The only way you could get on, it seemed to me, was to find your own story. Obviously, I was up there doing football 24/7. At that time, the Edwards family, what they did was they brought forward, essentially, a rights issue in the shares. That had never been done in football clubs, because bear in mind, there wasn’t a market for football club shares because clubs didn’t pay dividends. They were essentially, there was no market in them because there was no value seen in the clubs, astonishingly, at that time. It was sort of, I noticed this, it was like a financial story in the Manchester Evening News. Why would they be doing this? It didn’t really attract much attention, but I thought that was odd. I took the view then that Manchester United was obviously a great sporting institution, for sure. You could not live in the north west and not be aware of it as a great sporting institution. But it had fallen behind Liverpool by a good long way, and was obviously not being particularly well-rounded at the time, but the more I was there, and the more I was around football, the more you could see there was sort of an alternative history of the club that lay behind the club.
The way in was through the rights issue. Because I remember going to Paul, I used to go out on my own account, I’d tell Paul, “I’m not doing it in your time. I’ll just go out on my own. And yes, he was great about it. He knew what I was doing. As long as I was there to do what he needed done, he was up for it. And basically… it was strange. It was the brainchild of a man called Professor Roland Smith, who was a Professor of Business I think, at Manchester University. And he knew Louis Edwards. And he cooked up the scheme… at the time, you couldn’t quite work out what it was that they were trying to do. Now, of course it was obvious what they were… what Roland Smith had seen was that these clubs were going to be worth a fortune. And what you had to do was grab the maximum value you can, the maximum shareholder you can, and that you stood a better chance if you created this potential. Rather than there being a thousand shares, if you could create a million shares, you could hoover them up quicker and easier. There was more to the story than that, but that was basically what it looked like.
And some of the supporters kicked off. A man called John Fletcher, I want to say his name was. He was sort of a more United fan. He ran a sort of supporters’ campaign against it. Anyway, I got into it, and I took that to Claudia Milne, who was then running Reports Extra, which was the sort of local programmes World in Action, basically
And then somewhere around about then I must have gone to Claudia Milne and said, “Look, I’ve got this story I want to get the rights to shoot.” And she was an old World in Action hand, of course, and she knew that I wanted to get in. And she said, “Come and do this.” And I did that. And I worked with Claudia and Michael…
I want to say it would have been January that I went across to World in Action. And actually, it was like a temporary secondment.
No, January ‘79.
Oh, right. Sorry, yes.
And I’d written the proposal, which I still have, out there. And I was put to work with Geoff Seed. And the other researcher was a lovely chap by the name of Mike Short, who died quite a few years ago. He was a lovely chap. Very nice man. Liverpudlian. He and I teamed up, Mike and I, and it was my first introduction to the world of World in Action, really.
And it made a big splash.
It did. Did I enjoy it as a programme? I suppose I must have done.
But it had difficult repercussions.
Well, it was interesting in the sense that there were those moments when you find things out that you didn’t know to be true and you go, “Bloody hell, that’s a proper secret.” I remember that was when I realised, or we got to the bottom of what Louis Edwards had actually been doing. What they had been doing was, they came up with this concept of the rights issue, which they knew was going to enable them to liberate the value of the club. But before they brought the scheme forward, but whilst they were discussing it with Kleinwort Benson, he went around to all the small shareholders to hoover up the shares without telling them of course what he was doing. It was particularly cynical because it meant going to a lot of people. For instance, the former secretary I mentioned was a man called Walter Crickmer who died in the…
Munich disaster, yes.
I remember going down to Bristol to inspect the share register. Somebody must have told me to do that. I remember I was talking to some people who knew about finance. They knew you had to check the share register, and that was when I realised that his shareholding had gone up, because those days – I’m sure it’s the same now – but you were allowed to inspect the share records.
Still can. Companies House.
