Our regular update on clubs in crisis by Tom Davies
Harry Redknapp’s departure from Portsmouth has led to a flurry of speculation that he might be interested in taking over at Bournemouth, his former club. It’s all paper talk at present, but, whatever other baggage Redknapp might bring, his cash would come in handy for a club around £4.5 million in debt. The League One club narrowly avoided a stadium repossession order last month, brought by Bristol & West, who are owed £300,000. The order was only postponed until February, though, and the stringent terms of the B&W deal have been raising plenty of hackles, as the building society’s loan was arranged by Bournemouth president Stanley Cohen, who also happens to be a non-executive director of Bristol & West.
Both the Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise are also pursuing Bournemouth. The Revenue are chasing £180,000 they are owed and Cherries chairman Peter Phillips has expressed unhappiness with what he calls the “aggressive attitude” of the Revenue, which he has contrasted with chancellor Gordon Brown’s call for them to be more accommodating with struggling supporter-run clubs.
Despite the less than fan-friendly conduct of some directors, Bournemouth are still, essentially, a fan-controlled club, a legacy of their rescue by the supporters’ trust in the 1990s. The trust owns ten per cent of their shares (no single organisation is allowed to own any more) while the rest are largely in the hands of individual fans. A new share issue has been raised to help raise new revenue, with fans deciding what debts their investments go towards paying off. It aims to raise £250,000, of which £100,000 has so far come in.
Takeover talk aplenty at Rotherham. The Championship’s bottom club are losing £25,000 a week and are £3m in debt, losses currently underwritten by octogenarian chairman Ken Booth’s scrap-metal firm, CF Booth. None of the takeover stories that have surrounded Millmoor since the summer has come to anything. First came rumours of a consortium from Leicester, then Mick Worthington and Darren Millington of shirt sponsor Earth Mortgages threw their hat into the ring. Their big talk included the idea of bringing in Bryan Robson and Paul Gascoigne in the curious belief that this would actually generate optimism among fans. Meanwhile, the ongoing attempts of Neil Freeman, another scrap-metal man, to buy out Booth look similarly doomed, with the two parties unable to agree on a valuation of the club.
Into the breach have stepped the Rotherham United Supporters’ Trust. “Rust” are rallying support for their own takeover plan, which could involve a new community and council-backed stadium, either at Millmoor or elsewhere. One problem is that, while Booth is widely unpopular for not having invested sufficiently (the success of the past five years is attributed to manager Ronnie Moore), his company is guarantor of the club’s losses and keeps the banks off the club’s back. But Booth’s age, 84, and the unwillingness of his family to get involved have added urgency to the need for movement.
Further down, the Conference is considering the introduction of new rules on club finance following the collapse of Hornchurch. The Conference South club, backed by Karl Williams’ Carthium Group, had spent lavishly on a squad full of former League professionals and, unsurprisingly, romped to the top of the table. But Carthium went bust early last month, forcing manager Gary Hill to offload all his high-earners – the club’s wage bill for the season was reportedly around £1.2m – and leaving the club’s future in doubt. They’re confident of seeing out the season as talks with would-be new backers get underway, but the small scratch squad now at their disposal means further progress is currently unlikely.
In response, Conference chief executive John Moules has proposed the introduction of a “performance bond”, which would require prospective backers to pay a cash deposit up front to insure against business problems causing the collapse of clubs.
Slough Town’s shock FA Cup win over Walsall bought much needed revenue and, perhaps just as importantly, publicity in their campaign to find a new ground. The Ryman Premier League club have been playing at neighbouring Windsor & Eton for the past year after the lease ran out on their Wexham Park home in 2003.
Fans had criticised the local council for continually refusing planning permission for developments that would have revamped Wexham Park, but relations got even worse this year when control of the town hall was wrested from Labour by a coalition of Independent, Liberal, Liberal Democrat and “Britwellian” parties. The new council promptly shelved plans to build a new stadium at Kennedy Park in Britwell. A fans’ red-card protest at the Walsall match brought a response from council leader Richard Stokes that the council would “listen to” ideas regarding a new site, but was not able to commit money to the ground search. With only one more season remaining on Slough’s groundshare agreement with Windsor & Eton, the need for progress is urgent. The Slough Town Supporters Trust are campaigning hard.
From WSC 215 January 2005. What was happening this month