Tom Davies examines the day to day struggle for survival of three clubs in the lower leagues
The wheels have well and truly come off at Barry Town. Mounting debts have caught up with the seven-times League of Wales champions, forcing the club into administration and the team to the bottom of the Welsh Premier table. The crisis came to a head shortly after shy and retiring John Fashanu quit in August. As reported in WSC 192, Fashanu took over at the end of last year with talk of using the club as a gateway to European football for African players for whom he acted as agent. But none of this came to pass and fans now see his tenure as just a publicity stunt.
As debts piled up, manager Kenny Brown and his entire squad – unpaid for three months – left at the start of the season as a new consortium seeking to take over announced its intention to turn the club part time. Unsurprisingly, the hastily assembled replacements, under new manager David Hughes, have found themselves out of their depth.
Another cause of friction has been the club’s disagreements with Vale of Glamorgan Council over match rents for use of the municipally owned Jenner Park ground. The club have been unhappy with rent levels charged for certain games (£1,300 per European game for example), but Barry owe the authority more than £12,000. The club’s main creditor, though, is the Inland Revenue, to which they owe around a third of their £800,000 to £900,000 debts, and which issued a winding up order on September 17. It was subsequently delayed for three weeks to give the administrator and club time to find a rescue package.
The future of Oldham Athletic hung in the balance as WSC went to press. Supporters and local business groups had until October 5 to secure guarantees of the £1.2 million needed to meet debts and bring the club out of administration. Around £500,000 had been raised by the supporters’ group, Trust Oldham Ltd, and the Business Advisory Group working alongside it, but this left £700,000 to be found from a major investor.
There have been talks with interested parties, but nothing concrete had been secured. “There’s no white knight coming over the hill,” Trust Oldham director Adrian Stores admitted. Should Oldham be saved, however, the fans’ trust is likely to have a stake in the running of the club. Members of the club’s old board will not, though, chairman Chris Moore having sold his shares for £1 in the summer.
Peter Ridsdale’s reputation may be in ruins after leaving Leeds, but his arrival at the head of the new consortium in charge of Barnsley has been generally welcomed. For one thing, the involvement of the local council in the takeover deal has helped secure the Oakwell site. The council has agreed to buy the land and stadium at Oakwell in a joint venture with widely trusted businessman and Tykes fan Patrick Cryne, a key player in the Ridsdale takeover. Ridsdale himself has pledged to pay off the existing mortgage on Oakwell and the club was expected to move out of administration at the beginning of October.
All of which has left breakaway club AFC Barnsley in a curious position. The team, formed in the summer by a group of supporters disillusioned with the previous board, have made an impressive start to their Sheffield and Hallamshire County Senior League campaign, but with the town’s main club seemingly stabilised some have wondered whether the split was too hasty. AFC Barnsley chairman Paul Bestall has no regrets, however, even though relations between the two Barnsleys are now cordial. “We’d be prepared to go back to Oakwell to watch games but we want to keep our club going,” says Bestall. With gates around the 350 mark, the upshot of a year’s wrangling is that the town has at least gained another well supported non-League club.
Meanwhile, the first of the supporter-led breakaway clubs, Enfield Town, are thriving, while the club they deserted in 2001 have continued to sink. The original Enfield FC, homeless since their Southbury Road ground was sold four years ago with no new home in place, couldn’t even start their league season until September 20 after being suspended by the Ryman League. A dispute with BorehamWood (their landlords for the last three years) had delayed the signing of this season’s groundsharing agreement required for them to play. The suspension was lifted after an arrangement cobbled together early last month, though why they are bothering is perhaps more of a mystery. With no definite plans to return to Enfield, and with discredited chairman Tony Lazarou, architect of the original ground sale, still at the helm, the club’s situation is dire. Relegated from the Ryman Premier League last season, their first league home game of the season, against Barton Rovers, attracted just 59 people.
From WSC 201 November 2003. What was happening this month