Fear & Loathing At Coronation Park: What Is Going On At Eastwood?
Something may or may not be going on at Eastwood Town Football Club but it’s increasingly difficult to make any sense of the situation.
To quote Donald Rumsfeld:
“There are known knowns; there are things we know we know.
“We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.
“But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
He might have been on about weapons of mass destruction or the war on terror or something but it could easily be applied to recent events surrounding Coronation Park and it seems fans at the Nottinghamshire club are fast running out of patience with rumours and speculation about the ownership.
Last Thursday’s announcement from former Nottingham Forest defender Nigel Jemson that he is NOT involved in a takeover follows a similar (initial) rebuff from Halesowen investor Steve Lynch after it was reported in the local press (and briefly on the club’s official website) that he had become the majority shareholder at Eastwood.
It was followed by another statement from owner/manager Jamie Brough that he and his directors were preparing to walk away from the club. He told the Eastwood Advertiser that Lynch was heading another consortium which was buying the club, which Lynch has since confirmed, despite the fact he also owns a big slice of midlands side (and former star of Clubs in Crisis) Halesowen. On Thursday a statement appeared on the club’s official website confirming that Brough and coach Jason Maguire were both leaving, with immediate effect. The statement about Maguire then disappeared.
Brough said: “I’m stepping down from my position in light of the fact new owners are set to be in place by the weekend, though even should that deal collapse I will still be leaving,” before hitting out at ‘backstabbers’ surrounding the club. Club captain Steve Istead took charge on Saturday when the Badgers lost to FC Halifax.
In the past few weeks it’s all been more Coronation Street than Coronation Park for the Badgers and there is still a haze on uncertainty hanging over the place, so it might be a good starting point to clear up the ‘known knowns.’
This much we know for certain:
- Jamie Brough is no longer manager.
- Co-manager Craig Armstrong walked out after nine games, announced he’d quit on Twitter (he’s since deleted the tweet but his feed still makes for interesting reading) and signed for Conference North rivals Boston
- CEO Neil Vanderwalt also quit, a week after Armstrong
- On September 30 the club’s website announced Steve Lynch, majority shareholder at Halesowen, was the new majority shareholder, a story also appeared in the Nottingham Evening Post, he was briefly listed as a director and then his name was removed from the director list.
- By October 1 the statement had disappeared and Mr Lynch had told the Eastwood and Halesowen fans’ forums that he was no longer involved, saying: “I was under the impression I was taking over the club but as events have unfolded this was really only 50% and as I have no intention of battling or causing a long drawn out circus that will only harm the club i have chosen to step back out of the way to allow a deal to be done.”
- On October 6 ex-Forest star Jemson admitted he had been part of another takeover bid but that it had gone “pear shaped.” He told the Nottingham Evening Post: “I was going to go in as manager and also general manager, running the club on a day-to-day basis. But, sadly, it’s all fallen through now.”
- As of October 7 Steve Lynch is back, in some form and wants to take on the club, but has admitted to ThisIsNottingham this morning that he only owns a 50% share.
- Chris Brindley was named as a potential manager on Friday but as of today is no longer in the running.
- A second company called M and MJR ltd is also registered to the Coronation Park address, it’s director is Jamie Brough.
There are plenty of known unknowns too, including:
- How many shares of the club are owned by the various directors.
- What is planned in the long term for the club.
- What is the position of the supporters association in all of this, given they had formed a 10-strong consortium to take control of the club at one point last week.
- How Lynch, if he indeed owns the club, can get away with owning/being financially involved two football clubs given the stringent FA rules?
- Who else has been offered the club, given Brough’s comments: “I’ve met with various potential owners and supporters over the last week, and a deal has been put forward with a consortium who have finances available and are committed to taking Eastwood Town forward and making it very much a community club, which is what a number of fans wanted.”
- What state the club finances are in given Jemson’s assessment that part of the reason his takeover didn’t happen was because: “It’s down to finance. They have no commercial side to speak of, no match-day sponsors and rely on gate receipts and takings from the bar.”
The unknown unknowns don’t really bear thinking about.
It is fair to say last seven months have been a little hectic at Coronation Park. Rewind back to April and the Badgers were in a play-off position, on a 19 game unbeaten run. Then the Conference bigwigs kindly told them sorry, no chance of you lot playing in the play-offs because you haven’t got the ground grading. The small print, as is the case so often with these situations, was the key. Coronation Park has the correct number of seats for the league (B grading), but they are spread across three stands and not two, so therefore the A grading needed for the league above was not met. It’s probably not helpful to point out that the average gate at Coronation Park is below the number of seats anyway, that’s not really the point.
Anyway Eastwood appealed and lost, and the then chairman Tony Minnis and director Rob Young put the club up for sale. They’d already endured discussions with the local council about other niggles (car parking, access, signage) and the row with the Conference was the last straw. Minnis told the Nottingham press he’d “reached the point of no return.”
The club was to be sold for a nominal fee of £1 with zero debt, a rarity for a non-league club in this day and age.
And so Eastwood Town Football Club was sold on June 1 this year and the company Eastwood Town FC ltd registered to Jamie Brough, Rachel Thornton and Stephen Thornton. The Thornton’s were removed from the director’s list at the beginning of September.
Minnis said at the time in a club statement:
“Jamie along with other board directors, who will be joining, has significant experience within League and non-League football. The board has great long-term plans for the club and I can honestly say that I believe that they will invest the time and effort that is required in order to take the club forward.”
The fact that the club or shares in it have been offered for sale with less than half Brough’s first season played does call into question the talk of long term planning. Anyway when Brough bought the club he took on the role of first team manager and brought in former Forest, Huddersfield Town and more recently Forest Green Rovers defender Craig Armstrong as his co-manager. Armstrong’s strong contacts brought in some experienced players, like former Cheltenham Town defender Gavin Caines and Eastwood started the season well, they even took a point off breakaway league leaders Hyde.
But for some reason last month this turned sour.
Armstrong has not spoken publicly about his reasons for leaving the club, he had stated previously his friendship with Brough and in particular with Vanderwalt who was brought in as CEO in part thanks to his experience with working with local schools and councils on football community projects but his Twitter feed suggests he is no longer getting on too well with Brough.
There has been little news from official channels in the past few weeks – perhaps the cause of some of the unknown unknowns and speculation – and what little news has been released has been vague or contradictory, two different papers have reported different takeovers in the past week, one fell through, the other could now be a done deal but has not been officially confirmed.
The official website which had not been updated in over a week before Thursday’s announcement, eagerly anticipating the previous weekend’s FA Cup tie which saw the Badgers crash out at the hands of Evesham. The banner on the home page suggests that this site is ‘for the facts not the fiction’ – yet seems to have little in the way of recent information, statements have appeared and disappeared. The fact that Lynch announced he was no longer involved in the deal (the first one) and was involved with the second deal via an online forum is hardly reassuring, at least Brough acknowledged the lack of communication in his interview with the Eastwood Advertiser but for some fans it is too little too late.
Many seem to have got what they wanted with Brough now gone as manager but the lack of clarity over ownership, future direction and management of the team still leaves a fair amount of unknown knowns and unknown unknowns still out there.