of the club. The EFL and Fleetwood say this is an ongoing process……….

I’ve met Andy Pilley a few times at games, he would usually be with his adult son Jamie, and both of them were friendly enough, although they always seemed to want to keep to themselves. Perhaps we now know why?

This entry was posted on Thursday, April 4th, 2024 at 8:44 pm and appears under News Items. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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