Sunday, January 08, 2006

Alexandre Gaidamak and Pompey

As I first heard from the statistics log, the wanted arms dealer Arkadi Gaidamak's son Alexandre is trying to buy Portsmouth FC. Gaidamak was one of the people at the heart of the Angolan wing of the Elf scandal, next to Pierre Falcone, and is wanted by the French police and Interpol. This hasn't stopped him living quite openly in Israel, where he bought a football club, Beitar Jerusalem, and cultivated political connections. Now, it would appear, his son (who I think is a French citizen) wants a south-coast, not terribly good football team.

The Portsmouth fans seem to have been afflicted by conflicting emotions - since Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea, you can't mention anything remotely Russian near a football club without being overcome by people expecting multi-zillion investment. Gaidamak is nowhere near as rich as Abramovich, though, and the sources of his wealth are dramatically more dubious.

Personally, I wouldn't believe a fucking word. Gaidamak péré is quoted as saying that "this isn't a football deal, it's a real estate deal". Caveat vendor.

Keighley Cougars RLFC had a similar experience when local "colourful businessman" Carl Metcalfe owned the club for a mercifully brief period, having promised the existing board the moon on a stick - he claimed to be on the point of building a new stadium and a variety of new businesses to support the team and said he would put in millions of pounds. However, it was an open secret in Keighley that he was quite a serious drug dealer, using his tyre-importing business as cover.

Things went bad early on, when Phil Larder (yes, Rah-Rahs, that Phil Larder), who was (astonishingly) national coach as well as running the Cougars was fired. Well, Metcalfe told the Keighley News he'd been fired because of poor results, but Larder was of a mind that his pay cheque had bounced. Not long after that, two of the club's best players were sold for a song to Sheffield, run at the time by formidable RL politico Gary Hetherington. Later, Sheffield would astonish everyone by beating Wigan to win the Challenge Cup, with the ex-Cougars in the forefront. They paid up some £80,000 for the holder of our try-scoring record and the man who would get the Lance Todd Trophy.

It all went horribly wrong after that, what with financial disarray (a normal condition at Keighley), accusations of rape against the chairman, which led him to threaten various people through the medium of the match programme but eventually turned out to be true, and a catastrophic deal with Leeds which neatly removed most of our squad for a cash contribution of about £10,000. The club ended up bankrupt again, and Metcalfe was eventually convicted of importing huge quantities of ecstasy tabs. His defence was that a lot of the tablets on sale actually contained no drug, which set a kind of crazy record for twistedness, but didn't help. In jail, he was fished out to face the rape rap, and collected another stretch.

The moral? First, don't deal with Gary Hetherington, who was Leeds's business manager by the time of the final fire-sale of the squad. More seriously, caveat vendor!

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