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Diary - Tuesday 28 February 2012

28 February 2012

When Deadly John (Topcon) asked members of the Mariners Trust earlier this month to give him part of their shareholding in the club for free, several things got your original/regular Diary's spider sense tingling. One of these (as pointed out lucidly by Too Good To Go Down) was that the £200,000 of investment promised by Deadly in return was money he'd pledged previously. So the former chairman was belatedly attaching conditions to a promise he'd already made.

Another problem, to my mind, was the list of further conditions and demands Fenty was attaching to the deal. If the trust hands over the shares, he said, then the club would "work hand in hand with The Trust [sic] to promote the trust activities in a positive manner". But surely, if there's anything of substance at all in the Right Noises we've heard from John about supporters' involvement, this should be happening anyway, regardless of the share transfer? By making a partnership with the trust conditional upon the handing over of shares, Fenty is effectively saying: "If you don't do what I say, I'm not talking to you any more."

Then again, another condition was that the trust "agrees not to accept any further shares from Mr Mike Parker". Why has no-one questioned this? If Fenty believes in fans having a say, and he's concerned that Parker's outside-the-boardroom shareholding is too big, why would he object? Maybe all those Right Noises about supporters' involvement don't have any substance after all.

Many fans, whether they support the proposed share transfer or not, seem annoyed by the timing of the whole thing. Just when you thought it was safe to buy a half season ticket... we're reminded again of all Fenty's fist-in-mouth 'statements' on the SNOS, his Alan Partridge passive-aggressive masterclass with David Burns, and our own suspicions that Shorty and Shouty would have been sacked back in the autumn had there been a chairman (that chairman) in place to do so.

And now we learn that the goalposts have moved during the voting process, with yesterday's news that "in principal [sic] GTFC have agreed that the Mariners Trust should have a position on the football club board". This would, of course, be an excellent thing, but again, the timing of this announcement in the middle of the vote on the share transfer seems a little curious. I support the trust and I think most of the criticism it receives is perverse and ridiculous. But I can see why some supporters are calling for the voting process to begin again.

Many fans are arguing for a yes vote on the grounds that Fenty seems to be the only multi-millionaire currently prepared to 'invest' some of his pile into the football club. If there's one thing more harmful to the club than Fenty's disastrous record of managerial hiring and firing, it's this very dependency culture that his overspending has created. Most fans see our choice as being between Fenty and hoping another rich man comes along. The thought of running GTFC sustainably isn't even on the radar. Mention living within our means to most fans, after several years of Deadly John's addictive, toxic subsidy, and they'll laugh and tell you it can't be done.

But evidence to the contrary is all around us - and even above us. Just off the top of my head, clubs like Hereford United, Dagenham & Redbridge, Burton Albion and Exeter City are less well supported than Grimsby Town, yet are all thriving at Football League level without running up millions of pounds of debt. Wimbledon, of course, go one better and provide a model of supporter ownership as well as self-sufficiency. Many Town fans never stop banging on about Scunthorpe's supposedly tiny attendances. But if Scunthorpe can exist in the second or third tier without a benefactor in the model of Fenty or Mike Parker, surely the better-supported Mariners can do so even more comfortably?

Over on Twitter, Wrexham supporter Ian H has drawn an intriguing parallel between Fenty's offer we can't refuse and a request in 2008 from would-be Red Dragons investor Geoff Moss. Moss asked the Wrexham Supporters Trust to give him the £300,000 its members had raised, on the understanding that he'd 'invest' it into the club and add the same amount himself. There was even a place on the board on offer for the president of the trust. "If we'd taken Moss up on that offer, we wouldn't have a club now," says Ian. "Can't bow to blackmail or short-termism. Stay strong."

And finally, it's worth remembering that saying yes to Fenty wouldn't, in fact, be a vote to secure the future of the club indefinitely. The deadly one's pledge is merely to continue overfunding the club to the end of next season. So, 14 months, then. After that? Who knows. Perhaps we believe promotion is actually a cast-iron certainty, either this season or next, and then we won't need to worry any more. Well, there'll be plenty of Luton, York, Cambridge and Mansfield fans ready to disabuse us of that idea. One or two more Wrexham supporters might have something to say too.