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Bob Rich buying Villa? Digging into the rumours

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Or: Wikipedia is not a source.

Shaun Botterill

Over the weekend I wrote about rumours that had sprung up concerning Bob Rich possibly buying Aston Villa from Randy Lerner. I said in no uncertain terms that I think there is nothing to the idea, but given the fact that it keeps popping up, I figured it might be wise to have a look at the origins of this whole thing.

In my first piece, I conjectured that the rumour was sourced from this tweet from a incredibly dubious source. It turns out that it actually came about thanks to someone posting on Villa Talk that Rich's plane had landed at Birmingham's airport. Coincidentally (in the most literal sense of that word) a plane registered to a New York law firm (McLaughlin & Stern) landed at BHX as well. Geoffry Handler, a lawyer at that firm, was counsel to the purchase of a Major League Baseball franchise, which seems to have been the Mets in 2002.

Thus far, there is at least enough of a connection to set speculation moving, and I can understand that to some degree. The links deepen when you add in the fact that Rich is the Chairman of the Cleveland Clinic's Lerner College, a medical school that was endowed by Randy Lerner's parents (and which has Lerner's mother on the board with Rich).

But the problem is that these links are all circumstantial. You've got to infer the following:

  1. The information about the two planes was accurate
  2. Rich (or at least a representative) was in his plane, and it wasn't someone else
  3. That someone from the law firm (and not, say, a client) was in that plane.
  4. The fact that the two planes were in town at the same time wasn't simply a coincidence
  5. That Rich, who owns minor league baseball franchises, would have any interest in spending a considerable chunk of his fortune to own a football club

And even IF those are true, they still don't say with 100% certainty that a deal is close at hand or even in the works. To top this all off, you've got the damning lack of leaks from the club itself. In an age when ITK accounts are everywhere, and will say anything, the lack of any news of a team of lawyers at the club is pretty compelling. To their credit, a number of posters on Villa Talk have pointed these facts out.

Despite all of this, people keep circulating the rumour. My favorite justification thus far has been that it's on Wikipedia. And it still is, if you go look. Stated as plain as day that Rich is negotiating the purchase of the club (you'll never guess who added the "citation needed" tag). The edit history shows it being put up and down a few times until it seems as if the people taking it down gave up. Okay, sure.

But I've had multiple people use the fact that - 1) it is on Wiki and 2) it is STILL on Wiki and hasn't been taken down - as evidence of the veracity of the rumour. We're all aware that anything can be put on Wikipedia, correct? Wikipedia is not a source of verification for a rumour.

All of this isn't to say that Bob Rich won't buy Aston Villa. He very well could! He may even be in the process of doing so right now! But given the evidence at hand, it takes a massive leap of faith to believe that is actually happening. A leap that defies basic logic. For that reason, until I hear anything more useful, there's no way I can take this rumour seriously, and nor should you.