Friday, May 26, 2006

26 May 2006: Insider

Oh. My. Goodness.

So the Rupert Lowe/Michael Wilde EGM battle for control of Southampton Football Club rolls into its next phase, with the current board saying they'll stay and fight, and preparing to name a date for the meeting at which Rupert and his cronies could very well be voted out as board members, to be replaced by Wilde and his team. And how Rupert's team are fighting. Not content with leaning heavily on the normally semi-independent Graham Hiley on the Saints Official Website, he has now hired a PR company to go 'under cover' and post pro-Lowe propaganda on the SaintsForever fan site.

The problem is, they've been found out. A Telegraph article yesterday revealed that Rupert had hired PR 'expert' Shimon Cohen, and stated: "in the past, Cohen has made effective use of fans' websites to get his message across". This set SaintsForever regulars on the edge of their seats. Had they been duped before? Would Cohen and his company "The PR Office" now be attempting to infiltrate SaintsForever? Were notable pro-Lowe posters such as 'Jonah' actually plants from Rupert's side of the fence.

Later on yesterday, a thread titled "Face it, Lowe is staying!" appeared, started by a new poster named 'undercoversaint'. Immediately the regulars jumped on it as potential 'PR Office' stuff, including 'Saint Joe' who called it a "pathetic attempt" (which it was). Could such a highly-paid PR firm be quite this blatant and crude?

The answer is yes. This morning, at 12.27am, SaintsForever owner and organiser Keith posted the results of some investigation he and the board moderators had conducted into 'undercoversaint' and a few other suspicious-looking posters. All users leave a little trail behind them, called an IP address, which can be traced: I've done this a few times with posters on messageboards I've run. Normally it traces back to an Internet Service Provider, like Nildram or BT or whoever (or Bulldog, about whom we speak quietly) - this is because when you're at home, you connect up to one of their computers, which is then connected to the internet itself. However, companies such as 'The PR Office' tend to have their own servers, or at least static IP addresses linked to their domain names, and yes indeedy, the 'whois' trace threw up the details of Shimon Cohen and his little company. They hadn't even had the brains to use an internet cafe or a dial-up account. And they were caught red-handed.

The fallout on SaintsForever this morning is quite entertaining, and is very strongly pushing the opinion even further anti-Rupert. Quite how he can even contemplate staying after trying such a trick as this is beyond me, but it seems to be the death-rattle of Rupert's reign more than anything else. Whether the press will pick up on this, I don't know - won't be until tomorrow at the earliest I'd have thought - but I thought it was worth flagging it up here for those who don't know about it. Hard to believe it's actually true: who can imagine Dan McCauley doing this with Plymouth Argyle? Rupert is a businessman, and has had some eccentric moments in the past, but this is the strangest, the funniest, the most damning.

And soon he'll be gone.

Addendum: At 9.24 Keith reported that he's already been contacted about this by both national and local press. Maybe something will come of this...

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

23 May 2006: Highlights

Short post to provide a link to the little highlights package I put together for Gloria and I to walk in to at the 'Service of Blessing' on Saturday. I've extended it slightly so that it now includes photos from the blessing ceremony too...

Three versions (Windows Media format for now):

Maybe more to follow later... certainly I'm keen to get some higher-res photos up soon. This thing was made using Windows Movie Maker, which was a life-saver on Saturday morning when we needed to get something made in five minutes, but even the high-bandwidth version seriously loses photo sharpness.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

16 May 2006: Extraordinary

OK, I admit it, the work and newly-married life is taking precedence over blogging at the moment. But still, hard to let this one pass off unnoticed...

Yesterday at around 4pm, Michael Wilde called an Extraordinary General Meeting of Southampton Leisure Holdings plc, the parent company of Southampton Football Club. The meeting has one item on the agenda: a vote to remove Rupert Lowe, Andrew Cowan and the three other directors from the board and to replace them with five others, including Wilde himself. As part of this process, there would be a slight restructuring of the board, in particular a clear separation in the roles of Chairman and Chief Executive.

To get the changes through, Wilde needs to get a straight majority of the votes cast during the meeting. He has access to around 25% of the shares himself, and other stated anti-Lowe shareholders (Leon Crouch, Sarwan Singh and the Saints Trust fans body) can take that figure up to around 40%. Lowe, Lowe's family and the directors facing removal control around 25% of the vote. The remaining 35% are held by businesses and small investors unaffiliated to either group. So it may come down to the number of non-aligned shareholders who show up to the meeting, or it may be that Lowe capitulates and leaves before the EGM happens. At the moment, though, it looks like Lowe is staying for the fight, and so far the official site are claiming nothing much other than saying Lowe doesn't think the shareholders will go for Wilde's proposals. With the figures as they currently are, it certainly could be close.

Still, the clock is ticking. The board have to call the EGM within 21 days and the meeting itself must take place within 28 days after it is called. That could take us almost to next season, but at least we now have a maximum life-span for the current board. If Lowe loses, the fans celebrate; if he wins, it shows a level of support previously unknown. Either way, the club will tidy itself up and move on with the chosen board having a clear mandate from the shareholders, which is a good thing. But surely Wilde would not have taken this step without first doing the maths and checking he'd win. And if he's right...

Hm. Why do I smell another 'Rupert Lowe Confidential' coming on?