A Day Of Conflicting Rumours And Confusion At Wrexham

By on Feb 21, 2011 in Finance, Latest | 31 comments

On a Saturday afternoon, it usually takes quite something to draw attention away from what has happened on the pitch. At Wrexham, however, the truth is proving to be stranger than fiction and so it was that on Saturday even a 7-2 home defeat at home against mid-table Gateshead was overshadowed by a protest the likes of which The Racecourse Ground has seldom seen before. This was hardly surprising, when we consider the club’s bizarre public statement last week, but it might just be possible that this protest could prove to be a turning point in the game of roulette that the future of the club has started to resemble.

Yet for all of this, there remain dangers ahead. The main business of Saturday’s protests were against the club’s owners, Geoff Moss and Ian Roberts, as well as against the disgraced former Chester City owner Stephen Vaughan, who had been publicly been talking of buying into Wrexham FC in spite of only being just over a year into an eleven year long disqualification from acting as the director of any company. Vaughan may yet seek to make his move for the club and it will be down to bodies ssuch as the Insolvency Service to decide whether they wish to investigate the extent and nature of any control in investment, should this come to anything.

Arguably even more troubling than Vaughan looming on the horizon, however, is another face – this one new to football – with a chequered past of his own. Step forward, Stephen Cleeve. Cleeve first came to the public’s attention over his involvement in two companies during the mid to late 1990s – the Napier Spirit Company and Forrester & Lamego. The Napier Spirit Company was wound up at the High Court in London in 1996, whilst Forrester & Lamego was closed down in 1997 after an investigation by the Department of Trade & Industry – for trading while insolvent – and Cleeve was subsequently banned from acting as a company director for eight years.

It didn’t take long for Cleeve to re-emerge, of course, and in 2006 the BBC’s “Inside Out” documentary series caught his company, European Land Sales, overstating the value of land to investors in what is known as a “land-banking”, in which plots of land are purchased and sold to investors in the hope of it being “re-zoned” (ie, given planning permission for housing, thus dramatically increasing its value). This caused considerable consternation in Australia, where Cleeve was trailed by the investigative journalist Neil Jenman, who went as far as setting up website using Cleeve’s name, detailing his previous misdeeds.

He failed to take control of the web domain himself, even though he set up a domain name in Jenman’s name, making various allegations against him (which you can see by downloading this – it’s all on the Wayback Machine). Last year, Cleeve was due to be running as a candidate for the UK Independence Party in the newly-created Kensington seat, but the revelations about his past meant that UKIP seem to have found him to be beyond the pale and he ended up standing down, although Cleeve claimed that this was for “business reasons” rather than anything else. He was replaced by Lady Caroline Pearson, who finished in fourth place with 754 votes.

Cleeve confirmed earlier today that he was interested in getting involved at Wrexham and a message on his Twitter account this evening confirmed that a statement regarding his involvement in the club would follow, but things have been moving very quckly at the club over the last couple of days or so. First of all, two official statements appeared on the club’s official website, the first confirming that Rob Bickerton, Tony Allan and Jon Harris would not be making a bid to buy the club and that Bickerton – in possibly one of the shortest reigns in the history of football club chairmanship – would be resigning as Wrexham’s chairman. The second statement, meanwhile, stated that the club was still up for sale and that, “Moss & Roberts maintain that their preferred route is to sell a fan-based consortium”, all of which is something of a turnaround in stance when set against the statement issued by the club as recently as the 11th of February.

All of which brings us to this evening’s BBC London Non-League Show. Cleeve, when interviewed, stated that, “the council had got involved with the discussions” and that, in view of this, his investment is “on hold”. He offered a different on the slant on the court cases from the 1990s (which is available on the podcast – we’ll leave you to decide whether you are convinced by his take on what happened then), but is this the sort of person that Wrexham supporters want involved? Another party believed to be interested is a local hotelier Stephanie Booth, but perhaps the best of all worlds might be for the local council – as Cleeve intimated in his interview – to invest in acquiring The Racecourse Ground to be held for the good of the town of Wrexham and for the Supporters Trust to run the club for the good of the club’s supporters.

