“A really engaging guy”... “Very confident talker”... “Someone I considered a friend, actually”.
As I spoke with various people about William Storey, I had a very clear appreciation of how he has managed to manoeuvre himself into the position he currently occupies. They were three different people, but all three had similar takes on the man. The above statements do not however offer the full picture of someone whose scent has wafted around the corridors of Sunderland AFC to such an extent you’d think the toilets were blocked.
I’m not in the business of writing about things which don’t exist, but I will make an exception for this one; it is also a story about why I won’t do a story on it. I am well aware of the irony in writing of hundreds of words about why we shouldn’t talk about someone, however I cannot see any other way.
There is a large shadow being cast over some sections of our fan base at the moment. The effect of Storey’s actions are very real, despite his chances of completing a takeover being about as remote as Alan Shearer’s prospects of receiving a warm welcome down The Wheatsheaf.
Nobody really knows the truth about the sale/share re-arrangement at the moment, and really that’s the way it should be. People will have their opinions on what is and isn’t happening but that’s all just based on prior experience with Madrox and friends. It also means that people are readily willing to accept any port in a storm, but let me assure you, that port will not and should not be William Storey.
Why? Well for many reasons. A few months ago, when I first became aware of his existence, I thought it would be useful to look into some of the key issues.
As a journalist, I wanted to ask questions of him; it was not difficult to find people who had a tale to tell. Because there had been issues with the Haas Formula 1 team - and that was just for starters - I wondered should I be going to programme execs at the BBC, ITV or Channel 4 to alert them to what I might find?
Over the course of a few days I spoke with people who have worked alongside him, done business with him, as well as others whose paths have crossed his. Nothing has given me any confidence to suggest that this man is the one when comes to Sunderland AFC.
I could have gone further, however I decided not to, because the truth is that this is a man neither important enough or relevant enough to merit further investigation. He will have no bearing on the future of this club. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t even bothered about saying anything, but the man will just not give up.
Seemingly, he has somehow engineered a foothold within our local press and across social media as someone who is worthy of column inches and air time. I cannot tell you how strongly I disagree with the decision to do this. Watching Storey bat away questions for four like Steve Smith having pies chucked at him has been frustrating, to put it mildly.
Why? Well, a web search of Storey will tell you about his prior form: Haas Formula One, Whyte Bikes and various grandiose claims about his energy drink to name a few.
Comments made in the Whyte case are there for all to see, finding he had submitted, according to judge Melissa Clarke “misleading and untruthful oral and written evidence” in relation to his company logo. Meanwhile, he and his co-defendant were considered to be “poor witnesses”.
There has never been any public interest in giving him the interviews he so craved, because they would and have been interviews very much on his terms; for something to be in the public interest it must serve the benefits of a section of society as a whole. However, all this man has done is perform the strangest game of smoke and mirrors you could possibly wish to see.
The result? Division and discord within the fan base, and an unnecessary distraction for those who are trying to ensure a professional and proper sale of the club.
Jim Rodwell has declined to comment on Storey’s actions these last few months. That’s most likely out of professional courtesy, but there is no denying he has performed a useful role to the board by distracting some of our more hot under the collar fans.
There are enough red flags about Mr Storey to conduct a hold-to-account interview with him - now that would be in the public interest, if he was a serious bidder. And that would have been fine, if our local media had conducted their own semi-detailed independent research. Three days of calls to people have shown that there is far more than what you can just Google. Yet no one seems to have bothered, just taking at face value what they know from the first two pages of results.
Scrutiny is lacking, yet a platform was still provided.
The Chronicle interview this week was interesting, though: he said that his company had been valued at £100m, but he would not name by whom. He had a number of investors lined up as part of his bid - but they will remain anonymous and no names will be given. He said that alternative accounts exist for Rich Energy abroad but would not say where (clue: Isle of Man is one). He has legal cases outstanding so cannot reveal the full picture, yet. He cannot talk about his current involvement with Rich Energy, yet he is “leading the renaissance” of the company... but he won't say what that entails. And finally he has many other business interests, but guess what? Yep, he won’t talk about that either.
Quite the open book.
Yet back in August he said he would reveal the names of investors “shortly,” and he knew his bid for the club was “miles” better than any other offer (how? I’m intrigued to know how he would be party to other bids for the club - I think we all know nonsensical that is). He also said he started Rich Energy from “scratch” in 2015. Which I find interesting given that I have heard from people whose association with the brand goes back much further than that. Maybe there’s an explanation there, but frankly I don’t care.
We should consider the following from Judge Melissa Clarke:
He often did not answer questions directly, preferring to make speeches about his vision for his business or alternatively seeking to evade questions by speaking in generalities or in the third person plural. He only answered several questions when I intervened. He had a tendency to make impressive statements, which on further investigation or consideration were not quite what they seemed.
In all, not much about this whole tale stacks up.
Some fans are hanging their hat on him being the next saviour, and I beg you please, don’t.
What I take issue with is that his actions have played on the emotions of people who, no matter what you think of them personally, want the same thing as us all: a successful, well run football club. People invest their emotions in such a figure, and to use the club for personal gain is unforgivable.
You can see why people have been taken in by his charm. In reality, what we are dealing with is a very intelligent man whose motivations are known to him alone. An insatiable desire to be loved, perhaps. He speaks clearly and in a manner which imposes his way of thinking on you; a strong personality who does all the talking.
However, behind all the long-winded answers and extensive slaloming of questions, what we are left with is a bearded mirage: for all we know he is attaching himself to the club like some movie-bad-guy clinging to the undercarriage of a car as our hero drives off, believing they are finally safe. He clearly has the ability to wield influence in circles most of us wouldn’t be able to operate in.
What are the questions I would ask based on what I have found? Well, it would of course revolve around the specifics of his business dealings. However, at the moment he is irrelevant, not worthy of further scrutiny. Unless he becomes a proper, bona fide player in the purchase of this football club, I won’t bother asking, and neither should any other media outlet covering Sunderland, because it’s doing more harm than good. If he does, I assure you I have a number of questions and Storey would, in any case, require a right of reply. For now, however, it will remain dormant.
People must bear in mind that anyone can make a bid for a football club, but that does not mean that anyone can buy one. The checks and balances are in place which should, in theory, enable the wheat to be separated from the chaff. The most important one being if you do not provide proof of funds and a way to finance a sale, the selling party will be very much minded not to take you seriously.
He has however struck a more defeatist tone of late: “sell to me or admit they don’t want to sell” he farted on Twitter this week - happily, it’s a bit like watching Donald Trump slowly realise he’s lost the US election. It’s taken a while, it’s the right outcome and most importantly, it’s a relief.
We must all forget about William Storey. To dwell on his very existence is harmful. As Forrest Gump says, that’s all I have to say about that.