by Andrew Foote
Throughout this story real organisations and real people are mentioned by name. Their place in the tale is in the author's imagination. No thoughts, words or deeds attributed to those people or organisations are real, nor have they ever happened. This is a story! It's fiction. The people and organisations, even when they interact with the characters, are presented in an entirely imagined and fictitious manner, and no discourtesy is intended to them by the author nor by the web site.
Summer was fast approaching which meant a break from our studies. We both had plenty of homework, especially Lucas but nothing we couldn't complete before the autumn term began.
Mine was mainly course work as dictated by the SCGB, not that difficult as we'd seen most of the theory in practice during our training over the years. Physiology was a bit more testing but fascinating which made the learning process fun rather than tedious and as I progressed, the reasoning behind us not being pushed too hard as growing kids became obvious as I learned about the interaction of muscles, tendons and ligaments together with how our bones mature.
Lucas had decided that teaching was what he wanted to do and following talks with our careers teacher, it had been agreed that rather than spend three years at University, a teacher training course would be far more suitable as the flexibility it offered meant he could carry on with competitive diving with little disruption to his studies.
Offers of sponsorship came thick and fast which meant we had to employ the services of a business manager. We had thought about either my Dad or Gregg but Dad declined saying he was already snowed under with work in his capacity of being a company director, Gregg likewise as he was an engineer, not an administrator.
We talked to the SCGB and whilst they were not allowed to fulfil this role, they were very helpful.
"There are professional managers out there who will look for the most lucrative deals as they take a percentage of whatever's on offer but that doesn't necessarily mean they're the right ones for you. You should be able to maintain some degree of control over this and by employing the services of one of these people means handing all that over to them. Had you thought about a trusted family member?"
Back to the drawing board but then one evening as we relaxed listening to music, Lucas turned to me.
"Hey Andy? I do believe I've found a possible business manager! Why neither of us thought about it before beats the crap out of me."
"Okay? Who do you have in mind?"
"Jo. She got a first class honours degree in business management plus she landed herself a damn good position in the City of London so it makes perfect sense!"
"Well I'll be buggered!"
"Later I promise but what do you reckon then?"
"Stroke of genius. I mean she'd be ideal! I'll call her right now and if she's in and not doing anything I'll invite her in for a drink. I love you Lucas!"
"I know you do and I love you back!"
"So thanks for the glass of wine but what did you need to talk to me about?"
"Sponsorship and how it's handled. You see we're getting all these offers and we're not equipped to deal with them and completely understand what the implications are. You know the sort of thing? Tie ourselves into a contract that sucks just because it appears good on the surface only to find that it isn't all it's cracked up to be. We need someone with an understanding of business but my father and yours feels they either don't have sufficient knowledge or are just too busy."
"So you thought you'd ask me, Lucas?"
"In a nutshell, yes but naturally we'd pay you. Nothing comes from nothing after all?"
"I'm not interested so much in the money, I'm just not sure I'll know what I'm doing. This is a complete departure from what I'm used to, can you understand? I don't want to go fucking it up."
"What damage could you do Jo? You know more about how businesses operate than we will ever know. We would undoubtedly fuck up left to our own devices but with you on board? Ah come on? We'd stand a chance of getting it right?"
"Okay then. Pass the bottle and whatever paperwork you have and I'll try and make sense of it. No promises mind but I'll do my best."
"Bloody hell you blokes? Do you have any idea how much you might be sitting on? Let's just say it's a small fortune shall we? Alright, some of those that seem very attractive at first glance are dangerous in as much as they'd take over your life almost such as controlling who you spoke to publicly, interviews you gave would be dictated by them and so on but even taking those out of the equation, you could each net somewhere in the region of half a million quid every year and you still have room to negotiate! You'll need an accountant 'cos I'm not sure if sponsorship attracts a tax liability, a decent solicitor to read through the small print before you sign up for anything. All of these cost money so yes, you need a business manager. I'm happy to do this if you trust me enough okay?"