This is, perhaps, the most valid point that can be made about the future of Wrexham FC. Through Hamilton and Guterman to Moss and Roberts, the traditional model of individuals coming in and running this club as has failed it over and over again. Of that there can be no doubt. Some Wrexham supporters believe that the WST don’t have the funding to be able keep the club going but the fact of the matter is that more or less nobody has the money to sustain the sort of losses that they have been being rumoured to be making of late. It’s time, at Wrexham, for a fresh approach, something different to clean out the cobwebs of a club which has failed its support base and its town on too many occasions.

If the club’s commercial operations are in as bad a way as has been rumoured, then this can be changed with a new broom and a fresh outlook, but no-one is going to sponsor a club that is, at this moment in time, in a state of civil war. The exact state of the club’s current financial condition is not known – What are the debts? What are their day-to-day obligations? – and it may be a harsh reality that the club may have to cut its cloth accordingly while it adjusts to not haemorrhaging money with every passing day, but possible short-term pain will in the long-term be far outweighed by the twin gains of regaining ownership of The Racecourse Ground and the fundamental knowledge that what they have been subjected to more than once must never be allowed to happen again. Confusion has reigned at Wrexham over the last few days, but these long-term aims must remain the core goals of all of their supporters.

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    31 Comments

  1. Excellent piece Ian. Wrexham fans deserve so much better than what has been on the table so far.

    John Beech

    February 22, 2011

  2. “and it may be a harsh reality that the club may have to cut its cloth accordingly while it adjusts to not haemorrhaging money with every passing day” – no, not “harsh reality”, but bloody plain obvious.
    It is simple….you don’t live beyond your means. End of.

    Jertzee

    February 22, 2011

  3. It is simple, isn’t Jertzee. Until you actually look at some of the issues.

    The question we should be asking is precisely why we’re haemorrhaging money, particularly when we exited administration as a profitable football league team.

    Possibly one reason is that attendances are down although we’re still one of the better supported teams in the division. Another reason is frittering away large wages on shit players over the last few years, although the fact that we lost money in a season when we had a playing budget of 35% of turnover suggests more serious problems. Our playing budget this season at least is hardly excessive.

    A more plausible reason is the utter shambles that is our commercial department. Since the Crusaders have moved in, there has been zero effort to develop the commercial side of the business. Sponsorships go unsold, the club shop has no stock, even things like the matchday program are neglected to the point that no-one would hand over the £3 for it. At the same time, assets are pillaged.

    Then you look at some of the wages being paid to non-playing staff. We’re currently paying roughly as much on non-playing staff as we are on players wages. The largesse afforded Dean Saunders over the last few years pales into insignificance compared to the sums lavished upon incompetent cronies of Moss (including, lets not forget, two charity scammers).

    Then there’s other one-offs. The club was the only party (other than the Cru’s unfortunate creditors) to lose money on the Crusaders’ admin.

    Unfortunately, it’s not just a matter of cutting wages. The club needs rebuilding from the bottom up after a decade of being run into the ground.

    Smug Wimbledon fans are beginning to piss me off no end. You’re not the only people capable of understanding the need for football to be run sustainably. I think any Wrexham fan would trade the decade long pillage we’ve endured for the clean break afforded Wimbledon fans.

    ian

    February 22, 2011

  4. We were in the middle of a frantic battle to save our club. We were entitled to take help where we could get it. Or would you prefer it if we’d sacrificed our club for you?

    ian

    February 22, 2011

  5. P.S. My comment about Wimbledon fans doesn’t extend to your trust who have been fantastically supportive and a massive credit to both your club and football in general.

    ian

    February 22, 2011

  6. Of course I don’t begrudge you seeking help wherever you can, even from the supermarket property development that needlessly killed my club.

    Just be honest about it, that’s all. You need our help now and I hope we do all we can to publicise YET ANOTHER set of asset-stripping owners tonight on sub-prime telly.

    Your clean-break was out-of-order and could only come from someone who has no real experience of what completely losing your club actually involves.

    At least if Wrexham did die (and I hope not) you won’t have a loony salesman with several thousand casual customers dancing around the lower portions of the League with its corpse.

    Our fans are our Trust are our Club.

