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City comment: Footasylum debacle shows its time for a bit of humility from Peter Cowgill and JD Sports

·2-min read
JD Sports executive chairman Peter Cowgill  (Handout)
JD Sports executive chairman Peter Cowgill (Handout)

Covert cameras, car park meetings, fiery statements - say what you want about life at JD Sports under Peter Cowgill, it’s never boring.

The latest twist in the tale is the accusation from JD’s executive chairman that footage of him and Footasylum boss Barry Bown meeting in a car park might have been obtained illegally. What law could have been broken isn’t mentioned and it’s a no comment from JD when asked whether the police have been called.

All this is typical Cowgill. His approach to ‘engagement’ with the regulator over the Footasylum deal has been to publicly yell at them about how wrong they are. He doesn’t pull his punches.

The CMA’s strident opposition looks completely misguided but Cowgill hasn’t covered himself in glory either. A little humility wouldn’t go amiss.

Today’s statement is a fine example. Amid the claim of illegality, there is also much huffing and puffing about how the Sunday Times - which broke the story - hasn’t given him a fair crack of the whip. But the most eyebrow raising line is the suggestion that it’s “not unusual, or in any way suspicious or illegitimate” for Cowgill and Bown to meet because of their quarter century relationship.

Friends or not, a meeting in a rainy car park while a merger is going on and orders are in place is bound to pique curiosity. Suggesting the mere asking of questions is out of line ignores reality.

Cowgill’s approach to the CMA helps explain why the regulator has been like a dog with a bone when it comes to this deal. Today’s statement is unlikely to change their minds.

It’s time for a different approach: how about a bit of softly, softly instead?

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