Club face October court appearance
23 September ~ Arriving at Hinckley United's 4,329-capacity Leicester Road stadium on Saturday, there was no hint of crisis. The car park attendants were smart in their club ties and I was warmly welcomed in the bar by local fans. But Saturday's 2-0 Southern League Premier Division victory over Bashley could be Hinckley's final home fixture – pending a court appearance on October 7. The club has been issued a winding-up petition by former chairman Kevin Downes over large debts owed to him by the club.
The case was originally heard last Thursday and oddly it was Downes's solicitor who prompted the adjournment, after claiming there was a major investor that could save the club; the current board had asked for the club to be liquidated.
Differences of opinion among fans saw angry exchanges and tears on Saturday. They are split three ways – those who feel the board doesn't care about the football club, with most of the anger aimed at company secretary and financial controller Ku Akeredolu. Others claim the debt was built up by the previous regime, with the current officials left to carry the can. A third group just want Hinckley United to survive.
The financial turmoil has taken its toll on gates. "We're losing fans in droves because of this," said Simon Blyth, who has run the club shop for seven years. "People find other things to do on Saturdays. They might not see the immediate impact of their £10 [admission fee], but it's a slow build up to making the club successful again." When Hinckley were losing play-off finalists in the Conference North in 2006-07, gates averaged around 700; on Saturday nobody hid their disappointment at an attendance of 173. "I was hoping for a groundswell of support," said Lee Wright, a regular who wrote a book about the club, "but it hasn't happened. Many in the town don't seem bothered."
But whatever is going on in the boardroom, there is a great feeling elsewhere. The club shop has excellent stock and the fans are knowledgeable, though gallows humour is creeping in: when losing 3-0 at St Neots a few days before the court case, they chanted at home supporters that they hadn't got three points. Hinckley were comfortable winners on Saturday, the first goal a confident finish from Luke Richards – who the club recently picked up from the Leicester and District Football League – and the second a superb long-range shot from commanding midfielder Ben Ford.
Nobody knows what will happen next. Some felt Downes would never liquidate the club he'd put so much into. Others suggested the mystery investor was Downes himself, via a third party. Another fan pointed to tweets claiming many of the club's assets and academy had been transferred from Hinckley United Football Club Limited to Hinckley United Stadium Limited – which is not part of the winding-up order.
The confusion and anguish will come to a head on October 7. If Saturday was the club's last home match, then it was done in style: two excellent goals, a first home win since April and first clean sheet of the season. It's only a pity more locals weren't there to see it. Saul Pope