    Martin

    February 22, 2011

  7. “The Wrexham trust invited supporters from franchise to watch a game at the Racecourse as guests of theirs when they did a match sponsorship. It resulted in a very nauseous love in between the Wrexham trust and the franchise, at a time when there was still an official FSF boycott. The fact that it could have easily been MK Wrexham escaped their notice. Wankers. But good of our DTB to show that principles can override bad actions.”

    I happily invite the fans of every struggling club to a wonderful “clean-break” and restart in the (much harder than you imagine) County leagues…

    Martin

    February 22, 2011

  8. http://www.bbc.co.uk/threecounties/content/articles/2004/12/06/mkdons_fsf_application_feature.shtml

    “We are working to support Wrexham in a number of different ways” he says. “Because they are in a situation where they could end up moving a significant distance away from their conurbation and just like any other football club we don’t think that’s right.

    “We will do whatever we can to play our part as part of the football club community to stop it happening. So no – we don’t think franchising is right.”

    So they were against it but happily support it?

    Shame on you all.

    Martin

    February 22, 2011

  9. Ian, I am not posting as a Wimbledon fan. I am posting as a pissed off tax patyer who is sick of bailing out clubs that overspend.

    It is still simple.
    All those overspends were avoidable or should have been budgetted for.

    I am not blaming Wrexham fans or having a smug pop at you, but I suggest if you want our, or anybody elses help, you admit that you have been badly run and try to get the best for your club.

    And don’t get me onto the clean break…..

    Jertzee

    February 22, 2011

  10. “You do realise a few short years before you accepted help from the franchise and in return lent them some legitimacy, we did not own a ground, shared at our rivals and were facing our club being destroyed by a supermarket property deal and what looked at the time like a near certain ending of the Wimbledon name in professional football? Sensibilities of Wrexham fans were regrettably not at the forefront of our mind when our priorities were more like taking help wherever we could get it. Desperation makes us all do things we’d rather not.”

    Martin

    February 22, 2011

  11. “North Wales being unlike London where there’s a football ground round every corner”

    Stunning ignorance and a dig Ian. Nice one.

    Martin

    February 22, 2011

  12. “I am not blaming Wrexham fans or having a smug pop at you, but I suggest if you want our, or anybody elses help, you admit that you have been badly run and try to get the best for your club.”

    No-one’s saying we’re not badly run. We’ve been run into the ground over the last 7 years.

    I made the ‘smug’ comment because there always seems to be a comment (mainly from Martin) whenever a club’s in trouble suggesting they were asking for it.

    The ‘clean break’ comment was perhaps unfortunate (what with the abomination in Bedfordshire still around). But I’d certainly rather however many promotions and a well run community club than two relegations and serial mismanagement and very little prospect of getting out of this division any time in the next decade even if us fans do ever get in charge.

    ian

    February 22, 2011

  13. No club is “asking for it”

    Too many fans just do nothing about it, that’s the problem.

    I shall be working our turnstiles for nothing tonight.

    When I see the likes of you doing something similar at some new fans-owned club and ground squeezed somehow into the dense urban jungle and sky-high property market that is Clwyd then I’ll believe you have learned the lesson.

    Until then I’ll remain smug, thanks.

    Martin

    February 22, 2011

  14. adomination is bedfordshire? Why are Luton being called an abomination.. v.harsh.

    peter

    February 22, 2011

  15. You can’t expect Ian to know what county the franchise are in. He has his own problems to worry about.

    He’s from a completely different country and he was probably too over-whelmed by their desperate hospitality when he visited them ;)

    Seriously Ian, if you want to discuss it I’ll be in turnstile 4 tonight before the game (that’s a home one BTW).

    Martin

    February 22, 2011

  16. Why don’t Wrexham have a ‘clean break’ if it’s easier? Our clean break only meant fundraising of £2.5m to be able to get a ground, I’m sure if you have £1m in Wales you can build a ground of your own. So really, if all the fundraising, administration, finding a league, getting a competitive team together, is that much easier, I would recommend it as the way for Wrexham to (in the words of Koppel) ‘move forward’.

    However I do agree, in a time of trouble you will take whatever is being offered, and I don’t hold the majority of Wrexham fans responsible for anything to do with the FSF.

