Well, let’s start with last Saturday. The day started sort of alright with an article in The Times entitled, ‘Is game’s lucrative relationship with TV near breaking point?’ This piece by Martyn Zeigler seemed to carry on from where my Terrace Thoughts of the 19th had left off – making the point that actions such as the EFL permitting live streaming of League One and Two games is already having a negative impact on attendances. A good article which re-emphasised that all of the power is with a few individuals and clubs – folk and organisations who care little for the likes of the mighty Hartlepool United.
Now, on the subject of the mighty Hartlepool United we move to last Saturday afternoon. ‘Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear’. But at least we won. And now our roadshow moves onto Gillingham. One of my least favourite away trips but it brings back memories of Nicky Southall, a player who graced the wings of The Vic between 1991 and 1995. Nicky was our top scorer during the dire 1993-94 relegation season and moved onto Grimsby, Gillingham (three times!), Notts Forest and Bolton – and I’ll be moving onto Bolton shortly! Whatever, I have a hunch that we will leave Gillingham smiling.
Next Tuesday (30 October) sees us visit Wrexham FC at the Racecourse Ground; as many folk will know, Wrexham has been a fan owned club since September 2011 and there is much to learn from the turbulent history of the Wrexham Supporters Trust.
When Wrexham Supporters Trust took control of the club back in 2011, they took on a business that was losing over £1 million a year and had just sold its main asset, the iconic Racecourse Ground. Earlier this year their 3,000 members/ owners heard how the club have made another profit and continue to make progress off the pitch.
Board Member Spencer Harris shared the following insight into what they have achieved and how they operate with Supporters Direct, an organisation with which Hartlepool United Supporters Trust is affiliated:
“The six years of ownership of the Wrexham Supporters Trust has required us to work extremely hard with a loyal and committed fan-base from when we took over in November 2011. Back then the under previous ownership the club had lost all of its assets including the stadium and training ground and was in a financially distressed state on the brink of collapse without a single policy in place to govern how the business is run. Today we have good business governance in place and have got back effective control of the stadium with a 99 year lease and have a new training ground in the centre of town with exclusive use of a local authority owned sports ground under a licence agreement and are competing at the top end of the National League.
“It has not been easy, and whilst we have had some success on the pitch (reaching Wembley three times), we have not yet achieved our ambition of a return to the Football League and hope that we can do it this season. Off the pitch there is a long list of successes including average crowds up to over 4,700 per game under fans ownership (we get more through the gate than some League one sides with limited away numbers to swell that number) and increasing commercial revenue with turnover rising to £2.6 million in the last recorded financial year.”
A truly impressive story and I wish Wrexham well on their ambition to get back to the Football League – but not next Tuesday – and with their continued success under community ownership.
So Wrexham is a success, but let’s now start looking at a failure on a much larger scale!
When you get to my age you tend to have clearer memories of what happened many years ago compared to what may have gone on last week. And one such thought came to mind last week – I remembered a Saturday afternoon at Burnden Park, Bolton when the mighty Pools won 2-1. What got me thinking about Bolton – and that particular victory – is the amazing turmoil that has been going on at the once mighty Bolton Wanderers in recent times. Recent months have seen Bolton almost fall into administration and the club’s largest benefactor sadly passed away, and this made me wonder, again, if it is time to enhance safeguards for clubs and protect the legacies of investors?
Starting at the end of this sad story – in mid-September it was announced that Bolton Wanderers were no longer at threat of administration. This was against a background of three separate winding up petitions from HMRC, unpaid player wages and a dispute with the external finance house (BluMarble) which had been supporting the business. Anyone spot any similarities?
So, going back in time: back in March 2016, The English Football League (EFL) were left in an unenviable position. A consortium led by Dean Holdsworth and Ken Anderson bought a 95% controlling stake in the club for £1. In doing so they secured the write off of £170 million of loans that had been advanced by the outgoing owner, the late Eddie Davies (this giving a clue as to how far from break-even the club had been operating – how successful was Big Sam? Really?).
There were questions about the source and sufficiency of funding of the consortium, whose bid relied on £5 million of loan finance from BluMarble Capital Limited, secured on the assets of the Burnden Leisure Group and subject to annual interest at an eye-watering 24%. With a winding up petition from HMRC over unpaid VAT, the EFL were left to decide whether to sanction a change of ownership or otherwise risk the club going into administration or even liquidation.
On the surface, most people would think stopping a club suffering an insolvency event must be a good thing but since that decision a host of things have played out which suggest otherwise.
We have seen the unsavoury falling out of ex-player and former joint owner Dean Holdsworth and Ken Anderson, the current Chairman. Only three months ago we saw the players striking for the first time in the clubs history over unpaid wages forcing a pre-season game against St Mirren to be cancelled. In recent weeks we have seen a public spat and winding up order issued from celebrity chef Paul Heathcote over unpaid services and contracts that the Chairman inherited. These exchanges damage the reputation of the club and become divisive issues for supporters and the whole town.
So, what lessons can we, and the wider football family learn, from Bolton Wanderers? I’ll return to this issue next week, after Pools have taken on the mighty Sutton United at The Vic.
Last October, after a goal for Rhys Oates (against the run of play), Sutton managed to grab a well-deserved equaliser in the 94th minute – a game which was pretty typical of that horrendous season. Tomorrow will be different – a routine home win for our improving team – but here’s a couple of interesting facts about Sutton United.
Sutton United Supporters’ Trust is a legally registered body that holds shares in Sutton United FC Ltd. The Trust currently has one representative on the board of directors and one on the management committee and works closely with directors and officers to achieve mutually desirable goals. Credit to both the Trust and the other shareholders!
There is a club in The Gambia called “Sutton United FC”. In July 1999, Young Stars FC was formed by Father Andrew Cole and the team originally consisted of people going to Bible classes. The team was later renamed Sanchaba United, which means “Downtown” in the Mandinka language until an English visitor, known only as Walter, donated equipment to the club and suggested they change their name to Sutton United FC (Gambia). The club, which is located in Lamin Village on the outskirts of Banjul, plays in the third tier of Gambian football known as Nawettan. I can’t draw any comparisons between this Gambian outfit and Pools but, hopefully, you’ll have seen many parallels between our own club and the other stories in this article?
Back to Bolton next week; and the parallels get scarier.