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Russo v Bassini High Court case shines light on power struggles at Watford FC
The High Court battle between Laurence Bassini and the Russo brothers shone a light on a murky period in Watford FC’s history.
The four-day trial at the High Court this month centred around the £3.6 million Bassini received from the former Hornets directors Jimmy and Vince Russo just before and during his takeover.
The court struggle was a bitter affair. But it gave fans a behind-the-scenes insight into Bassini’s turbulent tenure at Vicarage Road.
A number of things became clear or clearer...
1. You don’t need too many qualifications to buy a Championship football club: In his evidence to the judge Bassini said prior to buying Watford FC “he had no particular knowledge of football but liked the game”.
2 You don’t need too many qualifications to run a Championship football club: During evidence Laurence Bassini described his solicitor, Angelo Barrea, as “de facto CEO” of Watford FC. When the Russos’ barrister, Nicholas Stewart QC, suggested this was a role “for which (Barrea) had no experience”, Mr Bassini replied: “No, but he had a love of football.”
3. You don’t need to be able to spell to take over a championship football club: The evidence at the trial was light on documents. Not surprising as both sides had agreed to shred all the paperwork to keep the deal hidden. However, the judge commented that the early legal documents between Bassini and the Russos were “poorly drafted”, with one referring to “Watford Football Cub PLC”.
4. We still don’t know much about pre-takeover Bassini: When he emerged to buy the club all we knew about Laurence Bassini was that he was a businessman from Stanmore who had changed his name from “Bazini” after being made bankrupt in 2007. This trial was an opportunity to learn a bit more about one of the club’s more enigmatic custodians. Yet all we learnt was prior to the takeover he worked in his family business in “cosmetics, perfume and property”.
5. School qualifications are not necessary to achieve success: During his evidence former Watford FC chairman Jimmy Russo said he left school with one O-Level in woodwork. However in court it emerged he and his brother Vince have built their company, Valley Grown Salads, into an operation with an annual turnover in excess of £24 million.
6. Project Luther: Early negotiations between the Russo brothers and Bassini over his plans to buy the club were named after Watford FC’s legendary striker, Luther Blissett (pictured below). Or possibly Lex...
7. The Italian Connection: Before the case the exact connection between Laurence Bassini and the Russos was unclear - except for the more than £4.5 million the brothers had given him. In court it was revealed that Bassini was introduced to the Russos through the Italian community. The father of Bassini’s solicitor, Angelo Barrea, had been an employee of an old friend of the Russos called Gino Magistro. According to the judge’s notes, Magistro and the Russos had grown up together after their parents came to England from Sicily at the same time.
8. The Russos lost considerable money on their Watford investments: Court documents showed that when the Russos first bought a 20 per cent share in Watford FC’s parent company, Watford Leisure PLC, the investment was worth £2 million. When they sold their 29.9 per cent share in the club in 2011 it was worth a mere £135,000.
9. There was no love lost between the old Watford board and the Russos (Jimmy and Vince are pictured below): The court was told that the year before Mr Bassini bought Watford FC for 1p a share (around £440,000), the board had rejected a higher offer from the Russos to buy the club for 3p a share.
10. Lord Ashcroft (pictured below) rejected an offer of a joint Russo ownership: During his evidence, Jimmy Russo said he had previously suggested to Lord Ashcroft, who was a major shareholder of the club, that they should buy Watford together. Mr Russo said the Conservative peer declined, saying he was a “comfortable investor”.
11. The Russos' exasperation with Bassini started the ball rolling on the Pozzo takeover: In his ruling, the judge said by January 2012 the Russo brothers felt the only way they would recoup their money was if the club was sold. He said this prompted them to start talks with a “prospective purchaser in Spain”. At the time Gino Pozzo (pictured below) lived in Barcelona. The Italian football family eventually bought Watford for £550,000.
12. Bassini does not wear his famous red hard hat all the time: Well, he was not sporting it in court. Disappointing, as I doubt many Hornets fans would recognise him without it.
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