"Trust? Trust never was an issue here, Jo. We were just worried that you had too much else on to accept. Can you organise these accountants and solicitors for us?"
"I'm now your business manager and that's what business managers do for heaven's sake!"
"But half a million quid each?? That's one million pounds a year?"
"And I thought you were useless at maths Andy! What you have to bear in mind is we've not even begun to negotiate yet so it could potentially amount to more. If your success continues then there might be more company's hoping to climb on the back of it, who knows but for now, leave it with me but if receive any more offers, open them and take a look by all means but then leave them on the hall table for me."
Three days later and a call from Jo.
"When would it be convenient to call in? I've got some things I need to talk over with you."
"So long as it doesn't clash with training, anytime is fine, now if you're free?"
"I'll be right with you. Just give me ten minutes as I've only just got out of the shower."
She arrived with an armful of paperwork and after sitting down at the table, began to explain things.
"Okay then. What I've done with those early offers is play one off against the other. You had Adidas and Nike both looking to get you on side but no way can you do both. One of you could opt for one, the other for the other but then the deal gets watered down and I can see their reasoning. You are a partnership in more ways than one so it's best you both go with a single company. Adidas are prepared to offer you seven hundred and fifty thousand pounds each if you stick with their name. This ties you into a contract until after the 2020 games at which time it will be renegotiated depending on how well you do. They will supply free of charge any sports clothing you need, all high end stuff that will show their brand in the best possible light, kit bags, trainers, trackies and the like, all displaying their logo. Part of the contract means that every planned interview or photo shoot must show you wearing their strip, not unreasonable given the amount of money they're dishing out.
Any questions so far?"
"Just one sis? They're offering around one hundred and eighty-seven thousand pounds a year for God's sake and all we have to do is wear their gear?"
"Andy? Oh dear. I didn't explain myself very well, I told you I might make a few mistakes. Andy? I should've said that the three quarters of a million quid isn't over a four year period, it's annually so in four years you'll gross three million each and I've not even started yet."
"What do you mean, you've not even started yet! Jesus H Jo? What more is there?"
"Alright? Speedo want to sponsor you. They provide all of your swimming kit, their logo prominently displayed of course so another two hundred and fifty thousand a year each. A certain supermarket where you've been seen shopping have offered a staggering fifty thousand pounds just for a photo opportunity to see you doing just that. A company who manufacture micro-fibre towels have approached me with a view to provide their products and shell out one hundred thousand pounds if you agree to use them. Already that's one million four hundred thousand pounds a year each!"
"Oh my God!"
"Yes but before you get too carried away, this brings with it its own problems. This income is like being paid for doing any other job. You are being paid to advertise these products and also, it could be argued that being provided with kit, free of charge, attracts benefit in kind so you will be facing a massive tax bill. Forty percent of everything you receive might have to be paid back to the HMRC unless your accountants are on top of their game and to this end I've asked a firm called Anthony Powers and Partners to manage your affairs. They're good, very good in fact but they're not cheap but then, what does it matter? Over the next four years you'll be earning at least five point four million quid each so if their bill comes to say five, even ten thousand? It's small beer by comparison."
"But……..we're just kids who dive pretty well Jo. All this money and for what?"
"You're a brand. Something that'll enhance their products and increase their publicity, reputation and exposure over their competitors. It might seem a lot of money to you but you can be absolutely sure, they'll make that amount many times over off the back of it."
"Even so, it's hard to get my head around it. Dad once said to us that we'd never make any money from our sport but now you're telling us we're going to be fucking raking it in."
"Yes and if you continue to achieve at the highest level, those amounts will increase with perhaps even more businesses wanting a piece of the action. One thing I haven't told you though? Once you're seventeen, get your driving licences. Jaguar-Landrover are straining at the leash to sign you up. They're clever in as much as aside from sponsorship, they will provide vehicles for you but not as gifts which would attract tax, instead they lend them to you for test driving! All fully insured and taxed for the road with fuel vouchers so you run them for free."
