Terrace Thoughts 41, 26/07/2019

This week I’d like to start with the answers to last week’s questions – for reasons which will become obvious.

51. When did Pools last play Bury?

A one nil away defeat on 21 February 2015 – the last of 43 encounters of which we had lost 19 and drawn 12. Will we ever play them again?

52. When did Pools last play Macclesfield Town?

A three two home win on 20 February 2007 – goals coming from James Brown, Richie Barker and an ‘og’. And we meet up with Macclesfield again tomorrow – and well done to them for staying up last season, against a background of adversity!

As I mentioned in last week’s TT, a group of Macclesfield Town players claim that the club’s failure to pay their wages has seen their mental well-being ‘deeply affected’ and some of them facing eviction from their homes. Six unnamed Silkmen players, who played a part in the League Two club’s miraculous Football League survival last season under manager Sol Campbell, added their claim for unpaid wages to a winding-up order against the club that has been adjourned until August 14. The beleaguered Silkmen settled a tax bill with HM Revenue & Customs in late June but were in court this month for a third time in three months after Egerton Youth Club, where Macclesfield used to train, took over the petition after claiming they were owed £20,000.

53. When did Pools last play Bolton Wanderers?

18 August 1988 – a three nil home defeat in the League Cup. Will we ever play them again?

54. When did Pools last play Southend United?

A one nil home defeat in League 2 on 6 April 2015. Will we ever play them again?

55. What have Bury, Macclesfield, Bolton and Southend got in common with Notts County?

Outside of them being memorable opponents in terms of entertaining clashes and memorable away days, all of them have been or are in serious financial trouble and have visited the High Court on multiple occasions. Now I’ve wittered on about all of these clubs in Terrace Thoughts over the last 40 weeks, and the mainstream media are now beginning to look at the farce which is Bolton with some interest, but the others, some of which may not start the season which is less than two weeks away, aren’t getting the attention which I think they warrant. Sure, Notts County got some coverage – well, they are so, so old after all. But does the Press get to the right part of the story? Sure there should be mention of the mistreated staff and players, but what or who are the causes? Notts County – easy – the last owner!

Righto – that’s the end of the Summer Quiz – the season is just over a week away! So this week I’d like to look (again) at our old sparring partners from Gigg Lane.

In classic Sun style we this week saw the headline: ‘DEAD AND BURYED Bury in dire straits as they enter League One with 12 point deduction after playing 22 trialists’. Is this really the crux of the story? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Ex Borer star Paul Wilkinson made the usual noises after he landed his first job in Football League management – he arrived from tiny Truro City as Ryan Lowe’s replacement at Bury. That’s Ryan Lowe who jumped out of Gigg Lane and took more than just his kitbag to Plymouth.

Wilkinson had acted as caretaker boss at Northampton, Grimsby and Truro – and so, despite him being one of the good guys (I enjoyed his company on several occasions in a public house near Stokesley during his spell at Borer) – he is hardly experienced in this level of football – or of management in highly stressful and chaotic environments. Good luck Paul!

Anyway, as you’d expect, Wilkinson saluted the Shakers by declaring: “This is a club with a great history and I’m determined to drive the club forward in the right direction.” Get real Paul. And he soon discovered that Gigg Lane is a place in chaos.

Skint, they will start the new season with a 12-point deduction after agreeing a rescue plan — and with barely any players. In fact, in a friendly against Nantwich two weeks ago, every one of the 22 squad players was ‘A Triallist’.

So, this is the legacy of Ryan Lowe after their promotion season? Lowe did a remarkable job in guiding the Shakers into League One last season – they were already financially striken – before quitting for Plymouth.

Under-fire chairman Steve Dale staved off the threat of liquidation last week, having bought the club for £1 from Stewart Day in December. Dale says Bury were £8million in debt but under a Company Voluntary Arrangement, they will pay unsecured creditors 25p in the pound, while football creditors will be paid in full. Most of the club staff have been made redundant.

