Brink of extinction

As Mark Griffiths reports, the bleak situation at Wrexham is slipping further downhill and threatening to snowball

It is a misplaced notion that all troubled teams find a knight in shining armour and scrape through: Wrexham are in serious danger of oblivion. Set to go into administration on December 3, they aren’t merely, like some other clubs that have taken that step, the victims of financial mismanagement: they have an owner whose interests would appear to be best served by the club disappearing. The situation reported in WSC 212 has worsened considerably. Then it seemed majority shareholder Alex Hamilton hoped to profit from relocating the club and selling the land the Racecourse Ground occupies. It now appears that such activity was merely a smokescreen. Next July Wrexham will have to leave their stadium, home since 1873, having been served notice of eviction by Hamilton. By then their assets might well have all gone: transactions have been taking place without directors’ knowledge; managing director John Reames’s attempt to warn fans of what was going on led to club officials being ordered to rip the offending page out of the programme.

The Inland Revenue, owed £900,000, called a winding-up hearing in last month. This was adjourned because the directors applied to go into administration, but the unpaid bill and the recalcitrant owner remain. Hamilton has also taken one of the other two pieces of land owned by the club. The freehold of the ground was bought by the club for £300,000 and immediately transferred to Hamilton for nothing. A company law specialist, Ann Spanton, described the transaction to a BBC Wales investigation as unlike any she had seen in over 21 years of practice: “A major value asset cannot suddenly become worthless… it cannot possibly be in the company’s best interest to transfer out a major asset for nil pounds.”

Hamilton behaves erratically. As reported in WSC 212, against police advice he walked into the Kop on the first day of the season, to some in an unsuccessful attempt to provoke an assault. Then he made an unsubstantiated accusation of mail-tampering at his home and employed bodyguards, with club money, claiming this expense necessitated the sacking of two players. He has been reported to the Commission for Racial Equality for saying Wrexham fans “display big yellow streaks and in the manner of Moslem terrorists conceal their faces, properly knowing they bring shame upon themselves and their families”.

Hamilton’s unpredictability might be his undoing, though. In mid-October he resigned as chairman after not getting his own way at a board meeting, allowing the two remaining directors to apply to go into administration. The supporters’ trust have been told by Hamilton that he feels his actions are watertight and that it would cost £200,000 to challenge them. However, the administrator will scrutinise the club’s activities and be able to fast-track court action if necessary. The question that might ultimately decide whether Wrexham FC continue to exist is whether the chairman is bluffing. If he has acted in the hope that no one could afford to take him to court, he might sell up before he’s investigated. If he genuinely thinks his actions can stand up in court, though, there’s no reason for him to sell up: the value of the land the ground is built on is estimated at £8 million to £14m once the club are gone.

The trust have made an offer for the club, as has a consortium led by Hamilton’s erstwhile business partner Mark Guterman (currently owner of Chester), who is viewed with suspicion. However, Hamilton claims he won’t talk until the supposed mail-tamperers step forward: “If they are not identified there will be no football at the Racecourse by next July.”

Fans from at least 56 clubs travelled to see Wrexham play on November 20 to register their support. My greatest previous memory from following Wrexham would be a choice between victories over Porto and Arsenal. Now it’s a Sunderland fan, having travelled across the country to support my team, leading an entire stand in a non-stop chant of “Denis Smith’s Red and White Army”.

I just hope that the goodwill of thousands of decent people can foil the greed of one man who would never understand acts of such self­lessness.

From WSC 215 January 2005. What was happening this month