"Really?? That's amazing! Have you managed to sort us a solicitor yet? With all this going down we think it important."
"Simon is, as you know, debentured to Fforbes, Fforbes and yet more bloody Fforbes and he's had a word with one of the partners. They're not interested as they're criminal lawyers but whoever it was he talked to promised to give some thought to a really good commercial lawyer so it's a case of wait and see but I take your point Lucas. We have to put everything in place before proceeding."
Two weeks on and on our return from Christchurch, Jo was waiting for us.
"Got a few minutes you blokes? I need to update you."
"Come on through and I'll put the kettle on."
We sat drinking coffee as Jo put the facts out.
"Before we go any further, do you feel that Mum and Dad, Gregg and Julie should be in on this?"
"I suppose they ought, we're not adults yet and whilst it has to be our decision how we move forward, they should be kept in the loop."
"My reasoning exactly Lucas. I think that they'd be mightily pissed off if you kept them out of the picture. Shall I give them a shout?"
Half an hour later found everyone gathered in our living room with us kids sitting on the floor giving space to the adults on something more comfortable.
Jo began by explaining about the companies that were offering us sponsorship but neglected to give figures and what each of the contracts entailed.
"The thing is, these boys will have responsibilities towards their sponsors as will they towards them so it's important that it is managed very carefully in order that their time isn't preoccupied with photo shoots, publicity stunts and undue pressure. They're athletes after all and they must be given free rein to train and compete."
My father was curious.
"Yes we get all that but why do you feel the need to involve us? So they get some free kit? So what?"
"I don't think you fully understand father. Free kit is a part of the deals but Lucas and Andy are being offered a frightening sum of money as well, a figure that will put them firmly in the high earnings bracket."
"So fifty, sixty thousand pounds a year?"
"Try just shy of six million quid?"
"Six………million? What? Over four years? That's an obscene amount of money!"
"No. That's per annum Dad, more if they're success continues. In all I calculate the figure at twenty three million before Tokyo 2020 and the offers are still coming in. That's each remember? Not a joint income so now perhaps you see why it has to be very carefully managed."
My Mum and Julie burst into tears, Dad and Gregg were stunned into silence before Dad walked through the door that connected our flat to the main house reappearing minutes later, a bottle of scotch in hand.
"I don't want a drink, I bloody-well need one! How on earth……..I mean why??"
"My brother and his hunky mate are a valuable commodity Dad. Look at the likes of Andy Murray? Jesus that guy is worth a fortune! Yes okay he's been around for a while but even before he won Wimbledon and an Olympic gold, he was already a multi-millionaire.
Andy and Lucas are in the same league and are getting the same treatment plus they have many years ahead of them."
Lucas went into our kitchen and opened two bottles of wine, brought them back through and poured five glasses handing one to Mum, Julie, Jo and me before taking one himself, our respective fathers already digging in to the whiskey.
Jo continued after taking a drink.
"For now, everything is in the hands of the boy's accountants and solicitors, trusted names who were recommended to me by my boss and until such time as they give me the go-ahead as their business manager, nothing gets done."
Gregg spoke up at this point.
"There has to be a game plan though?"
"Yes there is. Shield the boys from the HMRC as far as is practically possible, give them an income and see what can be done to invest the rest. Now whether that's off-shore, setting up a charitable trust or limited liability company where instead of having to pay forty-five pence in the pound, they will only pay twenty-seven I'm not at all sure, they're the experts, not me. There will be expenses to be met. The SCGB recommends a summer camp or training facility. Maybe go back to Rio or indeed Guam. Pay their coaches to go with them. All of this could be offset against tax but it's still only scratching at the surface really."
