Football manager failed to warn his club’s owner about investors interested in third party ownership of players, court hears

Patrick Sawer
Tommy Wright - Getty Images

A football manager failed to warn his club’s owner that a group of potential investors wanted to arrange third party ownership of players in breach of FA rules, a court heard yesterday. 

Tommy Wright, who is charged with two counts of accepting a bribe, had agreed to arrange a meeting between Patrick Cryne, the owner of Barnsley FC, and representatives of a fictitious Far East sports conglomerate.

But Southwark Crown Court heard on Wednesday that he did not tell Mr Cryne that it was the firm’s alleged intention to pursue an arrangement with the club which was in contravention of FA rules.

Mr Wright, 53, is accused of accepting a £5,000 bung from the fictitious sports company, called Meiran, set up as part of the Telegraph's investigation into football corruption in 2016.

The court was read a police statement made by Mr Wright, Barnsley FC’s then assistant manager, following his arrest in late 2016, in which he admitted he had agreed to arrange a meeting between Mr Cryne and sports agents Giuseppe ‘Pino’ Pagliara and Dax Price alongside Meiran.

For this, as well as for giving them his opinion of players, he was paid what he claimed was a consultancy fee of £5,000.

The Scottish born coach said he had no recollection of what he did with the cash because his wife took care of all his finances, adding: “It might seem old fashioned, but she gives me pocket money.”

He also admitted he had not travelled to watch any of the players he said he had been paid to give his opinion on, relying only on televised clips of their performances.

“I didn’t have the time,” he said. “I had a full time job.”

Mr Pagliara and Mr Price are each charged with two counts of paying and arranging a bribe.

The pair, who deny the charges, are accused of attempting to use Mr Wright to help them introduce a system of third party ownership at the club, by which Meiran would own players in the Barnsley squad. Such an arrangement is strictly against FA rules.

Under cross examination Mr Wright said he failed to inform his club’s owner of their alleged intentions because he did not believe Mr Cryne would agree to them.

But he maintains he always thought Meiran was a legitimate company looking to invest legally in English football.

Julia Faure Walker, prosecuting counsel, asked Mr Wright: “Did you ever warn Mr Cryne there was going to be third party ownership on the table?”

He replied: “No, because I knew it was never going to happen. The whole idea of me arranging the meeting was for them [Barnsley] to meet Meiran, who I was told was an investment company looking to invest in a Championship club with a good record of producing young players.”

Mr Wright also admitted he had not specifically told either Mr Pagliara or Mr Price that Mr Cryne, who died of cancer in January 2018, would not have accepted any deal involving third party ownership.

“I said he was straight,” said Mr Wright.

According to transcripts of recordings of meetings presented to the court Mr Wright only appeared to raise his doubts about the propriety of third party ownership after Mr Cryne had voiced his own concerns.

The court was shown undercover video footage of the moment Mr Wright was handed the alleged bung of £5,000 in cash in an envelope at the Queen’s Hotel, in Leeds.

But he denied there was anything unusual about being paid in this way, without any invoice or paperwork being submitted for it.

“I didn’t think there was anything illegal in it. I’d never met an investment company.They [Meiran] were meant to be a legitimate company. If they wanted to pay me the £5,000 in cash I thought ‘that’s how it works’,” said Mr Wright.

He also rejected a suggestion by Ms Faure Walker that he had only declared the £5,000 payment to HMRC in 2017, after the Telegraph published its expose, to “make it legitimate after the event”.

Mr Wright, who denies the two charges of accepting a bribe, stated: “I totally disagree. I’m not a corrupt man.”

The trial continues.