    I might put a few quid into the Wrexham bucket this evening, but I’m surprised that the tone of your post infers you think all Wimbledon fans think the same.

    piggeh

    February 22, 2011

  17. I’ve never been to the Franchise, Martin. And, yes, I appreciate they are actually in Buckinghamshire.

    ian

    February 22, 2011

  18. Well you’ve just gone up 200% in my estimation then :)

    Martin

    February 22, 2011

  19. Piggeh: The problem for Wrexham ST breaking away and starting a new club is one of what set-up they would play in. An exception is made by the FAW to allow them to stay in the English pyramid and there is, so far as I am aware, no will on the part of Wrexham’s support to join the Welsh Premier League or the Welsh system.

    If this incarnation of Wrexham FC were to go bust, on the other hand, they may be considered a continuation of the old club and be permitted to keep their place in the English pyramid, but it’s difficult to think of a reason beyond “because the supporters want to” why an exception would be made were a supporter-owned breakaway club to start while the old Wrexham FC still exists.

    Feel free to correct me if I have misunderstood any part of this.

    Ian

    February 22, 2011

  20. Newport County fans successfully fought for their historic right to play in the English football system so I don’t see why Wrexham would be any different.

    Unless you think their fans are more able and effective than Wrexham’s of course.

    Martin

    February 22, 2011

  21. Indeed – the precedent has already been set by Newport.

    Jertzee

    February 22, 2011

  22. @Martin, why don’t you wind your neck in?

    In one sense, Ian is right; whatever the cause of it, we did get a ‘clean break’ as a club, and don’t forget the majority of us only woke up very late to what was going on at our club. Don’t make us out to be some kind of example in the long-in-tooth campaigning stakes; Wrexham fans have been fighting for seven years+, so I think I know who has more right to be smug, and it’s not us.

    And @Jertzee, you might not like the taxpayer bailing out clubs, but however you look at it, these fans can’t be blamed for this, and are – have been – trying their hardest to do something to stop it for all that time.

    Now, at a tricky time, can’t you both at least give them a fecking break and a bit of support instead?

    Remember what it was like being told that we were the engineers of our own demise in 2001/2002 (and since)? It’s not nice, is it?

    And @Piggeh – unfortunately he’s probably a bit put off by some of what @martin and @jertzee have been posting.

    Wibble Wobble

    February 22, 2011

  23. Jertzee, Martin – I’m not convinced that that Newport do demonstrate a precedence. I think they showed that the FAW couldn’t kick them out of the English system.

    That’s not the same as being able to enter the English system as a Welsh club.

    ian

    February 22, 2011

  24. I think Wrexham and its fans would have enough about them to take on the ludicrous FAW and win in any such situation.

    I’m surprised that you don’t think so.

    Martin

    February 22, 2011

  25. @wibble wobble – I think you’ll find I didn’t blame the Wrexham fans.

    but why let that get in the way of a comment….

    Jertzee

    February 22, 2011

  26. There is apparently an agreement in place between the FA and FAW which says that the FAW has in effect first refusal on a new club based in Wales, and the right to demand that the club enter its system. That was established after the Newport case. Merthyr only got allowed to re-enter the English system because the FAW agreed they were technically a reformation, meaning that they were judged under the FA’s (old) rules on that, and not as a ‘new’ club.

    Problem is it doesn’t really have any system like England, where clubs of a certain size or ‘grading’ get placed further up the pyramid.

    And @jertzee, maybe you’d like to revisit your comments, because you hardly put them diplomatically.

    Wibble Wobble

    February 22, 2011

  27. @wibble – diplomatic?? Ian asked if it was simple – I replied yes. Not too sure what was undiplomatic about that.

    I would argue his comment on being pissed off about smug AFCW fans was undiplomtic.

    As long as people like you think it is ok to constantly have to pay for the lost taxes then I will carry on being “diplomatic”.

    Jertzee

    February 24, 2011

  28. Martin said: “You can’t expect Ian to know what county the franchise are in. He has his own problems to worry about.”

    Funny that coming from someone who a couple of posts earlier mentioned Clwyd …

    Gary

    February 24, 2011

  29. Gary, whoosh!

    Martin

    February 24, 2011

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