Without wishing to blow my own trumpet too much, there are times when I think that perhaps this site should renamed, “Well, I Warned You That This Would Happen”. What is more surprising is that whilst we often see the screamingly obvious about some of the more hare-brained schemes that people within “The Game” manage to concoct, those people themselves seem blissfully aware of their follies, and the havoc that they have the potential to wreak. So it was with Leigh Genesis. As some of you may remember, at the end of last season, Conference North club Leigh RMI were relegated into the Unibond League Premier Division. They had finished bottom of the table with just twenty-six points, having conceded eighty-seven goals in the process.
Undaunted by this disastrous season, their new owner, Dominic Speakman, decided to “freshen up” the club’s image. He changed their name to Leigh Genesis, changed their colours from their traditional red and white to white and black and had a new badge designed that looked like it might have been a cast-off from the designers of the logo for the Xbox 360. The club’s future, we were told, was safe. Genesis were due to move out of Hilton Park, which they had been sharing with the Leigh Centurions rugby league club and into a brand new, 10,000 capacity stadium at a place ominously called Leigh Sports Village. Nothing, we were told, could possibly go wrong. When Chris Taylor at It’ll Be Off voiced his concerns with his traditional (cough) deftness of touch, some of their supporters were more than happy to tell him exactly what they thought of him. As it turns out, however, the whole bizarre experiment has lasted approximately four months. Speakman has today confirmed that he will have to pull the plug on all funding for the club. Their very existence now hangs in the balance.
What went wrong at Leigh, then? The answer to this seems to be a combination of problems. Firstly, the club had to start the season at Chorley FC’s Victory Park ground, after it became apparent that the playing surface at Hilton Park, now vacated by Leigh Centurions, wasn’t up to scratch. Delays in the completion of the new stadium meant the club have ended up leading a nomadic existence, playing matches wherever they could. Crowds, which were never one of Leigh’s strong points in the first place, have fallen even further, down twenty-five per cent to an average of just 150 this season. Disputes between the builders, developers and the council, however, have meant that more or less no work has been carried out at Leigh Sports Village for six weeks now, and the club were recently told that the absolute earliest date that they would be able to play their first match there would be the thirteenth of December, and that not even this was definite. With practically no revenue coming into the club, such a delay was calamitous.
The final tipping point, however, came last week, with a visit from the council’s health and safety committee. They confirmed that, with a 10,000 capacity stadium requiring forty-five stewards to keep it operational, the cost of operating the stadium would be a jaw-dropping £3,000 per match. Even if moving there doubled home crowds, their total gate receipts, on a match-by-match basis, wouldn’t even cover the cost of managing the new stadium on match days. The players have, reportedly, all now been told that they have been released, and will play one final match together on Saturday before leaving for good. One could stop and wonder how all of this was not considered earlier. The cost of the “re-branding” exercise during the summer was very high, and the club eschewed valuable shirt sponsorship money in favour of plastering their new name across the fronts of their shirts instead. They took on a full-time manager and players on large wages without, it would seem, any substantial money coming into the club.
The best that Speakman could manage on the club’s forum today was to say that:
“What I did was give the club another nine months that it otherwise wouldn’t have had”
Never mind the fact that thousands of pounds of money was wasted on something unnecessary during the summer, or that no-one stopped to think that the operating costs of playing at a very large stadium would be considerably higher than they had been paying before. Never mind that no-one seems to have given any consideration to the fact that if you run a club at a massive loss with practically no income and without having even given any consideration to the operating costs of having to use a 10,000 capacity stadium every week, you are highly unlikely to survive more than a few weeks.
Ultimately, there is no crowing going on here. A football club seems likely to die, and the likelihood is that this will happen before this season is even over. There may only be a couple of hundred of them, but Leigh’s supporters will grieve the death of their club as much as anyone. It matters as much to them as yours does to you. There is, however, an opportunity here for the club’s support. They could organise themselves into a Supporters Trust and run themselves. They may have to drop several levels, but they will ultimately have a club of their own that they can run. They could call it, I don’t know, Leigh RMI or something like that. There is no reason at all why a sensibly run club can’t get by at a lower level with a core support of two hundred people. That way, they could lay the body of Leigh Genesis to rest with an epitapth saying:
“Here Lies Leigh Genesis. Yet More Proof , As If It Were Needed, That Supposed Benefactors Aren’t Always The Great Saviours That They Crack Themselves Up To Be.”
The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, indeed.
Further Reading: How it was reported on here in the summer.