Former Everton and Middlesbrough striker Wilkinson is in command of a dressing room resembling the Mary Celeste. Since his appointment on July 2, Wilkinson has lost eight players, taking the total who have left the club this summer to 14. Nine who were in the squad for the final game of last season against Port Vale jumped ship. The mass exodus began after Lowe quit. He took with him assistant manager Steven Schumacher along with head of fitness and conditioning John Lucas and performance analyst Jimmy Dickinson. The departures have turned into a pilgrimage to the Pilgrims with Danny Mayor, Will Aimson, Dom Telford and Callum McFadzean reuniting with Lowe. Star winger Mayor was among those jumping ship to Plymouth.

Argyle chairman Simon Hallett admits his conscience has troubled him as more and more made the trek south to join his club. Yet he hit the nail on the head when he said: “I feel a little bit of guilt about it but we paid good compensation for them. The club and its executives got itself into this mess, the players aren’t getting paid and they are young men who need income.”

“I wish that Bury weren’t in this mess and I don’t feel too good about it, but I don’t think there is anything else we can be expected to do.”

Meanwhile, Wilkinson has been unable to make one signing and has just SIX players under contract with the League One season starting in just over a week!

During the 1-1 draw at Nantwich this month, angry Shakers fans staged a demo against Dale. But was it Steve Dale’s fault? As recently as Christmas this clearly unhealthy man was being lauded by Bury fans as their saviour! Well, yes he should have done more due diligence. But if he had looked close enough, would he have bought the club? And if he hadn’t would Bury have gone on to achieve promotion? I would argue not – and so he deserves some respect. And any Poolie just needs to think about our own version of chaos before Raj rode into town.

Wilkinson said: “I witnessed disgusting behaviour from a handful of fans. I would like to formally apologise to Nantwich Town for this and explain those few do not represent our club.”

Yet the success of last week’s CVA agreement will do little to convince supporters that the worst is behind them. Dale said: “The old girl is safe, the CVA was passed so our future is secured, as I said it would be.”

And Dale remains in the firing line – and Wilkinson will surely follow him soon – although will the hammerings which will soon happen be his fault? No.

So let’s look deeper. Let’s look at the guy who sold Bury to Dale – Stewart Day – with larger debts than folk thought were involved. And we see some interesting parallels with Notts County (which I’ll come back to) and Bolton in terms of the previous owners.

This is how The Financial Times headlined a recent article on Stewart Day – The links between a former football chair and a failed P2P lender. Lendy made £27m of its £152m of loans to companies controlled by Stewart Day

It pointed out that, “Stewart Day oversaw £8.3m of losses at Bury Football Club between 2014 and 2017”.

“Troubled property development schemes spearheaded by a financially stretched former football club chairman account for almost a fifth of the money owed to investors in collapsed peer-to-peer lending platform Lendy.

“The P2P platform, which had offered retail investors a 12 per cent return before it failed in May, extended £27m of loans to companies controlled by Stewart Day, the former chairman of Bury Football Club, that have since gone into administration, according to Companies House filings.

“Lendy has £152m of loans that are yet to be repaid, including the £27m that was borrowed by Mr Day’s companies to build student flats in various British cities, a spokesman for the Lendy’s administrators RSM confirmed.

“Since its launch in 2012, Lendy raised more than £400m from investors to extend to property developers who were considered high risk by high street banks. But its users may not have realised they were funding Mr Day, who oversaw £8.3m of losses at Bury between 2014 and 2017, or understood the concentration of his projects in Lendy’s loan book.

“The P2P platform’s website rarely identified the people behind the developments it marketed as lending opportunities, according to project listings that remain on its website.”

Perhaps Paul Wilkinson should swop his newspaper of choice for the FT? But this all makes some of our former owners look more like school yard bullies and chancers than proper bad guys.