And what was interesting was they had, they obviously didn’t expect anybody to ever come and inspect. Because it was only a small, there were only like a thousand shares, or maybe 2000. And it was just a book like this. They’d put in pencil the amount that these share transactions have been paid, and you could see very clearly that the holding had gone from whatever percent, right up to about 75% in a very short period of time. Somebody had put in pencil next to it, all the sums that he’d paid for these shares. So it was absolutely in black and white, and I knew now how much he paid.
So, then I went around to see all these people. One of whom was Walter Crickmer’s daughter. I want to say her name was Beryl, but I could be wrong. I think her name was Beryl. And she had a bunch of shares that she’d inherited from her father. And Mike and I visited all these people, and it was always the same thing. A chat called James Smart would come and knock on the door, make an approach, literally knock on the door, and say, “I work for Louis Edwards,” he worked for the meat company, but he was obviously Louis Edwards, his right-hand man, smooth talking bloke. Oh, Mr Louis, it was always Mr Louis, Mr Louis is looking to make some share purchase. He’d like to look after people who’ve got the small shares. He’s always prepared to pay a little bit of a premium because they’re really essentially valueless. This was all the schtick. And what he would do is he would offer them cash – sorry, a figure, and then some cash. And you knew already, this was all totally wrong. And he’d done the same to the Crickmers. And we went round, and I remember explaining to the son, it must have been the grandson, I suppose it would be, he’s conned you out of a lot of money actually, because his shares were worth… imagine having a chunk of Manchester United today, a substantial bit. Even one share, even one thousandth of it would have been worth a fortune. Anyway, the essence of it was that he then… we recorded him phoning up Louis Edwards and saying we’ve had an approach from Granada, is it right that you’ve offered cash? “Oh no, that’s just from my safe, oh, the tax man won’t know about that. Just don’t say anything.” But it was, you pulled it out and it was…
And by the way, I think the story that we told about Manchester United you could have told about probably every big club in the country, these clubs were significantly… they had rules that they didn’t adhere to. For instance, classically, the paying of schoolboy footballers. And of course, it was the creation of a false market to entirely benefit the football clubs, so that they would have the pick of the best young players. And for the sake of a few pounds in cash to the families, they’d have the choice as to whether to throw these boys on the scrap heap. And that would be it. So, what you had was for every George Best, there’s a hundred boys whose lives are destroyed and they have nothing. And the club, I’ve no obligation to them. And then there was the Edwards company, which was operating a significant… it was like the T Dan Smith and the Poulson thing, it was cash payments for contracts. It was a nexus of unappealing activity behind the glamour of the badge. And it ran through, I’m afraid, Louis Edwards and his brother Douglas, who was former Lord Mayor of Manchester. Anyway, the programme went out and caused a bit of a stink at the time.
Did you get any hassle from the top of the building?
Never, never ever. Remarkable, when I look back, I remember David Plowright saying one day, very early on after I started, saying, “Your job is to cause trouble. If you’re not causing trouble, you’re not doing your job.” Amazing thing. People wouldn’t be told that sort of thing today.
The very opposite.
Yes, I agree. There was no trouble. Geoff was a very diligent… he was very experienced he worked for the Daily Mail. He understood a good story and knew how to marshal it.
Louis Edwards died?
Yes, and that was a shock. And I felt rather ashamed, if I’m honest. I think, not that I probably would have said so at the time, but how could you not… you spent some months investigating what was a pretty tawdry confection of grubby illegality and fraud and bad dealing at what was one of our premier national institutions. So, I don’t doubt for a second that it was a well-judged and necessary piece of journalism, and in World in Action’s grand tradition. And I admire them for doing it, but on a personal level, it did sit uncomfortably with me as a young man to feel that a man, through an essence I had crawled over his life and found him wanting then died some… I mean, only a matter of days afterwards, I did feel that was difficult, and I think… I didn’t know that then, but I think in a way there was a large and concealed piece of me that never wholly bought the World in Action TV investigator thing. Even though I would have thought that I did at the time and would have voiced it as such, the truth is that wasn’t ultimately me. If that makes sense.