THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Tom Davies looks at a batch of clubs in crisis

The future of Telford United is in serious doubt following the collapse of chairman Andy Shaw’s business empire. The Conference club were forced into receivership in March along with Shaw’s other main companies, Miras Contracts and Whitehouse Hotels. A players’ wage deferral and some short-term funding from the remaining directors saw the club through to the end of the season but unless the future of their recently modernised Bucks Head stadium can be secured, neither can that of the club.

The stadium is at the centre of Telford’s problems. It is now effectively under the control of the Bank of Scotland because its lease had been used as security on the remortgaging of the ground to fund its £14 million facelift. With Shaw gone and the club in meltdown – they are losing an estimated £16,000 a week – the bank is refusing to offer a lease of anything longer than a year. The Conference, whose annual general meeting takes place early next month, wants a guarantee of at least ten years.

The search for a new buyer is further complicated by the ownership structure of Bucks Head itself. Its west stand, which contains most of the ground’s key revenue-generating facilities, is under a separate lease (to Whitehouse Hotels) from that of the stadium itself. Although attendances have been impressive of late and the Telford United Independent Supporters Association has raised £42,500 in only a few weeks’ time is running out. The crisis has also cost Telford their manager, Mick Jones, who left at the end of April.

Further north-west, acrimony has been in the air at Wrexham, where chairman Mark Guterman is arousing the suspicions of many fans. Players have not been paid on time on several occasions this season, and questions are being asked about the chairman’s intentions. Guterman, a property developer who was chairman of Chester when they went into administration in 1998, arrived at the Racecourse Ground two years ago promising the kind of funding that outgoing chairman Pryce Griffiths was no longer able to provide. Within weeks of the takeover, the freehold of the ground was bought by a company called Damens, which happens to share the same trading address as Memorvale, the firm through which Guterman bought his 78 per cent stake in Wrexham.

Robins fanzine The Dismal Jimmy has been forcefully airing worries about what this new arrangement might mean for the future of the stadium, but the chairman insists there are sound business reasons for it which will benefit the club and speaks of lavish planned improvements to the stadium. The existence, if not the substance, of these grand plans was announced at a supporters’ club meeting at the end of April which neither Guterman nor his appointed “troubleshooter”, the former Lincoln chairman John Reames, attended.

Guterman has also been laying into the Wrexham Independent Supporters Group (WINS) after it refused a request to fund an extension to goalkeeper Michael Ingham’s loan period from Sunderland. The trust has contributed around £30,000 to the club in the past two years through a fund it runs for player expenditure the club could not otherwise afford. In Ingham’s case, however, Guterman had told WINS that if the trust didn’t stump up, he could dip into his own pocket anyway. Aggrieved at being taken for granted in this way, the trust turned him down.

George Reynolds’ surname may no longer adorn the outside of Darlington’s new stadium, but efforts to secure the club’s future are being held up by a wrangle between Reynolds and the ground’s new owner, the Sterling Con­sortium, over a loan repayment. The club remains in administration and Reynolds, as the main creditor, is refusing to agree a deal with Sterling unless it writes off the estimated £4m it lent him to complete the stadium construction. Sterling, in turn, is now filing against Reynolds for bankruptcy. The former chairman continues to gripe about the finance he provided to build the stadium, even if the desirability of its construction was disputed by so many. Efforts to find viable long-term ownership for Darlington continue.

Finally, Wimbledon’s progress out of administration has been halted by those pesky bureaucrats at the Inland Revenue (stop sniggering at the back). While creditors owed around £25m by the Milton Keynes franchise backed Peter Winkelman’s rescue package in March, the taxman – owed less than £1m – had other ideas and is to pursue the debt in the High Court. That’s regulation for you.

From WSC 208 June 2004. What was happening this month

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