Sheffield United fans will be only too familiar with the reputation of Reg Brealey, the chairman of their club in the 1980s. The one-time jute magnate is now officially bankrupt and has 20,000 luckless shareholders from a previous company failure on his conscience, but he has been far from idle since leaving Bramall Lane. In conjunction with sidekick Steve Morgon he has recently embarked on an unlikely groundhopping tour, sowing further confusion, debt and dissatisfaction wherever he goes.
After George Reynolds took over at Darlington in May, it emerged that the club was still owned by Brealey’s Gibraltar-based St Philip’s Trust, even though he claimed he had sold it to the club’s chief executive Mike Peden in 1997. The club’s accounts showed that its debts exploded from around £600,000 to more than £5 million in the last two years before the Reynolds takeover saw off Brealey and Morgon, who had been employed variously as secretary, commercial manager and general manager since 1994.
In summer 1998, Brealey and Morgon popped up at their local Dr Martens League club, Grantham Town. They announced grandiose plans for full-time football and appointed first Danny Bergara, then former Sheff Utd defender Tony Kenworthy as manager, both old muckers from Darlington.
By May of this year the club’s debts had mushroomed from around £120,000 to £300,000 and Brealey’s company Antrac Investments was ready to bale out, leaving the fans and local businesses to find £75,000 to buy its shares and take over the club. They are still waiting for Antrac to sign the Creditors’ Voluntary Arrangement papers to ratify the deal. Gingerbreads Wait For Reg To Sign Up reported the club’s website (though Brealey, as a bankrupt, cannot technically do so himself). If his past record is anything to go by, they should not hold their breath.
Even if they do so, Antrac will hold the lease on the club’s ground, the South Kesteven Sports Stadium, for another nine years. What the club’s president, Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, thinks about such profligate financial behaviour is unknown. What’s certain is that it left the club in a parlous state at the start of this season, which began with nine straight league defeats.
Before the Grantham adventure, in the spring of 1998, Brealey’s name also cropped up in connection with cash-starved St Mirren (keep up, please). His flirtation with the Renfrewshire club also rang alarm bells at nearby Greenock Morton, whose chairman Hugh Scott has his own idiosyncratic methods of dealing with fans and journalists who question his motives (see WSC 140).
Scott and Brealey, it now transpired, are friends, and fans feared their intention was to merge the clubs on a new site and sell their current grounds for profit. Brealey’s involvement with St Mirren came to nothing, but Morton entered the picture again this summer, when Scott appointed none other than Steve Morgon as chief executive.
Morgon is currently commuting from Grantham to Greenock, although his position at the club, like so much else in the whole sorry saga, seems mired in doubt. Asked what his job currently was with the club, a Morton employee would go no further than: “You could say he’s chief executive.”
Morton’s future at Cappielow remains fraught with uncertainty. The ground is nowhere near the standard laid down by the SPL for promoted teams. Earlier this year Scott claimed “anyone with half a brain realises that Cappielow is finished”, yet it now seems his frequently announced plans for a new ground have come to nothing. The fans seethe and Morgon’s presence will not make them sleep any easier.
One club Morton will be hoping not to emulate is Hamilton, who have been without their own ground since leaving Douglas Park in 1994. The £6 million received for the sale of the site has been spent and fans hold the club’s owner Jim Watson responsible for the failure to secure a new ground.
On September 23, their campaign got its biggest boost yet, when Stephen Mungall won a remarkable 1,075 votes in the Hamilton South by-election on a ticket of “Hamilton Accies Home, Watson Away”, pushing the Liberal Democrats into sixth place.
From WSC 153 November 1999. What was happening this month