With the news that Gateshead avoided being thrown out of the National League at the AGM today, we look back to the dark days of June 2014, and another Annual General Meeting. Hereford United were represented by David Keyte and Tommy Agombar. It remains desperately painful to recollect what happened next…
As the glitz and excitement continues over in Brazil in the World Cup, 5,732 miles away in Hereford and a million miles away figuratively speaking, Hereford United’s woes go from bad to worse.
Around two weeks ago we were about to go to press on here with the news that Hereford United had secured their place in the Skrill Conference Premier for next season only for the Conference board to take the decision to expel the Bulls from all Conference divisions. The decision taken by the board on the 10th June sees Hereford expelled from the Conference South as well as the Conference Premier next season and will see them line-up in the Calor Southern League Premier Division next season along with the likes of Banbury United, St Neots Town and Cambridge City, rather than Cambridge United who they played last season; but will they?
The reason they face the prospect of the Southern League is due to the fact the Conference board basically lost patience with them. The board had extended, and extended, and extended the deadline set for the club to meet the debts of all the creditors after meeting with former chairman David Keyte and the accountant of new owner Tommy Agombar. They set a final deadline of 12th June after being assured the funds were in place to meet those debts. When it became clear the club was still not going to be able to meet the deadline the Conference board’s tolerance ran out.
Quite frankly things are a mess and that’s putting it mildly. Firstly, there are doubts over the new owner; Agombar is an ex-con jailed 27 years ago for his part in a series of truck thefts by a gang in his native London. He served a seven-year sentence for his part in the crimes and under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 a custodial sentence of more than two and a half years never becomes spent. Under the Football Association’s new ‘Owners and Directors’ Test, the new name for the ‘Fit and Proper Person’s’ Test there are several grounds on which a potential owner can fail, the most important one being that anybody with an unspent conviction involving dishonesty cannot take over a club.
Secondly, there is the fact the debts are a lot higher than first thought. Agombar has angrily stated recently that whilst he was negotiating to buy the club, he was told the debts were around £300,000 but it transpires the debts are more than four times that. Then there is the farce around the playing staff.
Player wages remain unpaid and one by one the players are leaving the club with player of the season and goalkeeper Daniel Lloyd-Weston and Dom Collins both joining former boss Martin Foyle at Southport. In addition, Frankie Artus has opted for Bath City, Rod McDonald has signed for AFC Telford United and, most recently, striker Dan Walker has joined Braintree Town. Lloyd-Weston and McDonald were both openly critical of the club’s handling of matters as they left with a string of broken promises. It leaves the club with just two registered players, if the club’s website is to be believed. The PFA are pushing the Southern League and the FA to ensure the outstanding wages are paid before the club in its current state can continue.
The non-payment has had a knock-on effect in other areas too with Ledbury Town and Weobley FC both declining to play the club in pre-season friendlies; Ledbury stating ‘it would be wrong to support a club who has failed to keep its promises about paying players and staff’.
The area that is causing the most concern though for the long-suffering fans – and never has a well coined phrase ever seemed so apt, is the issue over the club’s ground. Shortly after the expulsion from the Conference it transpired Agombar was due to meet with Herefordshire Council. On the agenda was not only the outstanding bill of £65,000 due for rent and rates but also the transfer of the lease on two sides of the ground to the new owner, or another of his companies to be precise.
Hereford United Supporters Trust (HUST) fear the Londoner is trying to gain the leases in order to then sell the land, something he denies. HUST called on fans to lobby the council to reject the proposals and as a result a petition against the transfer of the leases was raised. The petition has some 7,300 signatures on it, significantly more than the 1,758 that was the average crowd at Edgar Street last season, showing the depth of feeling over the matter and was presented to the council on Thursday following a ceremonial funeral march by the fans in protest at how the club has been run.
The march included a mock coffin, a fan (one of fifty) dressed as the grim reaper and a banner proclaiming ‘David Keyte You Have Murdered Our Club’ leaving those watching via the BBC Midlands cameras in no doubt how the Hereford fans feel about this.
The HUST. chairman, Chris Williams, has released a statement in which he lays the blame solely at the door of Keyte. The outgoing chairman’s arrogance and attitude towards the management of the club and towards the club’s fans being blamed by Williams for the situation they find themselves in. The HUST man implores the current regime to vacate Edgar Street and give the club back to the fans, as they should’ve done originally.
The trust offered the same deal as Agombar but outgoing chairman Keyte, apparently now quite poorly presumably with the stress of the situation turned them down. The offer was backed by a group of local businessmen, who believe, as does Williams, that the current club ‘Hereford United 1939 Ltd’ has no long-term future. Jon Hale, spokesman for the consortium, envisages a situation where Williams would take a prominent role on the board of a new club formed in the place of the current one with other trust members also on the board. There would be no single major shareholder and the club would be run by the fans with the business expertise of the investors in the background should it be needed.
Whether such a new club would be accepted into the Southern League is another matter. For now, the league has accepted that the current club has satisfactorily met the conditions placed upon it by the board of the league and have accepted the club into their competition for next season – as long as ‘nothing drastic happens’.
One of the league’s conditions was that the club meet the Football Association’s ‘Owners and Directors’ Test, interestingly the league announced their satisfaction just a day after it was announced Agombar had stepped down as a director of the club just 13 days after being formally announced as one. The F.A. refuse to release the results of the test despite pressure from local M.P. Jesse Norman., stating it is the responsibility of the club to announce it.
Where it leaves things stand regarding the ownership of the club exactly is uncertain. Companies House had Keyte listed as the sole director of the club yet Agombar has already gone on record as stating that Keyte no longer has anything to with the club whatsoever. A fact confirmed by the club on Wednesday when they announced their former chairman had left the club. The following day two new directors were announced. Leigh based (as in Leigh in Lancashire – some way from Hereford) John Edwards and Elke Thuerlings.
Who these two are, and what their intentions are, remain a mystery. What they intend to do re the debts that remain unpaid is also currently unclear. What is clear is that the Conference board have stated that the club will not be allowed back into any of their leagues until all current creditors are satisfied. With court cases still looming with the tax man and Martin Foyle it truly is a sorry state of affairs.
The only winners in this pitiful mess are Chester FC who have been reinstated to the Conference in the place of Hereford United along with Dartford FC who have taken Salisbury City’s place.
Salisbury have been dumped into the Conference South after their own financial problems caused by their co-owner Otail Touzar. The knock-on effect of these two changes means innocent, well run clubs have been messed around as the Conference rearranges their divisions to accommodate the demoted clubs. The worst affected is Suffolk side Lowestoft Town who were expecting to line-up in the Conference South following their promotion from the Ryman Isthmian League. As a result of other clubs’ poor financial management Lowestoft will find themselves with some very long trips next season with the prospect of trips to Barrow and Bradford Park Avenue, having been dumped into the Conference North for next season. Their ‘derby’ match next season will be with Boston United, a mere 200 mile round trip!
All in all, it is one very miserable mess, not helped by the Conference’s dallying over Hereford’s fate.
What happens next at Edgar Street is anyone’s guess; one thing that is sure though is it’s going to be a long summer for the Bulls fans; the World Cup may be the last football they see for a while the way things are going.
And how true that was…This article and images were first published by the Sports Breakfast in June 2014.