Our meeting broke up and I think everyone, including us, were shell-shocked. Our parents were bewildered mostly because they couldn't comprehend how two average school kids could attract the interest of some of the biggest sports suppliers in the world let alone the enormous sums of money we were being offered but for us, it went further than that. The mystery surrounding Wormleighton, our ability to connect so personally with each other, the scientific community's interest and the need for secrecy that surrounded it was becoming too much and that night we cuddled up together and cried ourselves to sleep.
As is the case, we woke in the morning feeling on top of our game. Looking in the mirror we looked like we'd spent the night on the tiles but obviously the stress relief had worked wonders and invigorated, we jogged down to Christchurch.
We were on our own, Lor and Paul were away competing somewhere, North America some place as I recall and Benny the same but closer to home in Spain so we were met by Liam who put us through our paces and after some circuit training, an endurance swim and some dives, he called us to the side.
"I just thought I should mention it but there's talk that this facility might be sold. Its prime land for redevelopment and what with the City Council having to cut their budget and realise on some of their assets, well it's hardly a surprise really."
"But where could we train? Where could any of us go Liam?"
"Well you're the lucky ones. Your sponsorship means that you could pick and choose but as for up and coming talent? God only knows what might happen."
"But they can't do this! Worcester is the nearest place and their facilities are even worse than here? What can we do to help stop this madness?"
"Not a great deal but I do have an idea for the future and one I'll talk to Joanna about in the fullness of time. Nothing has been decided yet and even after a lengthy consultation period, we're looking at perhaps two or three years before the bulldozers move in."
"Oh please? You can't just leave it there? What gives Liam?"
"Alright. There's a brown field site just off the M5 Motorway that's been up for sale these last four years. It was on the market for just in excess of twelve million pounds but the recession hit and there were no takers. The inevitable happened and the asking price dropped like a stone so now it's up for just a little over four million so what with Christchurch due to shut up shop, from what I hear is if the local authorities can secure government grants, perhaps European Union money and lottery funding, they might redevelop it.
Look, promise me to keep this under your hat but Gloucester Rugby Club want to get away from Kingsholm. Parking on match days is a nightmare, not only for the supporters but also the local residents. The site is worth a fortune being so close to the city centre so already there are talks underway discussing the possibility that they could move to this site. The council would, if the funding was there, redevelop the entire site to a sports complex to include new pools, gymnasiums, indoor and outdoor track and field facilities and much more. If they manage to pull it off then it would become perhaps the finest purpose built sporting arenas in the country."
"That would be fantastic if they did but how likely is it to happen? I mean a venture like that would cost a fortune."
"Early projected costs come in at a little over one hundred million pounds but the Rugby club would do their own development funded by the sale of Kingsholm which will reduce the amount but that still leaves a lot of money to be raised so in terms of probability? I can't answer that."
"GRUFC moving from Kingsholm? That would be like an end of an era!"
"Maybe the start of a better one though. You of all people know how important it is to keep moving forward and they're the same."
"Could we do anything?"
"Well……..actually we have had a few ideas! Obviously money is at the nub of this, they need to find a phenomenal amount so the idea has been pushed around that we might all of us organise a series of mini tournaments. UK medallists versus picked teams. For instance, you two against your silver and bronze rivals, Benny and co against their closest competitors likewise the UK Basketball teams pitted up some of the world's finest and so on. We've got some great young skiers, track and field athletes, the list goes on. We charge a hefty price for a live competition and those who are unlucky enough to get tickets, we sell the idea to Sky Sports, get them to air everything on a pay to view basis and take a commission."
"Equestrian. Those guys were awesome!"
"Yes exactly. Limited competition, the best against the best, those at the top of their game against their closest rivals, not long and drawn out but almost a chance to see an Olympic final right here in the UK."
Lucas was really enthusiastic but I, being cautious voiced my doubts.
"I can see the attraction, it could possibly work but how much might we raise? One hundred million is an eye-watering sum of money and whatever we manage to get would hardly make much of a difference?"
