View from behind the pillar: Court battle F.A.Q
Kevin McCabe and Sheffield United Limited (SUL) must sell their shares to Prince Abdullah and UTB LLC for £5m. That is the decision arrived at this morning by Justice Fancourt.
Any decision was going to throw up a wild constellation of questions, what follows is an opion-led FAQ.
What happens next?
The McCabe team have not yet made clear whether they intend to appeal the decision. The court will reconvene on October 14th and there will be a 21-day period from that date within which an appeal may be lodged.
For me, an appeal feels unlikely based upon the probability of winning. The grounds upon which McCabe fought this case included "conspiracy" and "unfairly prejudicial conduct." Both of these points - and let me declare my absolute lack of expertise in the field of law - feel somewhat notional in the face of the contractual evidence presented by the Prince.
Interestingly, Dan Hayes, who has followed the entire court case (cap doff for top reporting) posted this tweet after the verdict was given:
Personally, I cannot see how this view has been formed. McCabe's evidence seemed rife with hearsay and opinion - but I have not been there, I have not seen the oral evidence in person and I can only make an estimate based on my understanding. And my understanding* is that it would be stupid for McCabe to appeal such a dramatic loss.
I don't know if the outcome is a good one. There is much about the Prince that I am wary of, but they are these amount to hunches.
What is the gut-feel?
Each week I write a 'Monday morning report'. Today's included a prediction that the Prince would win the court case. Last night, I read through the court transcripts and it was apparent that McCabe's argument was flimsy*. Opinion. Anecdote. Subtext. The sort of stuff that seems difficult to pin-down in a court of law.
Those rational arguments bottom-out now that judgement has been passed. What is left is gut instinct. With the boot on one foot, it doesn't feel quite right that Kevin McCabe has been forced out of a club which he has kept steady for twenty-odd years. With the boot on the other, it is true to say he brought the Prince to the club, and presumably, he signed the contracts and agreements that cost him the court case. So do I feel sympathy? Very little. Do I want the Prince...honestly, I just don't know.
What I do feel very strongly about is staying mindful of our role as fans. We are the custodians of this football club, and we need to call out bad practice and unsatisfactory changes as and when we see it, IRRESPECTIVE OF LEAGUE POSITION. If we become a club that takes it on the chin when ticket prices are increased (or kit prices or coach travel and so on), then we become the plastic club we'd all rather not be. So my outlook, for now, is quite simple...
...let's all take responsibility for holding our club to account.
Who's winning the unpopularity contest, and how to solve it?
The Prince and his advisers are, I am sure of it, cognizant of their unpopularity. I ran a poll on the Dem Blades Twitter page where 85% voted in preference of McCabe. There is plenty of work to be done to improve those ratings, and I believe that begins with accountability.
Sheffield United has always been an open club, although it may not at times have felt that way. Throughout McCabe's ownership, he hasn't sought to close-out fans or shirk the interviews, even when he's made poor decisions. For me, and I can only speak on my behalf, I have felt that McCabe operates with a satisfactory level of accountability.
The challenge I present to the Prince to win over the fans is making himself and his regime more accountable. More fan's forums, more interaction, more interviews, more community-building projects. Jim Phipps, previously co-chairman, was a confident and engaging communicator who made an effort with the fans. For me, the Prince needs a similar middle-person to get his message across.
If an outsider (and by outsider I mean anybody not born in Sheffield supporting SUFC) is to thrive at this club, they need fan buy-in. 80% of buy-in will come from success on the pitch, but actions off it will generate that crucial 20%. The Prince needs a plan; the fans need to scrutinise it.
Will the Prince sell?
James Shield wrote in the Sheffield Star that ALK Capital has held discussions with both co-owners ahead of today's court ruling. In the months leading up to the decision, ALK Capital have been characterised as 'McCabe's men'; a consortium headed by Alan Pace and Dave Checkett ready to buy the Blades. It appears that ALK are serious about buying the club, or at least investing, irrespective of today's decision.
What did Justice Fancourt think of the witnesses?
He plainly believes that his way is the only proper way of doing things.
There is a recurring theme in the emails in 2017 of Kevin McCabe wishing to have face-to-face meetings with Prince Abdullah and Prince Abdullah and Mr Giansiracusa preferring to communicate by email.
