TB Investigates – The ‘New Look’ National League North

THE RUNNERS AND RIDERS OF THE NATIONAL LEAGUE NORTH by Simon Wright.
Altrincham. Alty’s man of significant control is Grahame Rowley (58) who became Chairman in 2010. Graham is local and a long-standing supporter. “I’m in it for the love” says he. His brother Terry is the club historian.  His son Chris runs the reserve side and wife Karen works in the club’s office. Rowley is a pharmacist and is a director of a pharmacy company.  Altrincham have a Looney on their board – Lawrence Looney.  This appointment may or may not be linked to the claimed business of the company being “activities of amusement parks and theme parks.”
Alfreton. The largest shareholder at Alfreton Town FC is Wayne Bradley with 44% of the shares. Wayne’s been around a while, having served 21 years as a director.  By day, he chairs ImpactonLife, who produces literature for 100 NHS Health Trusts.  Said Bradley recently “Clubs are pressurised to be measured by on field success. Makes a lot of financially prudent clubs appear bland, lacking in ambition and deemed unsuccessful.” The Reds made a modest profit in their last accounts, almost solely down to money donated by a new director.  Alfreton are keen to support their local community, working with 160 organisations over the last year.
Blyth. Spartans are jointly controlled by 12 people. Chairman Tony Platten sold his engineering business for very big bucks when he retired but in public at least is not shovelling money towards his club.  He previously bailed out Spartans in 2000 and has stuck with them since. Six new directors joined the Board in summer 2018.  Last accounts to May 2018 showed a deficit in excess of £300,000.  In April 2019, Platten said “We have a financial model that includes income from sponsorship and other revenue streams of which attendances are a key component. For the club to remain competitive and financially viable at the current level, we require average gates of at least 1,000.” Platten didn’t add that the playing budget is being cut with all the players expected to take a pay cut. The manager is considering his future.
Boston. Chestnut Homes are a fast-growing Lincolnshire building company. Their biggest project is the Quadrant in Boston, a mixed development including a new ground for Boston United. MD of Chestnut is David Newton, who has chaired Boston United for the last 12 years and is credited with saving the Pilgrims from closure a decade ago. A far from easy 10 years. Said the Chairman wearily “we keep saying it but more and more clubs are spending an awful lot of money. I don’t know where they get it from, but they’re spending it and it makes it very difficult for the rest of us.”
The last full accounts, in 2016, showed the club owing well over £1 million, the vast majority to the major shareholders.   United have 3 major shareholders.  The others are Nigel Kempster, who is the Land and Development Director for Chestnut and Chris Cook, a local printer. Chris played for Boston for 20 years and coached for a further five.    Boston have extended the mortgage on their ground as developments (and costs) at the Quadrant are proceeding at a similar speed to Brexit.  The costs of the new ground rose by £3 million two years ago and possibly again since.
Brackley. Brackley is co-owned by Hereford-born Allan Leighton (aged 65). Yes, that Allan Leighton, former CEO of ASDA, and the Post Office, former deputy Chair of Leeds United and now Chairman of the Co-Op Group. The other Co-owner Ray Styles is in for the long haul, having saved the club from liquidation in 1999. Leighton is based in Canada for half the week but is described as a “low-key club investor.” Leighton’s net worth is estimated at £18 million. Brackley players are rumoured to be very well salaried.
Bradford (PA). The club with brackets is owned by Gareth Roberts a semi-retired multi-billionaire geologist based in Texas.  Roberts has over 75% of the shares. He persuaded two friends to also become directors and all 3 have invested “time and money” into the club.  Roberts is Bradford-born and bred and has never forgotten the kindness shown to his hard-up family after his father died young.  The new Board have made the club an asset-locked social enterprise (ie if the club closed, all monies would go to the local community). Three senior players left abruptly in January, with one of them complaining the playing budget was cut. The club denied that.
Chester. The Seals got themselves into a terrible financial mess last season, despite being fan-owned. Only frantic fundraising efforts prevented closure. Throughout the season, managers and directors came and went, to the point where would-be directors were deterred from applying.  Club owners are City Fans United, so basically anyone with £12 to spare can be a joint club owner. Chester became part time for 18-19 with a greatly reduced playing budget. Fortunately, a £1 million donation from Stuart Murphy eased pressures.

Indeed, Chester are now seeking to build a £1.6 3g training hub in partnership with the local authority. Monied supporter Stuart Murphy pitched in with £200,000.