"I see where you're coming from but it's all about slowly-slowly Andy. Equate it to your early training? You could've said to yourself, I'm not turning up tonight, after all what difference is one night of missed training going to make? In itself? Not a great deal but it's all about maintaining continuity or in this instance, enthusiasm for a project. Keep pushing at it, keep it in the public consciousness by the publicity you can all of you attract. Lorain, Paul and Benny are back come the weekend, they've already indicated they'll be back training so let's talk about it then, agreed?"
"Yeah, good idea. How long are they back for?"
"Quite a while. Too much competition and they'll become stale so they probably won't be in action until the end of the summer now, you know the sort of thing, regroup and relax. Very necessary at their age."
We sat around drinking coffee in reception, the conversation regarding the closure of Christchurch was still top of my agenda although we kept our voices down just in case it wasn't common knowledge.
"I can see how you and I, maybe the others have a vested interest but how do we go about enthusing our other Rio team mates? They presumably have their own facilities so what makes Liam think they'd be interested in pitching in?"
"I don't know Andy. Even if they were to cooperate, some of the events would take place elsewhere where there'd be little or no interest in Gloucester losing some facilities. I mean you can't hold a ski event locally, even here in the UK it would have to take place in Scotland and in the winter and summer has only just begun."
"Yes well there are still three years to go so I can't imagine anything is going to happen immediately but I take your point. Look at this place. It hardly features as an important national venue does it? Just a not all bad town facility where five kids did good!"
Lucas chuckled at this.
"Yeah. Just because it's been the centre of our universe doesn't mean that it's has national recognition! I guess we just have to wait it out, see what the powers that be come up with and do whatever we can to support it. Not our problem really."
"But it will be a problem for those coming along behind us, that's the bit that bothers me. We've been unbelievably lucky to have this place and while Liam is right, our sponsorship makes it possible to train pretty much anywhere, up and coming talent, especially when it comes to water sports, well there's nothing around here fit for purpose. Athletics is also a problem and always has been, you've only got to remember Gary and Dan. They almost knocked it on the head until they managed to secure an academy place. Gymnastics and team games? Well I suppose there are leisure centres around that would do but they're all commercial concerns and they'd expect payment."
"Yeah well, that's what the drive is towards isn't it? Local authorities save money by putting everything out in the private sector. There are still places locally where people can learn to swim, at a push our swim club could move to the Golden Valley Leisure Centre but to train at top flight would mean folk going down to Bristol or up to Birmingham, too far without financial assistance and that's just our disciplines. Oh what a fucking mess!"
"Do you remember what you told me a few years ago shortly after we first met? It's the not knowing that's the killer? Well it's the same with this so I intend to find out what's going on."
"How do you propose doing that?"
"Ask. That's how! We've met the Mayor twice so if we can get a meeting with him, tell him that we know that Christchurch has been ear marked for closure and get some idea as to what the Council has in mind by way of replacement and if he refuses to tell us then perhaps vailed threats to let the cat out of the bag might just persuade him to open up."
"He's a bloody politician, you'd never get a straight answer out of him. He'd probably say something like nothing's been decided yet or some such shit."
"Possibly but then we turn the screw. Ask him something like okay, so it's alright to talk openly about the possibility of closure but of course nothing is set in stone. I'll bet you any money that if there is substance to the rumour then he'd open up like Pandora's Box in order to keep us quiet!"
"I get it! He couldn't hardly issue a flat denial if it were true cos he'd be seen as a liar when it did actually happen and giving non-answers only serves to confirm things. Very clever but what if he refuses to see us?"
"What if we leave it until we've had an opportunity to talk with the others? If they're on side then he can hardly refuse all of us and even if he did, then we leak it to the press. I can see the headlines. Mayor refuses meeting with local Olympians! Got him firmly by the balls!"
"You cunning, manipulative, lovely bastard! You know? It might just work!"
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