Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Something to celebrate

The concept of Tax Freedom Day - the day of the year when we start working for ourselves rather than the government, essentially - is well established. (This year it’s May 30th, by the way.) I think there should be an equivalent term to describe the day when Watford’s Championship survival is assured for another season.

Passing the 52-point mark - universally agreed as ensuring that relegation is all but mathematically impossible - on Saturday was certainly a great relief, even if we did it in rather strange circumstances. Last season it took us until late April, so celebrating Championship Survival Day* in mid-March is a great improvement.

And there’s much more than that to celebrate, too. Leaving aside the imminent takeover - which may, if nothing else, lead to the Vicarage Road pitch being relaid - we currently have a club that seems to be functioning well at almost every level, from the CEO to the youngest youth trainees. It’s been particularly heartwarming to see the contribution Watford’s youngsters have made this season, from Marvin Sordell’s goals to Matty Whichelow’s impact as a substitute and Adam Thompson’s confident performances at the back. It’s a sign of how well the system is working that the likes of Ross Jenkins and Lee Hodson are viewed almost as veterans these days, despite being 20 and 19 respectively.

So now we can relax a little and enjoy the rest of the season. As I wrote a few months ago, it really wouldn’t be a good thing for us to get promoted, but a final league placing of around ninth or tenth, which is eminently achievable, would represent a successful season for a club of such limited means. It would also tie in with Graham Taylor’s oft-stated, and admirably realistic, ambition for Watford to establish itself as “a top-30 club in English football”.

*All ideas for a better name gratefully received…

Saturday, 5 March 2011

If it sounds too good to be true…

I got the call a few days ago. I’d been expecting it, having heard about this scam from other members of the Watford Mailing List. Because I was curious as to how it worked, I let the caller give me his entire spiel. I’m still none the wiser, though I have a couple of ideas.

The caller was from a New York-based firm called Harris James Associates. He was contacting me about my shares in Watford Leisure plc: would I be interested in selling them? He said his firm is representing a multinational company that wants to buy a majority stake (ie 51%) in Watford Leisure, on account of its “special assets and licences”. Later he also said that the deal was tax-related.

He claimed that 43% of the company’s institutional shareholders have already made a commitment to sell their shares, and wanted to know if I would do the same. The price would be between £8 and £17 a share, to be paid 30-90 days after the transaction was completed. There would be a requirement to lodge a bond as insurance against the deal falling through, but the “good news” was that the purchaser would pay most of that, and I would only be required to contribute a small amount.

Finally, he asked for my email address so that he could send me a confidentiality agreement that I would have to sign before proceeding any further with the transaction.

Now obviously I have no intention of going along with this scheme. As the old saying goes, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Watford Leisure plc shares are currently trading at 5p each, and their peak value in the past 12 months was 11.25p. So why would anyone possibly want to pay £8 each for them? It would have to be one hell of a tax dodge.

So, assuming it is simply a scam, how does it work? My initial thought was that it might be something to do with the bond that was mentioned, with the “small amount” eventually turning out to be a significant sum. That would fit the pattern of other well-known scams, such as the “You have won the [name of country] lottery” con, where you’re asked to send a fee to an intermediary, who will then pass on your winnings to you.

Alternatively, maybe it’s as simple as harvesting bank details. They already have my name and phone number, and presumably my home address as well; if I gave them the details of my bank account, they could wreak all kinds of havoc.

If anyone reading this has any other ideas, do post a comment below. I’m intrigued to know exactly what’s going on here.