Curzon. Curzon Ashton have no majority shareholders. They have 4 directors, the youngest of which is 68 and the oldest  is Harry Twamley (76) who is a club founder.  Harry received a BEM for his services to football. Curzon became a private limited company in 2017.
Darlington. Darlington Supporters Trust Group holds over 80% of voting rights.  Ownership brings with it the responsibility to finance their club.  The Trust has a barrage of fundraising schemes, including the £86,000 raised to boost the 18/19 club playing budget.  Even so, the last published accounts show a deficit of £173,000, which may explain player sales during 18/19.
Farsley Celtic. Club owned by J. Palmer (17%), M. Palmer (17%), S. Palmer (17%), P. Palmer (16%), R. Winterbottom (33%). Their last published accounts to March 2018 showed a debt of £84,000, though around half this figure are monies owed to directors.  The Palmers are big in horticulture and jointly own Palmer Nurseries.  Robert Winterbottom is head of media and is one of 6 Directors (4 of the others are the Palmer family).
Gloucester City. A club with just two directors, members of the McGurk family who own the McGurk Group, who have a wide variety of businesses. Two more McGurks are former directors. Eamonn McGurk is the major shareholder and has run City for 24 years.  Latest accounts to June 2018 show a club struggling with a £130,000 debt and no ground (yet).
Guiseley. Owning a third of Guiseley AFC is Leeds-based Steve Parkin. He part-owns a huge logistics company and is thought to be worth £190 million.  The Lions, who have never enjoyed big support, had extensive building work three years ago and maintain a very large first team squad. The unexpected sale of their top goalscorer may indicate cash flow issues. However, Parkin brings expertise, connections and possibly cash. And in extremis- racehorses.
Hereford. Officially, no-one has a controlling interest at Hereford FC. Largest shareholders are HUST with 40% of the shares. They are tasked with raising sufficient capital by March 2020 to increase their holding to 50% of the Edgar Street club. They elect 3 Directors to the board. Five benefactors Mark Blandford, Nigel Edmondson, Mark Ellis, Mike Roberts and Rob Crawford each own around 10% of shares in exchange for their £50,000 donation. A group of individual supporters and the other 4 directors have very small shareholdings. Hereford FC make a small operating profit each year while building up a substantial “rainy day” fund.
Kidderminster. Since 2012, Kidderminster’s operating model is a full-time playing squad, funded by developing and selling their own or buying cheap, selling long.  Although Harriers are selling a couple of players every year for decent dosh and make significant money from their education programme, they continue to run at a loss which the owner must pick up.  Former football agent Colin Gordon owns 75% of Harriers and all their bills.   Gordon admits to “overspending” on the player budget and converting the £500,000 owed to him into shares. His total investment exceeds £1,500,000.
Kettering Town. The promoted Board possibly hold their meetings in a broom cupboard. Ritchie Jeune, who owns 75% of the club, makes up half the Board with Secretary John Clements making up the rest for the last 6 years.  The club survived a CVA in 2015 and continue to struggle with the last accounts showing a £300,000 debt.  Jeune also owns a Chinese club Shantu Lions, as part of the Future Lions project which is a global Academy, involving Kettering and clubs in every continent.
Kings Lynn. Last time, Lynn reached Step 2, they ran out of money and closed down.  Things are different now, according to their website “King’s Lynn Town FC is proud to be different and aims to remain sustainable and continue its growth purely from the revenue generated through ticket sales, sponsorship and other auxiliary incomes.” Allegedly.  Owners are Stephen Cleeve and P.Cleeve who own 67% and 33% respectively in shares of Yellow Holdings Limited. Stephen Cleeve is the only club director. Their (his?) last balance sheet to May 2018 showed a deficit of £161,000, up £70,000 on the year before.  Before the new season starts, funding is required for extra turnstiles, permanent away enclosure with new toilets and refreshment hut, additional seats in the dugout and a bigger press box.  Still, they can always increase the prices when we visit.
Leamington. Leamington have over 400 shareholders with shares widely spread. The biggest shareholding has 12%.  In 2015, Brakes Trust had 375 shares – among the top 20 biggest owners.  The Brakes are very close to breaking even, reducing a debt year on year.  Marketing Director Graham Moody, a director since 2010, owns a ice hockey club in Milton Keynes.   Chairman Jim Scott has served for 15 years on the Board making up a picture of local men doing their bit for their club.
Oxford City. Our new arrivals have just 2 directors and a debt. An American entrepreneur bought half of the club with grandiose plan for a world class sports Academy. Unfortunately, he was a fraudster who’s now doing time while City were left £1.5 million in debt after building an indoor sports centre. Cup runs and cost cutting reduced the debt to £465,000 according to the last accounts. City were nearly struck off twice for failing to submit accounts on time. Two men – Paul Lyon and former first team manager Justin Merritt now own half each of the club.. and its debts.
Southport. A seaside club with rotating doors in both the managers’ office and the boardroom. Ten directors have resigned since 2017.  Current biggest shareholders are Phil Hodgkinson and Ian Kyle.  Phil owns PURE, a legal services firm with 300 staff. He joined what was left of the Board in 2017, handing over the £125,000 expected of all new Board members.  Ian Kyle, who also handed over £125,000, is joint owner of a Liverpool based law firm. Both own between 25% and 50% of club shares.  The current Board are personally funding the £1 million ground improvements.
Spennymoor. Spennymoor’s Chief Exec is multi-millionaire Brad Groves. He admits to a “six-figure” investment but is happier to take about the one hundred sponsors he’s persuaded to back his club.  Probably financing their expensive close-season building work.
Telford. Chairman Andrew Pryce has the biggest shareholding and with other family members, holds a majority shareholding.  He runs a family building company.  His predecessor was a Dosser. That’s Ian Dosser who remains on the Board.  Recent share sales have eased financial losses at the Shropshire club.  They currently employ 49 people.
York City. City propped up by Director Jason McGill, the majority shareholder, who covers the clubs’ losses year after year, despite their poor management. As recently as 2017, player salaries took 87% of the clubs’ income. He’s now owed £6 million, which is a loan against revenues from the sale of Bootham Crescent. City are moving out of town to a new rented facility.  Eventually. McGill is thought to have 75% of the shares and the York Supporters Trust the rest.

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