Weymouth & Walter Mitty
Some of you will be familiar with a short story called “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty”. Written by James Thurber shortly before the start of World War II, it is the story of a downtrodden, middle-aged man who escapes from the drudgery of his life by escaping into the fantasy world of his imagination. The story was catapulted into being one of the most famous short stories ever written when it was made into a film starring Danny Kaye, and Mitty’s name has become synonymous with fantasists and, somewhat disingenuously, since Mitty’s adventures were always confined to the boundaries of his imagination, with serial liars. Football has had its share too – Michael Knighton famously ran onto the pitch at Old Trafford in the belief that he had bought Manchester United for £10m, whilst Spencer Trethewy managed to get himself onto “Wogan” while running Aldershot into the ground with promises of money that he didn’t have.
In the case of Stephen Beer, however, it seems as if the nickname is wholly appropriate. He wandered into the limelight when he appeared from out of nowhere with an audacious attempt to buy into Weymouth Football Club last week. There was one small problem with his interest, though. He didn’t have anything like the backing to see it through. The case of Weymouth is something that we have covered on here before. The club, heavily in debt, has sailed close to the brink of insolvency frequently over the last two years or so, but matters seemed to come to a head just before Christmas, when chairman Malcolm Curtis, having sold himself the land immediately surrounding the club’s Wessex Stadium, pulled the plug. The club made national headlines when they were forced to field a youth team for a home BSP match against Rushden & Diamonds, which they lost 9-0.
Enter stage left Stephen Beer. A contract cleaner, Beer promised £300,000 to help clear the club’s debts and a bright new future for the club. In one of the stranger pronouncements of the season (and he has some pretty strong competition here), he stated that he decided to do this out of Christian charity. The club carried out some cursory due diligence, checking him at Companies House and on the Insolvency Service register of bankrupts and his name didn’t show, but no-one at The Wessex Stadium seemed too bothered about the fact that, while Beer wasn’t insolvent, there was very little to prove that he had the funds. When Beer gave the club a cheque – unusual in itself, since most large financial transactions of this sort are paid by bank transfer or bankers draft, since these are automatically cleared funds – it had spelling mistakes and Tippex on it. The bank refused to cash it.
Never mind, said Beer, and gave the club a strict assurance that the funds would be paid by bank transfer. A press conference was announced for last Tuesday lunchtime, but by the day before rumours were starting to circulate that Beer had been sniffing around several football clubs in the south-west of England but turned away because no-one involved in the running of the other clubs felt that he could come good with the money that he was promising. On the morning of the press conference, presumably suffering from the stress of it all, he suffered a minor stroke on the way to the club and the press conference was cancelled. Beer has subsenquently “pulled out” of the deal, claiming that he was unaware of the full extent of the club’s problems – surprising, really, considering that everyone else in football has been fully aware of them for months if not years, now.
Weymouth have been remarkably unlucky in their owners over the last few years. Martyn Harrison pulled out of the club at the start of 2007 when the pressure of paying full-time wages getting the club into the BSP. His successor, Mel Bush, was little more successful, and his replacement, Malcolm Curtis, gave every impression of being more interested in the land upon which their stadium stands than the day to day running of a football club. On this occasion, Weymouth may be a little red-faced, but they have at least come out of it all stronger than before. In the wake of all of this, their chief executive Gary Calder (Calder is a man that has whose links to people that have been involved in non-league football for some time have hardly instilled confidence in him) has resigned, but yet another consortium has stepped forward to take control of the club. Paul Cocks and Shaun Hennessy are local businessmen who seem to have the means to be able to stabilise the club, and their early statements regarding running the club at a sustainable level are also a cause for cautious optimism.
The ultimate irony comes with their first significant appointment – Ian Ridley is back as the chairman of the club. Ridley was, depending on who you talk to at Weymouth, the cause of many of their problems or the first man in a generation to recognise the latent potential in the club. Ridley brought Steve Claridge in at great expense and invited television cameras in to follow everything going on, but things turned sour and he was ousted in a boardroom coup which was the beginning of the timeline that has led the club to where it is now. Ridley was widely insulted over his concerns at the way that the club was being run by Weymouth supporters who supported his successor, Martyn Harrison, but the majority of his predictions came to pass and their reaction to his reappointment will be interesting to say the least. There is a sense of disappointment that the club has again fallen into the hands of private individuals rather than being run by its own supporters, but it’s likely that the Terras Trust took one look at the figures and realised that they wouldn’t be able to do it alone and, for now at least, the new directors are making the right noises on the subject of how they intend to run the club. Weymouth still aren’t completely home and dry yet, but their future seems more secure. Has this soap opera finally arrived at a happy ending? Let’s give it a couple of years and see.