Mark Campbell watched his Twitter followers surge from 22 to 1300 as Falkirk fans liked what they heard from the English real estate businessman.
The Bairns’ preferred bidder to take over the major shareholders’ 62 per cent stake in the club met the fans on Monday, three days after being revealed as the buyer at the forefront in the race to take over the Bairns.
Already Campbell has pledged to fulfil a fan’s wishlist starting with a fourth stand at The Falkirk Stadium, plus a hotel and reinstate the Academy in a bid to return the Bairns to the top level of Scottish football even as quickly as 2021 ... should he get the keys to the club.
He hadn’t on Monday when he staged two fans’ meetings in Behind The Goals and met with The Falkirk Herald, and representatives of Back The Bairns, but he hopes due diligence will be completed next week and he can begin work on his grand plans for the Bairns.
He said: “We have a fourth stand which needs to be built if we’re going to be in the top league. We need that facility for Celtic, Rangers and other big clubs coming here.
“We need to go back to Stirling University and find out what’s happened there. The plan is eventually, but in a short space of time to bring that Academy here to Falkirk Stadium.
“We have this land and facilities and work with the local council and create an Academy and football school of excellence that the town can be proud of and benefit the club.
“But there’s a business plan that we need to invest in the team from day one.
“Then we’ll begin the planning applications for the building work that we want to do. Ideally we’d like to put a hotel in and have already discussed that with someone and would like the Academy on the grounds. We want to build the stand.
“That’s three projects aimed from day one. We’ll liaise with the fans and the local community on these projects and they’ll be kept up to date in what we’re looking to do. Having their say is important and we want to introduce more fan engagement here in a big way.”
Campbell, a former season ticket holder at Old Trafford as a Manchester United supporter, has a real estate background with interests in a coffee company and estate agency in Manhattan and not a football one, but he has a prominent figure on the Scottish sports scene alongside him in John Park.
They were close to moving in to Sunderland before the deal fell flat last month, but they’ve got even closer to Falkirk, which was always in the plans they say, Wearside interest or not.
“I was presented the opportunity when I was in New York and I moved very quickly and here we are,” he said.
“The plan was always from day one was get both clubs what’s happened at Sunderland we have not changed our goalposts we still in to get Falkirk Football Club and we are here we are today.
“One of the key areas I wanted to create - where Sunderland had failed in the recent past was to create a youth academy and finding players we could develop at Sunderland.
“The club spent millions and millions on transfers but the return on investment was not very high so I wanted to get someone on board with a club who would return that investment to us and that’s when we started speaking to a Mr Park.
“The relationship that we have had since then has been very, very good and John, through a mutual contact, said we should try to integrate a team in Scotland so we started the process and came to Falkirk. We saw a game here, and the great facility and the passionate fans and after a few lengthy meetings we decided that we should aim to try to get Falkirk.
“We only found out on Friday morning that we were the preferred bidder, and things escalated quickly since then. We need to start getting things moving.
“First things first we need to get the deal over the line as quickly as we can. We need to focus, ideally, on the team. We are in League One which is not the ideal place for the club to be whatsoever. Our aim is to try to get a team ready for promotion this season. We have to get the club back to where it belongs.
“When we said in our presentation we believe the club has potential to be the top six club in Scotland. There is a top six gap for one club like Falkirk, Kilmarnock Motherwell St johnstone, the aim is to try to get Falkirk up there.
“And obviously get the ground ready and facilities ready for when we get there. We aim for promotion this season there’s no stopping us getting back to back promotions and then we’re there.
“But we haven’t seen the club accounts yet or seen the due diligence yet. We have a rough idea over the players wages and John has been looking at the club over the last few weeks.”
Park is a well known face and name in Scottish football from his time at Hibs and Celtic, indeed it’s a model based on his successes at Hibs where he brought through the likes of Derek Riordan and Steven Whittaker to great success that he wants to implement at Falkirk.
But not much is known of Campbell, who even the Bairns described as ‘a low-key but highly successful businessman’ when announcing his selection after presentations to the board and major shareholders last week.
“When I was going for the Sunderland position, I was a stockbroker, American and someone said they met him with his son in a hotel – I haven’t got a son. I’m not a stockbroker. I’m not American.
“I knew that someone would leak the story out and I said let’s be transparent about who I am and what we’re trying to do.
“There’s rumours about this and that, is he this or that, no. I’ll happily quash those rumours.
“You can’t be in a position to buy a club like Sunderland if you’re not serious about buying a club. My relationship there is first class and I can’t fault the way they handled the process, and Stewart Donald was very supportive to us. They know all about me.”
Campbell is 46. He has one daughter and a girlfriend from Mexico. He lives in Manhattan near Central Park and moved there four years ago.
“My background is property, real estate and I did recruitment for a few years in Australia. Real estate is my main area.
“I have dabbled elsewhere in business, and invested. Some have gone alright, some haven’t and you lose money along the line. No company I’ve been involved with has ever gone bust or been liquidated, it’s never done that.
I had a real estate company here and a lot of people told me to go to NY when Trump became president because he’s into property and real estate. Within a week I realised he wasn’t good for America but I stayed because I could see the potential.
“I’m currently selling a hotel on Madison Avenue - trying to keep that quiet is very difficult. It’s a tough market.
“Value-wise this is not a big project for me. I’ve sold many other buildings and been in real estate higher than this. But day-to-day basis I believe this is probably the biggest business projects I’ll do. The team I was going to use at Sunderland I will mostly use here, they know how I work.
“We had a very robust plan in place for Sunderland, and it was an aggressive business plan. The same will be for Falkirk. The club won’t be signing players on silly money every week. “It’s not sustainable.”
Campbell told the fans that he is the sole investor funding the deal, which Falkirk have said will inject a sum of seven-figures into the club. But he added: “There’s no fronting with someone else putting the money in. I have a team, John Park is part, and three other people are looking to be brought in and there is scope to add one or two others to that. We are open to adding to that.
“There are one or two other things we are looking at here on the site but it’s early.”
Indeed the due diligence was still ten days away from being complete on Monday.
Campbell added: “What happens now is we have our lawyers start engaging with the lawyers representing the vendors and the special purchase arrangement will be drawn up. There are also some land registry checks. Sunderland’s turnover is higher than Falkirk’s so I’m hoping the financial DD won’t take anywhere near as long, just a week or ten days to make sure there are no liabilities to come back and bite us.
“That’s something in this whole process that you really have to be careful with, you have to make sure you’re protecting yourself and protecting the club. I don’t expect any problems with the DD because the transparency of the current MSG has been very good and looking at what I have and seen, they run a good ship here.
“There was no issue at Sunderland and I don’t expect any issues whatsoever.
“The big issue we have is the transfer window shuts on September 2, and we have 18 players and need a few more in the door to allow for injuries and suspensions. I think the aim for the MSG is done by August 31, we’d be pushing to get it a bit sooner.”