Grimsby, Mansfield, Halifax

Crisis clubs have ground problems. Tom Davies reports

Niggling problems with grounds predominate this month. However, there’s been a rare victory for supporters over property developers at Cambridge City, where the Blue Square South club are celebrating a court ruling that they had been fraudulently misled by the firm that bought Milton Road two years ago.

The club sold the site to developers Ross River to meet pressing debts, with City then renting it from the company in lieu of finding a new ground, while Milton Road would be sold for housing. This left the club facing eviction in May. But hackles rose when it emerged that Ross River had bought out City’s entitlement to a 50 per cent share of future profits of the ground sale for a mere £900,000, when the estimated value of the land was around £13 million. That then-chairman Arthur Eastham also received a payment of £10,000 as part of the deal further angered fans. In the furore that followed, the entire board resigned, with the exception of long-term benefactor, and now chairman, Kevin Satchel. City are now run by their supporters’ trust.

But High Court judge Mr Justice Briggs last month ruled that Ross River had misled the club with its profit estimate and in saying that 130 homes would be built on the site when around 200 were planned. As a result, City’s entitlement to the 50 per cent share of the profits was reinstated, although they had to repay the £900,000 (plus interest) they’d received, and agreed to pay £70,000-a-year rent until 2010, when the ground will be sold. Thus reprieved, however, the club failed in court to have ownership of the land returned to them.

Club spokesman Nick Austin admitted: “We have won the battle but the war is still raging. This has given us two-and-a-half years to draw breath and work out what to do.” The next challenge is to find a site for a new ground. This is the task also facing Grimsby Town, as their continued tenure at Blundell Park becomes less viable, especially as chairman John Fenty has hinted that he is unwilling to subsidise them indefinitely and warned that the club “requires a substantial financial injection within the next two months”.

Grimsby have pinned their hopes on securing a new ground at Greatcoats, on the edge of the town, for which planning permission has been granted but which is dependent on retail and commercial partners to provide anchor funding. This is where difficulties are arising, especially with plans now in the pipeline for a new town-centre shopping development, which could make it tougher to attract investors to Greatcoats.

Problems and protests continue at Mansfield Town over the stewardship of Keith Haslam (see WSC 243). Exasperated enough by Haslam’s failure to sell up despite his claim that he’s open to offers, and by past misdemeanours that include the unlawful transfer of loans out of the club, fans have now seen Field Mill’s capacity slashed due to poor matchday organisation.

This came to a head at the derby against Chesterfield, when malfunctioning turnstiles and a mishandled ticket allocation led to the away end being oversold. Furthermore, around 200 visiting fans had bought tickets for the home end and the overspillers were decamped into a condemned area of the ground, landing Mansfield in trouble with Nottinghamshire’s safety advisory group, who promptly slashed capacity by 50 per cent.

With Mansfield struggling at the foot of League Two, this is less than helpful. Meanwhile, Haslam continues to insist, amid much scepticism, that he wants to sell. Parties to have expressed an interest include a consortium led by current chairman James Derry; two exiled Australia-based businessman with a background of running football academies Down Under; and another as-yet-unidentified local consortium. However, Haslam would still own the ground.

Halifax Town have been fighting for survival in recent months. The Shaymen were served with a winding-up order last month over £100,000 owed to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. And, though a consortium fronted by David Bosomworth and former Bradford City player Bobby Ham is in the process of taking over, after the supporters’ trust voted to sell them its seven per cent share, the task ahead is considerable.

For one thing, as well as the immediate debts, the Blue Square Premier club are still paying £4,000 a month on the Company Voluntary Arrangement entered when they came out of administration in 2002 (though that burden would have been heavier had the supporters’ trust not paid off more than £50,000 of it); for another, the inadequacies of the Shay have put Halifax at risk of demotion by the Conference authorities. Work on a new main stand, which first began at the start of the decade, is still unfinished and may not be completed until 2009, leaving the ground without proper executive and other facilities, and consequently at risk of sanction.

Halifax fans also flirted with the idea of a deal with the MyFootballClub website, which seeks to buy into clubs and run them through the popular will of its membership, but the majority of supporters opposed the idea.

From WSC 249 November 2007