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What to make, then, of Keith Van Hooghaslam, the Scumbag Millionaire landlord of Mansfield, and his most recent round of pantomime villainy? Anybody turning up at Mansfield Town’s Field Mill ground this morning will have been met by a stark message pinned to the entrance. Haslam has evicted the club from the ground that he owns for non-payment of rent, an irony that is almost unbelievable when we consider the manner in which Haslam came to own it in the first place.
Haslam’s tenure at Field Mill was characterised by a tendency for him to look after number one. Mansfield Town’s accounts to June of 2003, published in September of that year, confirmed that a loan of £239,297 made by the club to Haslam, had been written off. The following year, the club’s accounts confirmed that the club had loaned him a further £90,000, in apparent breach of an agreement reached between Haslam and TEAM Mansfield, a supporters group that had bought shares in the club. In total, over £1m found its way out of Mansfield – £585,142 in “interest-free loans”, along with £583,449 to his holding company, Stags Limited, to buy land for an academy which wasn’t built and, in addition to this, he was also paying himself a salary of £60,000 per year. Keith Haslam, we should remind ourselves, bought Mansfield Town for £1 in 1993.
This, however, was small beer in comparison with the move that he pulled off in December of 2008 when, with some sleight of hand of almost staggering audacity, a final dividend of £2,442,488 was paid to STAGS Ltd, £1.9m of which was used to buy Field Mill from the club, who have had to pay him rent to use it ever since. It is understood that it is because these rent payments have stopped (or, rather, that they have been missed) that the club, now under the ownership of millionaire John Radford, has now been evicted, even though Haslam used the club’s money to purchase the ground for his own holding company.
If you’re scratching your heads and wondering how this could possibly legal, there is an answer: it probably isn’t. Section 330 of the Companies Act 1985 prevents companies from loaning more than £5,000 to their directors, and The Companies Act 2006 states that a company may only pay a cash dividend “out of profits available for the purpose”, which seems unlikely, given everything that we intuitively know about the finances of lower division football as well as the plight of Mansfield Town in recent years. In addition to this, as far back as 2005 the FA’s Compliance Unit was said to be investigating Haslam’s behaviour at Mansfield. It is perhaps unsurprising, considering the lack of official or legal sanction that he has ever faced, that his asset-stripping has become greater and greater over the years.
Today’s events, however, do mark a new low. They may have come about in part because of the non-payment of the Field Mill rent, or perhaps because of Radford’s interest in the £2,442,488 paid to STAGS Limited in December 2008. Since taking the club over, Radford has had to put in half a million pounds in order to ensure that the club can see its way through to the end of the season, so he could certainly be forgiven for being extremely troubled over why he was paying rent to someone that had acquired Field Mill in the manner that Haslam had. He had instructed Pinsent Masons, an international law firm, to investigate this further and, so far as we are aware, this investigation remains ongoing.
There seems no point in trying to appeal to the better nature of an individual who doesn’t seem to possess any moral compass other than one with a needle pointing towards the bank accounts of him and his various companies. The only language that he could possibly understand is that of the law. Indeed, the standard eviction notice used was full of such jargon and a later public statement by the bailiffs concerned, Burlington Enforcement of London, stated that, “Stags Ltd remain willing to engage in a constructive dialogue with the club regarding the future of the stadium”. Well, we shall see, and we will also be interested to see if they issue another statement should Haslam’s initial acquisition of Field Mill turn out to be unlawful or illegal.
Considering the lack of action by anybody in relation to Haslam’s actions over the year, it is both ironic and arguably unsurprising that such a move as that made this morning should occur on a good day to bury bad news. While the rest of the world will be fretting over the eventual destination of two World Cups, the first of which will not see a ball kicked for seven and a half years, Keith Haslam has been busy today, apparently doing his utmost to bang nails into a coffin in which may lay the body of Mansfield Town Football Club. We may well wonder whether anybody at the Football Association, David Beckham, David Cameron or Prince William are even aware of this and whether they would care if they were. Civil laws can be enforced and the laws surrounding the governance of the game can tightened to ensure that people like Haslam are summarily drummed out of football for good, if the will is there. Supporters of Mansfield Town Football Club, watching the great and good in Zurich this afternoon, could well be forgiven for believing that it isn’t.
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