Tom Davies on clubs in crisis
The supporters’ campaign to force Mansfield Town owner Keith Haslam to relinquish control of the club has been ratcheted up in recent months, with demonstrations, boycotts and even a plane fly-past display at the away game at Notts County. Haslam announced that the club was for sale on March 19, but there is widespread scepticism about the substance of this offer: the owner has form for frustrating previous expressions of interest by not providing enough information to bidders.
Haslam has been the subject of fans’ ire for some time (see WSC 231), not least over personal loans he earlier took out of the club in breach of company law. One such loan, to his holding company Stags Limited, was earmarked for a football academy on which work has still not started. The loans were repaid, although the status of the final outstanding one – of around £580,000 – is unclear. Chairman James Derry, appointed by Haslam last year, initially said he had been assured by the owner that it had been repaid, but at a recent supporters’ meeting Derry was less clear, merely saying a “substantial sum” of it had been met.
XThe lack of audited accounts – Mansfield haven’t filed any since June 2005 – is hampering attempts to find a buyer. Both the supporters’ trust, Team Mansfield, and Andy Perry, the main club sponsor, have sought information in the past in order to prepare bids but have complained about the lack of information made available. Perry has now ruled himself out of any takeover, citing Haslam’s failure to allow him full scrutiny of the books.
It is in this context that fans have intensified their campaigning. Graham Parker, of the Stags Fans for Change pressure group, is unconvinced by Haslam’s most recent offer. “He’s been quite cynically clever,” he says. “He’s put the club up for sale, but he’s not said what’s for sale, and for how much.” Meanwhile, the team and club stagnate, supporters wonder where money received in recent seasons has gone and potential bidders are deterred. Speculation about Haslam’s motives are inevitable, if unproven. “Field Mill is sat on land between two retail parks,” says Parker, “and the suspicion is he will sell the club but not the land.”
Anxiety is in the air at Crystal Palace over Simon Jordan’s refinancing plans to support his recent purchase of Selhurst Park. There was general relief last autumn when the Palace chairman announced that he had bought the ground, via an intermediary, from Ron Noades’s Altonwood company, only for alarm bells to ring in the new year when it emerged that Jordan had been touting Selhurst’s land value around the City as he sounded out investors to lend his holding company, Aspirations Holdings, £15 million to support the acquisition of the stadium, specifically stressing the land’s value as a “housing development opportunity”.
Jordan had trumpeted the Selhurst deal as bringing about the long-overdue reunion of club and ground. Yet under the new arrangement the ground will actually be owned by a company called Selhurst Park Limited, of whom Jordan is not named as a director but Tottenham vice-chairman and property developer Paul Kemsley is. The £15m borrowed to finance SPL’s takeover will take the form of an interest-only mortgage, and leaves Palace likely to be paying around £1m a year in rent, more than they did to Altonwood, without having bought the ground at the end of the mortgage period.
The Crystal Palace Supporters’ Trust has written to Jordan asking him to clarify his intentions for the stadium. “Obviously he has to stress the property value of the ground when he’s looking for investors, but it’s still a concern,” says the trust’s Alan Palmer. “He says he will never sell the ground for that purpose [residential development] and we’ve got to take him at face value, but all we are trying to do is get to the facts and clarify the issue. He says he has reunited club and ground, but has this actually happened?”
Alarm bells have been ringing at Chester City, following chairman Stephen Vaughan’s threat to change the club’s name, possibly to Chester-Halton, Chester-Flint or Chester-Ellesmere Port. The proposal has its root in the chairman’s ongoing wrangles with Chester City Council over its refusal to allow Vaughan, a boxing promoter, to stage boxing matches, car-boot sales and other events at the Deva Stadium, which is subject to a covenant restricting non‑football use. Many supporters agree that the covenant, though imposed with the best of intentions when the ground opened in 1992, is too restrictive, but the fact that Vaughan also owns nearby Widnes rugby league club hasn’t escaped notice.
Brighter news at Notts County, where the supporters’ trust has acquired a 60 per cent shareholding. The trust bought shares from Hayden Green, who had loaned them money for the purchase on what trust chair Keri Usherwood said were “favourable terms”, though the trust itself has invested £300,000 in the club. The existing board, led by chairman Jeff Moore and including supporter-director Eric Kerry, will continue to run the club on a day-to-day basis.
From WSC 243 May 2007. What was happening this month