After last season's FA Cup run, it all went horribly wrong for Telford United. Neville Hadsley looks at how the fans are following AFC Wimbledon's example in getting it right second time round
“We have to be happy with where we are,” says Simon Shakeshaft, club secretary and commercial director of the relaunched AFC Telford United. But you get the feeling that unspoken bitterness lingers.
The old Telford United folded in May this year after a boom-bust existence under entrepreneur chairman Andy Shaw. In 2001, Shaw decided that Telford, then in the Conference, would go full-time. It was an expensive gamble, one that put Telford among the elite professional sides in non-League’s highest division. But, under the management of former Shrewsbury Town manager and player Jake King, they failed to secure promotion to the Football League.
Bust soon followed and Shaw reverted Telford to part time the following season; cuts meant that King sometimes struggled to field a full subs bench. But it was boom again in 2003-04 when Shaw turned the club pro once more. King was sacked and new manager Mick Jones was allowed to sign 20 new players, including such renowned journeymen as Lee Mills, Tony Naylor, Scott Green and Fitzroy Simpson.
But the figures just did not add up and, long before the end of the season, the club was in deep financial trouble. “They were hoping that the fans would bail them out,” says Shakeshaft, who, although a Hereford supporter, was asked by Telford’s sponsors to help resurrect the club. “But one look at the books told you it wasn’t sustainable. What they were paying the players was totally unrealistic.”
So the fans said “no” and on May 28, 2004, Telford United went out of existence. Shakeshaft and the supporters then had just 24 hours to confirm the launch of AFC Telford with the FA. The question was, what league would they play in? As it turned out, they were dropped into the Unibond Division One – a fall of three divisions. Many believed this was harsh, though some other teams in the division weren’t happy, either.
“There were some caustic comments,” admits Shakeshaft. “But you put them in the memory bank. We didn’t ask to be placed here.” The Bucks’ magnificent facilities at the New Bucks Head have won them friends and the people of Telford stayed loyal. The old Telford drew an average of 2,000 in the Conference. In their first Unibond game, AFC Telford United, managed by former West Brom player Bernard McNally, attracted 1,836 for a 2-2 draw with North Ferriby – the third highest non-League gate on the day.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” says Shakeshaft. “But we’ve got to be pleased. The great thing is people still have a club to support.”
From WSC 212 October 2004. What was happening this month