Stockport County Take-Over Stalls Over A Lack Of Detail

By on Sep 13, 2011 in Finance, Latest, Non-League | 5 comments

Stockport County entertain Grimsby Town at Edgeley Park in the Blue Square Premier on Saturday in a match which hints at the extent to which the fortunes of clubs can wax and wane over a period of time. Ten years ago, both clubs were in what we now know as the Championship. They start this evening as non-league clubs, and not exceptionally successful ones on the basis of their starts to the season. Grimsby Town found last season that this division was tougher than they might have anticipated it being and this season has been little better, while Stockport, who had started the season optimistic that a quick return to the Football League might be on the cards after several seasons in the doldrums, are learning a similarly tough lesson.

The two clubs will kick off  in fifteenth and sixteenth place in the table, and may even have cause to look at the top ten of the league table and wonder how it come to pass that they would ever get to be below the likes of Gateshead, Braintree Town and Tamworth. For the home side, though, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that whatever happens on the pitch tonight will be upstaged by what is going on in the club’s boardroom at the moment. We covered the ongoing sense of unease at Edgeley Park a couple of times over the course of the summer, but the situation at Stockport is worth revisiting because of the recent news that the take-over of the club by Liverpool-based businessman Anthony Evans is already at the point of collapse.

Evans’ bid for the club began with the sort of fanfare that most clubs outside of the Football League would consider most out of the ordinary. The 2015 Consortium had purchased the club from administration after a disastrous spell of ownership at the hands of the club’s supporters trust in 2009, but they were unable to prevent the club tumbling down from League Two at the end of last season. There were, however, causes for optimism during the lazy months of the summer. The sale of Anthony Pilkington from Norwich City to Huddersfield Town for £2m earned Stockport a tidy add-on fee and the arrival of Dietmar Hamann as the club’s new manager also indicated that this was a club that had little intention of hanging around in the fifth division for very long.

Since the start of the season, however, things haven’t gone according to plan for the club. The team’s form in the league has been patchy – the club has won one and drawn six of its opening eight matches of the season, and that sole win came four weeks ago – and, arguably more troublingly, the wheels have already started to come off the Evans take-over bandwagon. Some Stockport supporters could have been forgiven for believing that this take-over had already been completed as Evans has spent much of the last couple of months acting very much as the public face of the club, but the truth is that this take-over had begun to stall not long after it had become a matter of sitting down to discuss it with the 2015 Consortium, and confirmation that talks had broken down came from from the club’s chairman, Lord Peter Snape.

According to Snape, there were two main bones of contention that were impossible to overcome. Firstly, there was the matter of £200,000 which Evans felt that the club’s current directors should put into the football club with immediate effect. Evans felt that this was a debt that should be repaid by the 2015 Consortium, but the consortium itself was of the opinion that this amount of money was related to the day-to-day running costs of the club, and that they would not be putting this money into the club. The second question was an arguably more contentious one. Lord Snape, in the clearest possible terms, stated that the current directors of the club didn’t even know who the backers behind Evans’ consortium were. “The shareholders, at this time, still do not know the composition of the Tony Evans’ consortium. This information is essential before any transaction goes ahead”, he said.

This question might not have been quite so much of an issue, were it not for Evans’ links to the disgraced former owner of Barrow AFC, Chester City and Widnes Vikings RFLC, Stephen Vaughan Senior. Vaughan is currently disqualified from acting as a company director and is currently serving fifteen months at Her Majesty’s pleasure after breaking a police officer’s cheek in April 2010. Evans repeatedly stated that Vaughan is nothing to do with this take-over, but his apparent reluctance to name the backers of the consortium (although he does claim to have named them to one share-holder, who cannot repeat who is involved for reasons of confidentiality) has been a cause for concern for some County supporters. What, we may reasonably ask, is the big deal over the details of these backers that it could become a deal-breaker in terms of reaching agreement with the 2015 Consortium?

By this lunchtime, the BBC was reporting that the Evans take-over was dead in the water, although the man himself stated in an interview with BBC Radio Manchester this morning that, “If we want to decide and come back and try and purchase the club outright then we’ll make a statement accordingly”, which would seem to indicate that he intends to leave his foot in the door in the pursuit of some sort of compromise with the club’s current owners. Whether such a compromise will be possible is, of course, very much open to question, but the truth of the matter is that, for better or for worse, the Evans take-over of the club seems over, for the time being at least.

As such, all eyes at Edgeley Park will turn back to the 2015 Consortium. The club should, in theory at least, be in a reasonable financial position. Attendances have out-stripped many pre-season expectations, and it is also worth bearing in mind that this was a club that should have been debt-free when it exited administration in 2009. If Stockport County has started running up losses again now, however, the question of whether these are losses that the 2015 Consortium will be prepared to continue to fund is a valid one. For the supporters of the club, then, it seems likely that the uncertainty over its future – which has been going on for more years than most care to remember – will be continuing for the time being, at least.

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    5 Comments

  1. Well, what a huge surprise. Seemed a good bloke, that Tony Evans, with all the right contacts. When will they ever learn?

    Bath City fan

    September 13, 2011

  2. Whilst the way it ended under the Trust’s ownership was poor, they were sinned against more than sinning. And, despite running a club with NSF all control of it’s former asset, the still managed one of only 6 promotions the club has achieved in it’s history.

    Dave

    September 14, 2011

  3. The £200k that they’ve argued about is costs that have been run up as a result of decisions Evans made, so they’re quite right to expect his side to cover those costs.

    Those costs are the important thing here – plenty of money has had to be spent to get in the likes of Hamann and a number of decent players. Those costs would surely have left us over budget, even with Evans coming in. And there would be even more similar costs throughout the season, as it’s not much of a secret that the whole plan to keep the club going along until a deal can be done for a new stadium in a year or two – hence there being a number of property-types who have shareholdings in the club.

    There absolutely must be something else in the wings – the shareholders wouldn’t call his bluff & then risk the club going into administration again in a few months. Not only would the shareholders lose out on their original investment, they’d lose the stadium proposal.

    Sean

    September 14, 2011

  4. Football fans get the owners they deserve.

    Nathan Jones

    September 15, 2011

  5. ^ So those of us in Stockport who stick by our local team deserve a yearly rotation of owners who are at best accidentally negligent & at worst wilfully so, whereas those in our town who ignore their local team deserve Arab billionaires giving them Champion’s League football?

    That doesn’t quite work for me.

    Sean

    September 16, 2011

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