Ipswich Town's precarious finances took on a whole new look this morning as – subject to due diligence being completed – reclusive multi-millionaire Marcus Evans took control of the Suffolk club.
And as Sunday's derby showdown fast loomed, so the Canaries will head into battle with a new manager; Town – potentially – with a new owner, albeit one the shareholders will still need to approve of at an annual general meeting. He comes, however, with the board's full recommendation.
“The Board have been in discussion with Marcus Evans for some time. We are pleased now to be able to make this announcement about the deal, that when completed, will enable further investment in Jim Magilton's team building and our quest to bring Premiership football back to Portman Road,” the club's chairman David Sheepshanks revealed in a statement posted on the club's own official web-site this morning.
The deal, if approved, would see ?44 million pumped into the Portman Road club – a move that would see the purchase of ?32 million worth of external debt by Evans as well as an additional investment of ?12 million through the issue of new shares by the club.
Much of that ?32 million debt is currently owned by Morley Fund Management, a subsidiary of Norwich-based Aviva.
The whole deal would leave Evans owning 87.5% of the club's shares; Sheepshanks would remain as chairman.
The takeover could, therefore, see Ipswich catapulted into the big league of cash-rich clubs and, on eve of derby battle, will be music to the ears of the club's supporters – particularly if it all goes through ahead of January's transfer window.
The fascinating part of today's news – which is likely to be greeted with alarm north of the border given City's own, indeterminate financial future under the Smiths and the Turners – is just who, exactly, Mr Evans is.
All that today's official Town statement offered was four brief paragraphs from Evans who said: “I am delighted to be able to support the club of which I have long been an admirer. I believe that Ipswich Town has great potential to build upon its rich footballing heritage.
“The club has an excellent reputation, both on the pitch and off it, as part of the local community, and this has played a big part in attracting me here.
“The board has done a good job in difficult conditions under the stewardship of David Sheepshanks who will continue in his role as chairman, with the support of a strong executive management team.
“Jim Magilton and the squad have made a terrific start to the season and will have my full support.”
A takeover of the Suffolk-based club has long been mooted but the name of Marcus Evans has come somewhat out of left-field.
Who, exactly, Marcus Evans is, is a conundrum that will test every Suffolk journalist – and now Norfolk reporter and supporter – a mystery wrapped in an enigma, would be one description if Fleet Street's finest's efforts a year ago are any guide.
Then he tabled a reported ?800 million bid for the Daily Mirror; only to subsequently down-grade that to ?600 million. Both were rejected.
It did, however, put the entrepreneur firmly on the media 'radar' and even prompted a lengthy profile in MoneyWeek last December.
In it they offered one or two more clues as to Town's would-be new owner is, someone who – at a seeming stroke – would wipe out the club's long-standing debts and, potentially, put the Suffolk club into the big boys league.
Marcus Evans – as any straight-forward Google search will reveal – is the founding figure and name behind one of the world's largest international conference groups.
But according to MoneyWeek, 'there are no extant photographs of him, no recorded interviews, and even his PR “sounds vague” when his name comes up'.
He is, MoneyWeek claimed last year, “believed to be 43” – which would put him at 44, one now presumes.
The Marcus Evans Group specialises in arms and military conferencing and is said to generate 'more than $350 million a year' – ?175 million, give or take.
Again, the claim is that Evans has been a tax exile for more than decade; but still owns a sumptuous river-side mansion in Kingston-upon-Thames; the 15 firms listed in Companies House last year are all registered in Bermuda.
The Independent On Sunday also took it upon themselves to rummage through the conference and corporate hospitality community in the hope of discovering rather more about Town's 'Mr 87 Per Cent'.
'Not a single person could recall meeting him or dealing with his firm,” wrote the Independent On Sunday last year.
'One PR executive in the conference sector was typical: “This is an industry which is known for its networking and it's quite a small community – everyone knows everyone. But not in this particular case, unfortunately.”'
All that the Independent managed to add to the MoneyWeek profile was that he was “in his early forties, quiet and determined, with large homes in Kingston-upon-Thames and one of London's most expensive areas, The Boltons, in Chelsea”.
According to a further piece in the Evening Standard that year, the man is ready and willing to ruffle feathers – he served champagne lunches and strawberry teas in his garden overlooking Wimbledon. Much to the annoyance of the neighbours.
Comes into Portman Road, wipes out the debt and gives Town boss Magilton millions to spend and he'll certainly be annoying the neighbours again.