The FT continued, “If investors are not being told exactly to whom they are entrusting their capital, then they will be exposed to more risk than they know about,” said Russ Mould, investment director at stockbroker AJ Bell.

“Adam Bunch, a Lendy investor who said he had put “a six figure sum” into loans arranged by the platform, said: “You could never see who was behind the loans so it was hard to find out if there was any major concentration of risks, but the impression from the website was that the portfolio was suitably diverse.”

A group of companies linked to Mr Day was by far Lendy’s largest borrower – the P2P platform lent £27m to five companies controlled by Mr Day that were attempting to build student flat developments in Bradford, Huddersfield, Cardiff and Glasgow. Most of the buildings are part-finished or did not begin construction.

Mr Day also relied on other P2P lenders to fund his property developments and Bury FC, which last Thursday agreed a company voluntary arrangement with its lenders to stave off insolvency after struggling to pay players’ wages.

Capital Bridging Finance Solutions, a Liverpool based P2P lender, holds a £1.6m mortgage over Bury’s grounds that was arranged during Mr Day’s tenure as owner and chairman of the club. In 2016, Capital’s investors also lent £333,000 to Mr Day’s holding company Mederco Limited, which is in administration, secured on a car park in Bradford.

Lendy’s investors face losing up to 93 per cent of their money because a large proportion of its outstanding property development and bridging loans have entered insolvency proceedings.

And when you think about the ways in which company liquidators and administrators must deal with affairs in the best interests of all creditors, one must be concerned when football clubs are drawn into the firing line – what chance have the likes of Bury got when others are only getting 7% back? And the parallels between Bury and the likes of Bolton and Notts County are obvious.

So, who are the bad guys? Day – yes. Dale – should have looked harder. Who suffers – the fans and staff. Simples. Now, as some may recall from earlier Terrace Thoughts, when Day sold to Dale, some fair-minded Bury fans commented on how Day had brought success and fundamental infrastructure improvements to Bury! How memories change or are deleted.

And on the subject of bad guys, what about the EFL? They let this chaos happen and now threaten Bury with expulsion!

And to my final (not so) quick points:

a. John’s football website of the week – @ChrisM4Chester – it simply has to be, again, the twitter account of our current hero.

b. Financial Crisis of the week – I’m afraid that our very, very old chums at Notts County fall into this category again with the probable collapse in negotiations for the purchase of the club. More about this below.

And Bolton Wanderers ….who have featured far too often in Terrace Thoughts have now been forced to cancel a friendly against Oldham Athletic (last week it was Chester City)  because the (very few) players that they have, have gone on strike – again – and understandably! Debts of over £25m, no squad and no owners. They’re doomed.

c. Notts County Watch: former Port Vale chairman Norman Smurthwaite says administration is the only way Notts County can avoid going out of business – and he says he will do all he can to help. The former Port Vale chairman has reportedly confirmed his interest in the Magpies but has no desire to buy the club in its current state.

Owner Alan Hardy last week claimed a deal to sell the club to a Danish consortium would happen on Wednesday, but it failed to materialise, leaving staff facing the prospect of going unpaid for a second consecutive month.

The Magpies’ owner says the sale has been delayed because of historic loans and other liabilities, but still remains confident the club, which has significant debt, will be handed to new owners. Now, remember that some of those debts are owed to companies which themselves are in receivership and the Receivers need to collect all they can! And with Notts due to return to the High Court for a fourth time over an unpaid tax bill next Wednesday, should they remain unsold it could be liquidated ending their 157-year history.

Smurthwaite has been monitoring events closely at Notts and believes the only way the club can survive is by going into administration. That is one possibility being explored by the Haydn Green Trust, who are one of the club’s biggest creditors having been set up to help ensure football is played at Meadow Lane for more than 140 years.

And Smurthwaite says that administration is the best way forward for the club to survive.

