Tom Davies's update on clubs with pocket problems
Bournemouth fans have been trying to prevent the club embarking on a “sale and leaseback” of their ground, similar to that at Watford (see page 19). The chairman Tony Swaisland, who dreamt up the plan, resigned at the end of July after vociferous protests, including a walk-out at one pre-season friendly. His replacement Peter Phillips is reluctant to go through with the deal, but has the backing of the AFCB Trust Fund (which controls a majority of shares in the club) to do so unless the club can raise £2 million by the end of September.
Fans opposing the sale of the rebuilt Dean Court to a property company point out that its construction was partly paid for by the Football Foundation, the local council and fans themselves. The sale of the freehold would raise £4 million, but the club would then by liable for rent of around £30,000 a month (rising with inflation) for the next 20 years.
Two clubs have run into problems with their grounds after power changed hands in May’s local elections. Barnet’s life-sapping seven-year search for a new site seemed to have ended in February when plans were approved by the council for a development next door to Underhill, which the club is unable to bring up to the standards required by the League (or even, from 2004, the Conference).
The scheme was passed by the Greater London Authority, but the process ran into delays at the Government Office for London – then the elections intervened and the Tories came to power. They refused to sanction the sale of the council-owned land required to carry out the plans, leading to massive rows between club, council and local press in the summer.
At the end of July, the GOL responded to endless foot-dragging and time-wasting from the council as to their intentions for the Green Belt site, by calling in the planning application for a public inquiry. “GOL were in an awkward position because of this thinly veiled plan by the council to delay the information,” said Barnet’s chairman Tony Kleanthous.
With the club no nearer a solution, the depth of the pettiness and bad feeling was manifested when the Keep Barnet Alive fan group were refused permission to run a stall at a local community fair, on the grounds that their presence was too political.
It’s a similar story, if slightly less acrimonious, at Shrewsbury, where the new council (Tory again) has threatened to sabotage the club’s planned move to a new stadium at Sutton Park, south of the town. The move relies for its financing on a partnership agreement negotiated with the outgoing council, and the lifting of a covenant ruling out development on Town’s picturesque but flood-prone and increasingly inadequate Gay Meadow site.
Since May, the council has suggested the club has not properly researched the Sutton option and should consider up to seven other venues. Town now seem likely to be stuck where they are for the foreseeable future, even though polls last year showed a majority of 70 per cent in the town in favour of the deal, which would secure new community sports facilities, as well as a modern ground.
Fans feel the council doesn’t value the club enough, despite protestations by Town director Keith Sayfritz that “in its way, it ranks with Shrewsbury Flower Show and the Shropshire and West Midland Show in contributing to enhancing the town’s image”.
At the end of August, Northampton Town finally called a halt to the farce of the bid by serial club shoppper Giovanni di Stefano, when he downgraded his offer of investment from £600,000 to £50,000. This followed a campaign in which the former associate of the late Serbian war criminal Arkan made idiosyncratic postings on Town message-boards, invariably signing off with a weather report from Rome (“28 degrees, sunny”) and proposed his son, a student “in Cambridge” as his future representative on the board.
The club remains £1.6 million in debt and is set to lose another £500,000 this season, but having seen off John Fashanu (who seemed more interested in the ground than the club) and now Di Stefano, maybe it is time to explore more humdrum alternatives.
From WSC 188 October 2002. What was happening this month