Yesterday evening two representatives of our Trust attended a meeting at the Vic with Raj Singh and representatives of other supporters’ groups. As the meeting was called in response to a letter from the Trust, sent on 5 December, discussions opened with answers to the questions from our members included in that letter.
Mr Singh asked for no recording of the meeting but was happy for everyone to take notes – the answers below are summaries of what was said based on our notes. Any direct quotes from Mr Singh are in speech marks.
Will finances be made available in the January window?
Yes. The club is in a better position than it was a year ago and work has already been done that means there could be up to five good quality signings. Obviously, things can wrong in football but it is hoped that two or three signings will be made within the first week of the window. The two most likely signings are experienced League 1 and League 2 players.
We did offer players decent contracts to sign them but they weren’t silly contracts so we should be able to move some on during the window without it being too financially damaging. “It looks like a horror-show, and it has been a horror-show, but we got the contracts right and we’re not spent up.”
What is the current level of debt at the club?
Initial answer: There is no external debt to banks or other companies. Any monies owed are within the business group. No detailed figures about the internal debts will be given because they’re private business matters.
When Trust representatives asked specifically about the £1.2 million that was borrowed from Sport England during the covid pandemic: Yes, the club does owe them £1.2 million, it was borrowed at a low interest rate and is repayable over a very long period, something like 20 years. It hasn’t been spent, it is all just sitting in the bank. None of it has been paid to other companies in the group as this would be against Sport England rules, “you can’t pay yourself.”
What is the long-term vision for the club?
“Win the next match this week!” Seriously though, like all owners, the goal would be League 1 and the Championship but for now it is survival which, thanks to Keith Curle, is starting to seem more likely. After that, back to the target of the play-offs for next season. Talking about that sort of thing now understandably winds people up and we have to be realistic about where we are. It feels like a wasted season but last season we finished 17th and we could still finish above that.
“Ultimately, I want to be seen as someone who did his bit and left the club in a better place than I found it.”
Some of the players that left over the summer seemed to be far better than their replacements. Were these decisions motivated by football or financial reasons?
Football. The budget was better than the previous season and some players who left were offered large pay increases but could get more elsewhere, Luke Molyneux for example. In other cases, the manager didn’t want to keep players who didn’t want to be at the club, Byrne, or just wasn’t keen on them, Omar Bogle. It was a worrying time and concerns were raised but you have to back your manager.
It is no secret that Paul Hartley wasn’t our first choice. We’d offered the job to another ex-player and thought we had an agreement but it looks like he went back to his current club and used our offer to get himself a pay rise. Frustrating but these things happen so we looked at the other candidates and offered it to Paul. He had lots of promotions on his CV but, “I bet on the wrong number.”
This can happen in football. Dave Challinor had been sacked by Fylde and it might not have worked either. Either way he was never going to stay, “all those fist pumps were to get the fans on his side against me.”
After addressing these questions Mr Singh offered to discuss anything else that anybody would like to raise:
Are you selling the club?
Always said that if an offer that would be good for the club came in it would be looked at seriously. That remains the case but the club isn’t “up for sale”. There are lots of rumours but there are no serious offers, it would be good to see them if they exist.
“After the Stockport match somebody shouted ‘FXXX off Singh’ at me. I will fxxx off if you want me to, I won’t stay where I’m not wanted, I’ve said that before.”
What about the offer from the Americans who bought Wrexham?
No offer, just enquiries. They seemed serious but were working through a third party and we didn’t know who was interested, the timing suggests it was them though. Here’s the email we sent asking them to be more open and to confirm if they’re interested in buying the club at £500,000 (Mr Singh read the email dated 17.9.20, it made no mention of whether potential buyers would take on the club’s debts or not). No reply was received.
From the outside it looks like there is a high turnover of non-playing staff at the club, physio, secretary, CEO etc. Why is this happening?
Just normal turnover, same thing happens in care homes and other businesses. One or two might be jumping ship given our league position but we can recruit better. You never know how good an employee is until after you’ve worked with them for a while.
What is happening about the ground development?
There are lots of plans involving a hotel, offices that might be used by the NHS and education, ways of making the ground generate money throughout the week and so on. Losing some enthusiasm as the council work so slowly but the club is still working on this. Hopeful that the integrated authority, which may be taking over leisure facilities and hence ground ownership from the town council, will work more quickly if they take over control of the ground.
Is development dependent on the club gaining ownership of the ground?
Serious investors of the sort needed expect you to own the property but that could mean a very long lease not necessarily outright ownership. Haven’t really advanced plans far enough to address this yet.
Do you think supporters’ groups should encourage restraint among their members to discourage personal abuse and build unity?
Yes. People can have opinions but they should be polite. Best thing would be if we all stand together, backing the club. All the fans and everyone at the club united. That’s what we need in our current circumstances. Keith Curle is different class, if anyone can do the job this season it is him, but full backing from everyone will help.
Practical issues such as the poor condition of the road on the Mill House side, inefficient ticketing and recruitment and retention of match day staff were raised.
Not keen to discuss this sort of thing in detail in this sort of meeting but Rose Stoker explained that all of them would be looked at.
Speaking on behalf of the Trust board after the meeting Julia Newton, the Trust Chair, said:
“It was good to have this meeting, Mr Singh addressed everything we raised, giving clear assurances on several issues that have been worrying supporters. Although we expected a direct response when we wrote the letter, the meeting with other supporters’ groups was actually a very positive step. Although we exist for different reasons it was clear that we all have a huge amount in common.
That said, we’re still left with some areas that are unclear. How big are the internal debts? Would any new owner be expected to take these on and pay a considerable sum to Mr Singh? If so, surely the price of the club would be far too high. If not, £500,000 (assuming that is still an approximate price) could be achievable for a consortium.
These are important questions for us as a Trust, the intention and organisation needed to gain formal supporter representation is a major reason for our existence. It would ensure complete transparency on financial matters and be a vital way of protecting our club against the sort of unscrupulous owners we’ve had in the past.
Finally, we thank Mr. Singh again for the offer of a meeting and his time.”