Former Argyle director George Synan has replied with his answers to our exclusive PASOTI Q&A, thanks for your questions and thanks and credit to George for agreeing to take part.
Q: How did you and Yasuaki Kagami get involved in Plymouth Argyle FC?
GS: We were introduced to the opportunity by Tony Campbell a longtime friend. Initially we were trying to help him introduce the investment opportunity to groups we knew in Japan that might have interest. We were unable to find an interested party.
At that time we were very ignorant about the business and when we received a windfall from an investment we thought it was an exciting opportunity and decided to make the investment ourselves.
Q: Can you say how much you and Yasuaki Kagami paid for your shares in PAFC and do you think you overpaid for those shares?
GS: Our original investment was 2m GBP and then an additional £600,000 for Phil Gill’s remaining shares. After acquiring the shares we did think we overpaid as we started having questions regarding the financials and also the ongoing viability of the team.
We had no previous experience in sports club management and came to the conclusion with the current revenue stream we were lucky to be in the Championship League and the only reason the club was profitable was because of the income of selling players. This was not feasible if we were to maintain our position in the league. This income was our biggest miscalculation.
At the end of the second season I went to Paul Stapleton and told him we were way over our head and he made the introduction to Keith Todd as a possible solution. I think Paul Stapleton also realized how precarious the position was and he introduced Keith Todd to us as a possible solution.
Q: Would you admit that the Plymouth host city World Cup bid was prioritized above on field performance?
GS: We realized from the beginning once we understood the business that we couldn’t keep selling players and the football operations needed massive ongoing funds to keep it a viable Championship Club. It became clear every commercial asset available to the club needed to be leveraged to provide income to be rolled back into the club.
The World Cup was just a mechanism to get consensus and support from the related parties to enable us to achieve this.
Q: Do you think the board of directors were foolish to put all its eggs into one FIFA-shaped basket, and that once the World Cup went elsewhere, Argyle's financial demise was inevitable?
GS: I think that without the World Cup possibility we would never have garnered support of the local entities to approve a master plan that would make the entity as a whole viable. The demise came when the related parties chose to walk away rather support the club when it needed it most. Leaving all of the efforts wasted.
Q: During the reign of the previous board of seven directors it was clearly stated in the media that in the event of England/Argyle not getting World Cup venue status that the south stand development would continue regardless to realise a capacity of 27,000. Where was the funding to come from and why has it seemingly vanished completely?
GS: We believed that if the related parties had stuck together and carried out the plan regardless of the WC we would have gotten it by developing the site in a similar fashion to James Brent.
Q: The divide between you/Kagami and the UK-based directors was obvious. What was the principal reason for this? (apart from the obvious geographical factor).
GS: We felt we were left as scapegoats after paying a huge premium for the shares and working hard to find a solution. Tony Wrathall was the only director that really provided major support to make sure the club was viable.
Q: In July 2009 Yasuaki Kagami raised his stake in the club to 38% and in February 2011 you stated that about £950,000 had been invested by Kagami in the preceding 12 months. However, Keith Todd stated in October 2010 that no funds had come from Japan .
As I recall the only significant amount of money that appeared was the loan from the Plymouth Argyle Supporters Training and Development Trust. Can you clarify the financial situation at the time and in particular how much money did Kagami put into the club?
GS: Kagami loaned a total of £300,000 and also brought in an additional from £700,000 through 2 parties associated with Kagami, these parties were Richard Thoma, Koichiro Abe and Tony Campbell who provided funds directly and through Mastpoint. Kagami had cash flow issues and Keith was correct in saying the funds didn’t come directly from Kagami but we felt that they were equivalent as they came in from our fundraising
Q: Who, in your opinion, is most to blame for the financial collapse of Plymouth Argyle and
do you feel any embarrassment in being part of the downfall of an historical football club?
GS: We feel tremendously embarrassed and believe all parties shared some burden of the responsibility.
Q: Paul Stapleton mentioned in an interview that he wasn't made aware of the dire state of Argyle's finances until it was too late - is that your understanding of the situation at the time?
GS: All directors were made aware at every director’s meeting
Q: In February 2011 you stated that funds (rumoured to be £2 million) would be sent to PAFC and Peter Ridsdale, the money didn’t arrive and the club entered into administration soon after, can you please reveal the truth behind that story?
GS: We arranged £2m and it was in an account ready to be invested. At that time Peter Ridsdale had already had his tentacles too far in the club and was able to convince enough of the directors that the club needed £7m or more and the £2m would be wasted with the best chance of survival being administration and that he had investors waiting. We believe this was a complete set up now and just a way to take control and make more fees.
It also needs to be understood that the local directors had put options against Kagami for the remainder of their shares at the original price Kagami paid to them (in effect another £2m) regardless if the club went bankrupt. Kagami would have much rather put the money in the Club then have to buy worthless shares.
Peter knew this and used it to his advantage in how he manipulated the situation successfully convincing them £2m was futile, take Kagami’s money, eliminate risk by going into administration and the club would be in better hands with his investors.
We fought until the end to delay the bankruptcy and find solutions but were basically steamrolled by Peter and the other directors that supported his plan.
Q: Why did you feel it was in your best interests to give you proxy voting rights on board matters to Keith Todd and Sir Roy Gardner when there were longer serving local directors on the ground?
GS: Sir Roy Gardner's CV was impressive, he had been Chairman of the biggest club in the world and had been knighted for his business acumen. We honestly believed he was well qualified to run the club.
Q: Were you aware of the unlocked potential to develop the land owned at the time by the club into hotels, cinemas, retail outlets etc as we are witnessing now? Was any sort of planning permission granted at the time? Had any been sought? Had the club assessed the value as either an in house development or as franchised units? Could this have offset the crippling debts before we hit the iceberg?
GS: Definitely, we are still puzzled why this support didn’t come earlier and this could have been all been adverted. We had the same plan but couldn’t get the backing once we lost out on the World Cup.
Q: In the discussions prior to any investment within Argyle how much was the potential development of Central Park used as a positive selling point and how much of the development would have stayed within the football clubs control and how much would have been controlled by a separate company?
GS: We were aware of the possibilities but didn’t really seriously look at it until after it became apparent that this was essential as a revenue stream to tie back into the club and augment the revenue thus allowing us to properly invest into the team.
Q: Can you tell us how having a personal involvement of the bankruptcy of a football club on your CV has affected your personal and business life?
GS: It is an embarrassment but it hurts me more we weren’t able to realize our investment plan in the club and make it a better club.
Q: Do you care about what happened to Plymouth Argyle Football Club while you were associated with it? If so, in what way?
GS: Absolutely, I met great people in Plymouth and felt that we let a great fan base down by not being able to fulfill our plan. I just hope that the revenue that is generated now in this development is brought back to the team where it belongs to help rebuild the club. This was always our vision.