A Phoenix With Trimmed Wings: Farnborough FC’s New Reality
The fifteenth of May must have felt like a long time ago for the supporters of Farnborough FC on Tuesday night. On that particular day, Farnborough stood at the cusp of a place in the Blue Square Premier. Having finished in second place in the Blue Square South behind champions Braintree Town, they started their play-off final with home advantage and as the favourites to beat Ebbsfleet United. Their visitors, however, hadn’t been reading this particular version of the script, won the match by four goals to two and Farnborough FC has given the distinct feeling of being in a downward spiral ever since.
If we fast forward to Tuesday night, the reality of the club’s current position was thrust into the national spotlight in the harshest possible way. As if a lengthy midweek trip from Hampshire to Cornwall wasn’t enough of an endurance test in itself, the half-time scoreline giving a seven-one lead to Truro City surely only compounded the agony during what has been a difficult season for the club so far. The team rallied in the second half, but the final score saw them surrender by eight goals to two. One can only imagine how the long journey back from that match must have felt.
The result left Farnborough in nineteenth place in the Blue Square South table, just three points above the relegation places. But how has a team that might have been – and very nearly were – playing Blue Square Premier football this season come to find itself fighting against relegation this time around? After all, Farnborough FC is a “phoenix club”, reformed as recently as the summer of 2007 after the protracted failure of Farnborough Town. The new club has been successful on the pitch, winning its way back to the cusp of the Blue Square Premier in just four years. Off the pitch, however, it has seen rumours concerning its financial position solidify into fact with the news, reported during the summer, that owner Simon Collis could no longer fund the club’s growth.
This led to an inevitable cutting of costs at the club. Their accounts to the end of June 2010 – which, to its credit, the club did make available through its website, but which are also available elsewhere – showed it to be struggling financially, with directors loans having kept it afloat. It was already common knowledge that Farnborough had finished in second place in the table last season whilst under a transfer embargo and they were also hit with a winding up order from HMRC during the summer, although this was also cleared straight away and the case was not heard. The changes came in several forms, with a clear-out of players and the departure of manager Steve King (who returned to the south coast and the Ryman League with Lewes), who was replaced by the former Hayes & Yeading United manager Garry Haylock.
The accounts make for interesting reading, with debts at the time of £42,000 to the bank and £358,000 to trade creditors, presumably for work that had been done to the ground (the club had been spending heavily on renovating its ground and this development – which was due to involve the purchase of a stand once used at Feethams by Darlington FC and kept in storage since that club left – remains unfinished), with losses of around £120,000 for the year to the end of June 2010 – roughly . In other words, losses were being upheld by loans into the club from directors. Collis himself has stated that the club was tied to two year long contracts for players that it couldn’t get out of. These, however, are believed to have been sorted out during the summer with the club having adjusted its playing budget down accordingly.
Still, though, Collis has his shareholding in the club up for sale, and until this uncertainty over the club’s future is resolved, it seems unlikely that Farnborough will hit anything like the heights that they managed last season for a while. There will, however, be some that will be wondering about the FA’s rule on relegating clubs by only two divisions when they fold. Farnborough FC has had two promotions and one season of having been beaten in the play-offs since the club restarted, but it is not difficult to wonder how many times clubs could conceivably enter into a boom and bust cycle unless these rules are reviewed. In retaining close ties with the Farnborough Supporters Trust, trimming the wage budget and putting his shareholding in the club up for sale, Simon Hollis is doing the right thing, as opposed to attempting to spend his way out of the hole in which the club has found itself, although questions may be asked over how – if ever – local businesses will be repaid what they are owed for services rendered.
Farnborough Football Club will find its level, but whether that is in the Blue Square South or a level lower by the end of this season we do not currently know. Supporters still traumatised from Tuesday night’s result may wish to pause and consider how far their club has come in just over four years, with two league wins and two play-off finishes achieved and their ground – although not yet completed – unrecognisable from the ground that it was when the old club went bust. It is to be hoped that the club’s fortunes will begin to turn towards stability. After all, the supporters of this club have been through all of this before and would not, presumably, want a repeat of the traumatic events of 2007. Getting back to the Blue Square South might not necessarily prove to be quite as easy if they had to repeat the exercise.
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