He demonstrated to me an ability to turn any question that he was asked or any particular issue into an argument or exposition of his choice, often replete with selfjustification (Para 292)
I have come with regret to the conclusion that Kevin McCabe was being manipulative and devious in relation to the Deloitte, Van Winckel, Bettis and Ratcliffe incidents, and some of his evidence about those matters was disingenuous. (Para 294)
It would be wrong, however, to leave the subject of Kevin McCabe’s evidence without acknowledging his devotion to the Club and the considerable generosity of his funding of it over many years. He deserves respect for that. (Para 295)
On Kevin McCabe's employee at Scarborough Group Ltd, Jeremy Tutton:
I regret to say that I consider that some of the evidence that he gave in his witness statements, particularly in relation to the Charwell loan, was a fabrication.
On Prince Abdullah:
The most striking thing about Prince Abdullah’s evidence was his apparently poor memory of events, in particular (as he explained) routine meetings that took place in his home.
The Prince’s mobile phone, which contained business emails and Whatsapp messages, was initially not part of UTB’s or the Prince’s disclosure and was only disclosed under sustained pressure from SUL’s solicitors.
Views on the verdict:
Statement on behalf of Prince Abdullah
I am delighted that this judgement brings an end to the uncertainty over SUFC's future. Our manager Chris Wilder and the team are off to a promising start and we can now focus on this vital Premier League season under stable ownership.
As we turn a new page at Bramall Lane, my first priority is to secure our position in the top tier for many years to come. To help realise that ambition, I am fully committed to continued investment in both the First Team and the Academy.
Finally, as this new day dawns at Bramall Lane, it is only proper that we reflect on the great traditions of the club. We must never forget that we are only custodians of these traditions for the time being.
No owner, director, coach or player is bigger than the club but together with its fans, we all share the common desire to make the club ever greater. I’m humbled to be part of this enterprise and to join with you in our common endeavour. UTB!
Statement on behalf of Kevin McCabe:
Kevin McCabe is bitterly disappointed with the outcome of today’s judgment. For the McCabe family to have lost their connection with the football club in this manner and by way of this judgment is simply heart breaking.
Kevin feels a deep sense of betrayal and is in a state of shock about the way that he has been treated by Prince Abdullah and he now deeply regrets going into business with him. This is not the appropriate time for Mr McCabe to comment on the detail of the Judgment (but) serious consideration is now being given, with the advisors to Sheffield United Limited, to an appeal against the Judgment.
Mr McCabe sincerely hopes that he is proved wrong in relation to his deep misgivings about the suitability of Prince Abdullah. In this regard, only time will tell. For the moment however the McCabe family are simply deeply grieved that matters should have come to this.
Fan view - Bran:
As a new chapter dawns for our football club, it leaves a significant divide of opinions and emotions among the fanbase. As happy as I am to see this all come to an end so Chris and the backroom staff can refocus, I can’t help but think we’ve got the rough end of the stick. Without McCabe, I dare say the Sheffield United that we know and love would not be as it is today. In terms of stability, we have always been safe during his time as a custodian of the club. A man who turns up to watch the team both home and away, while also interacting with fans young and old at matches. As a Blade himself, he had the best interests of the club at heart, and now we step into the unknown. Nobody knows what the true intentions of the Prince are, the things that were said about him in the court case certainly didn’t sound great. For me, there’s still a bit of a dark cloud over United because of this, and lots of uncertainty. McCabe is allowed an appeal, and I hope he goes through with it. Sometimes, it’s better the devil you know.
Fan view - Ramon:
Whilst I am not a big fan of the ‘Prince’ I can only pass on my personal opinion and my six-year experience of living, teaching and following football in Saudi Arabia from 2010-2016. I am Sheffield born and bred and a been a Blade for over fifty years. I met fans whilst following the two big clubs in Riyadh, Al Hilal and Al Nassr who did not have a positive word to say about any royal members who ‘owned’ most clubs in Saudi Arabia including Prince Abdullah. The ‘royals’ used the clubs to increase their personal wealth and without any responsibility to the football-watching community. The clubs are now poorer for it. Our Prince, who has said that he is a self-made businessman, has not altogether been truthful. I know that if you have a name like ‘Al Saud’ you have doors opened for you through streams of cronyism and nepotism. In Saudi Arabia it’s called ‘Wasta’. I did speak to Kevin Macabe about doing business in Saudi society, and he was intrigued to learn more. Furthermore, the ‘Prince’ who was Youth Sports Minister for a time spent most of his time living in Los Angeles! My experience tells me that this ‘Prince’ is not what we think he is but has used his name to purchase my community club, however, I can only give him the benefit of my doubt and hope he proves me wrong.