Owner Alan Hardy says a deal to sell crisis-club Notts County “will get done very soon”. He had told everyone that a takeover at Meadow Lane would be finalised on Wednesday, with a Danish consortium understood to have been poised to become the club’s new owners. But no deal was completed, leaving fans angry and also worried about the future, with Notts set to face a winding-up petition in the High Court on July 31 over an unpaid tax bill of at least £250,000.

See the parallels between the chairman of Notts County and the goings on at Bolton?

Hardy insists he understands the concern of supporters and club staff, who have been told it is highly likely they will go unpaid for second month on Friday.

“It has been slightly delayed,” Hardy has said, “It’s a complex and complicated transaction as it is on a pure debt-free basis with creditor claims, historic loans and arrangements from years and years ago having to be resolved.

“I absolutely appreciate staff, fans and stakeholders are really concerned but lawyers from both sides are working around the clock and remain confident that it will get done very soon.”

The similarities to statements coming out of Bolton are stark. Anyway, back to The Haydn Green Estate – it is understood to be considering its options over the crisis at Notts County amid suggestions they could save the club from liquidation.

They are currently one of the biggest creditors at Meadow Lane due to an outstanding loan that is believed to be worth around £1m and they are apparently looking at ways to help protect the club from going bust ahead of their return to the High Court next week.

A debt of at least £250,000 is owed to HMRC who have issued a winding-up order with the case having been adjourned three times already. It is feared that with Hardy having had so many chances to get a deal over the line and failing to do so, they could be put out of business if Notts remain unsold.

It is understood that among the possibilities being explored is whether The Haydn Green Trust can put Notts in administration if it is in the best interests of the club to do so. The Green Estate are guardians of the Meadow Lane ground and lease it to the club at a peppercorn rent with the deal having more than 140 years left to run. Green, who died in 2007, saved Notts from liquidation in 2003 by investing millions and saw him buy the lease to ensure that Notts always had a home. They also exert influence on the land at the back of the Kop which has been targeted as a site for property development by potential buyers with the freehold owned by the City Council.

And respect to Notts Forest for arranging a collection for the Notts County staff ahead of their game against Real Sociedad.

What a terrible, complicated mess; and if they come through this, will there be a significant points deduction to add to their woes?

d. Gateshead comment of the week: Respect to the Soul – they are building a squad and setting up an infrastructure but I do find it quite sad that folk are now moaning about the quality of the website, amongst other things, on the Heed forum. Give your heads a shake – you’ve still got a club! Be pleased. Be thankful. Be positive.

e. The fans suffer again – for the fifth week on the trot it has to be the Barcodes.

f. So which group of fans will suffer next? The Borer? Inexperienced manager, no parachute monies, demanding crowd, limited resources on and off the pitch: a long hard season ahead?

These stories, and my witterings over the last few months, all show how we supporters are reliant on a few individuals – and their behaviour within and outside of our clubs – and how things can go wrong – and why every club/ group of supporters needs a Plan B.

A final observation. Saddened to hear stories of some folk losing their jobs and interested to learn that my kids can now sell the cars that I bought them in what was once the Pools shop. But what really gets me is why couldn’t anyone sell the ground naming rights to anyone other than Raj, after SkyBet decided to Foxtrot Oscar? Why couldn’t it have been the We’ll Strongarm you out of here Cameron’s Stadium. Or something like the Liberty Steels Ground or The Tata to the National League Arena? Or, if monies couldn’t be generated, could it not have been named in a way that celebrates the great work of HUDSA?

Pip Pip

John

Catch up on John’s thoughts from last week with Terrace Thoughts 40.

3 Comments

  1. 53. When did Pools last play Bolton Wanderers?

    18 August 1998 – a three nil home defeat in the League Cup. Will we ever play them again?

  2. Exceptional, forensic article.

  3. Have I missed something, otherwise I don’t understand the last paragraph? Have we reduced the number of staff & has the ground changed its name again?

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