In March 1967 a Nigerian labourer took forgery to its limit and some way beyond. Whilst working on a building site in Lagos, he altered his pay cheque from £9.40 to read £622,000,009.40. In his splendid Book of Heroic Failures, Stephen Pile notes that the fraud was entirely successful right up to the moment when the labourer tried to cash it.
Reading the full judgement from the court case involving football agent Tony McGill and Bolton Wanderers that ended last week, one encounters the same comical incompetence and dishonesty. Except in this instance it paid off.
McGill failed in his attempt to win damages of £300,000, alleging that he had been cut out of the deal that brought Gavin McCann to Bolton from Aston Villa in 2007. Judge David Waksman ruled that because a written contract had not existed with McCann, then McGill’s claim could not succeed.
However, he described that decision as “unfortunate” and accepted McGill’s version of events whilst pouring scorn upon much of the testimony presented by Bolton Wanderers staff and co-defendants SEM, a large sports agency.
On a number of points the judge described Phil Gartside’s evidence as “unsatisfactory” or “not satisfactory”
General manager Frank McParland’s evidence was at times “unreliable”
Sammy Lee: “Not convincing”. “Entirely untrue”
Simon Marland (club secretary): “Told lies”
McCann: “Clearly untruthful”
McGill had agreed verbally to represent McCann and until 7th June 2007, the deal seemed to be progressing normally. It was then that he received a phone call from McCann saying that he would be using another agent who turned out to be Dave Sheron of SEM, who was unlicensed. In addition, SEM acted for the club rather than the player, a procedure known as “switching” which is forbidden under FA regulations.
Seven years on and two legal tussles later it’s still not clear who appointed SEM. Gartside originally claimed that he’d done the deal himself with no agent involvement. Then a letter written by solicitors on his behalf on 9 July 2009 states that “he had no personal involvement in the transfer of Mr McCann to Bolton.” Version three has him appointing SEM “indirectly.” Yet no one is prepared to say that they dealt directly with the agency.
So who did give SEM the gig? Perhaps there are contract goblins that reside deep in the bowels of the Macron stadium who take such things upon themselves. It might explain a few of the recent signings.
And why did Bolton want SEM to do the deal? The terms were exactly the ones negotiated by McGill, so there was no financial advantage. Yet the club was prepared to falsify documents, claim that meetings took place when they hadn’t and deny knowledge of McGill’s involvement, when clearly they were aware of it.
Not that McGill will get much sympathy. Football agents aren’t well liked amongst the fans. But like them or not, they’re part of the game – and they talk. The next time Dougie Freedman signs some lower league journeyman that you’ve never heard of, ask yourself if Bolton have a limited pool of players available to them because agents would prefer not to do business at the Macron for fear of losing their clients altogether.
The full judgement can be downloaded by clicking here
And the summary of witness statements by clicking here
- Richard McCormick