Nottinghamshire club close to closure
21 February ~ Fans of an eighth-tier club have mobilised to raise awareness of an inventive scheme designed to prevent the death of a team in Nottinghamshire. Hucknall Town have been struggling financially for the past two years and are now running out of time in their bid to stay alive, prompting the club to appeal to the wider football community to aid their cause. In 2011 it was discovered that over £85,000 was owed by the club to HM Revenue & Customs and Town have been struggling to stay afloat since.
Over half of the due amount was paid off, only for a recent club statement to reveal that "we now find our agreement with HMRC has been breached with further liabilities incurred. The club now has to raise a further £36,000 in order to secure its future". A scheme has been launched offering "virtual tickets", so that even those who won't be attending this Saturday's home game against Lincoln United can make donations – starting at £5 – to put towards a fund aimed at paying off the club's debts.
Hucknall's average home gate is 133 this season but the appeal is seeking to raise £30,000 to keep the club operating and help it stabilise. The appeal statement notes that "as an unincorporated association... Hucknall Town simply has no choice but to find the money or shut down forever. If the club is wound up the ground will be lost and a potentially long, complex legal battle could ensue". Unincorporated bodies have no basis in law, meaning individuals are unable to protect themselves from liabilities. Former chief executive Liz Morley, now back helping the club, stated that over £50,000 had been raised in donations and loans by the time she initially left in the summer of 2011. She commented that "by January 1 the VAT debt should have been no higher than £12,000, had the club stuck to the agreement that was originally put in place with HMRC". It became apparent that this had not happened.
After a few seasons of relative success, the club has been in continual decline in recent years. They would have been playing at Conference level in 2004-05 had their 300-seat Watnall Road stadium not failed to meet requirements, while they ended that season a penalty shootout away from winning the FA Trophy final against Grays Athletic. Relegation from the Conference North in 2009 was followed by another fall down the pyramid two years later, slipping out of the Northern Premier League on goal difference. The club is fortunate that temporary manager Darren Kelk is a former employee of nearby Mansfield Town's academy; it is only down to loan deals for young Stags players that he has been able to put a side out in recent weeks. He has indicated that players won't be paid again this season and that wages are unlikely to be offerable if the club makes it into 2013-14.
Saturday's 5-0 home defeat to Sheffield FC was Hucknall's seventh loss in a row. Forty-four goals have been conceded in that time, bringing the goals-against column to 101 for the season with 14 matches still to play. Even a win against Lincoln United, who have themselves only won once since November 10, is unlikely to prevent relegation from the First Division South come April. The success or otherwise of the day's ticket scheme may prove the deciding factor in whether Watnall Road will still be hosting football come August. Matt Ramsay