Truro Citys Unexpected £700,000 Headache
The end of last summer didn’t work out too well for Kevin Heaney, the property-developing owner of Blue Square Bet South side Truro City, when his attempts to by Plymouth Argyle out of administration failed after repeated promises to come good with the money for the purchase never came to fruition. And this summer may well end up coming to an unhappy end for him as well, after a winding up order issued against the club by HMRC took a turn for the strange at the High Court in London on Monday. The club was issued with its first winding up in order by HMRC in September of last year over an amount understood to be in the region of £100,000 but, after a deferral to January of this year, this debt was paid off and the petition was dismissed.
The clubs difficulties didn’t end there, though. At the end of March, HMRC issued a second winding up petition that is understood to have been for an amount in the region of £51,000. In the meantime, things at the club were far from harmonious. Members of the Truro Independent Supporters Association were banned from entering the clubs Treyew Road ground at the start of last season, whilst there were persistent rumours of players and other staff not being paid. Considering this (and with a transfer embargo in place), it could be considered quite an achievement that manager Lee Hodges managed to guide the team to a fourteenth place finish in the league last season, but whilst the close season is usually a quiet time for most non-league clubs, the same could hardly be said for this one.
At the next court hearing, on the thirtieth of April, the club was reprieved for a further fifty-six days, and at the hearing earlier this week this second claim was also dismissed, the presumption being that the second outstanding tax bill has also now been paid in full. However, at the hearing four other creditors turned up and requested that they be substituted as petitioners against the club. The hearing has now been adjourned until the twenty-third of July, but the real surprise is the identity of one of those that has taken over the petition. One unnamed creditor is claiming a debt of over £40,000, one is FBT Sport UK, who supplied the teams kit last season and claims to be owed around £18,500, a third is Lexlaw Solicitors of London (who were, ironically enough, the company that represented the club in the matter of the first winding up petition last year), but it is the identity of the fourth – and the amount of money concerned – that has caused the most concern and confusion amongst supporters of the club.
That fourth creditor is a company called Tiger Commercial (Truro) Ltd, and their claim is for an eye-watering £645,000. But who are Tiger Commercial (Truro) Ltd, and what could Truro City possibly owe them this amount of money for? The first of these two questions is easy enough to answer. Tiger Commercial (Truro) Ltd was set up in 2009 by one Chris Lingard, a managing party of Heaney and Truro Citys former solicitors Follett Stock, with the express intention being licensed to use the club’s name and ground. Heaney said at the time that, “I shall have nothing to do with the day-to-day running of the commercial side of things”, although it was reported at the time that he had retained the leasehold to Treyew Road itself.
The reason for the clubs need to raise extra money at the time was clear enough. Heaney stated himself in June 2009 that, “The club costs in excess of £400,000 a year to run in players’ wages alone” (consider that this statement was made three years ago and that there are a good number of Blue Square Premier clubs paying wages of little more than £500,000 on wages per year even now), and players had been required to defer part of their wages during the previous season, but with the stated plans of the time amounting to little more than a revamp of the clubhouse, the reintroduction of a park & walk service, the hope of live music shows “for up to 10,000 people”, appealing to businesses and individuals to sponsor the ground, players shirts and advertising boards, the benefit of hindsight – and the financial difficulties that the club clearly had last season – would seem to indicate that this plan was never likely to be a great success.
The second question, however, is considerably more difficult to answer. What on earth could Truro City owe Tiger Commercial (Truro) Ltd £645,000 for? This is an enormous amount of money for a Blue Square Bet South side to have spent on anything but the short answer is that, gossip aside, we don’t know. Heaney has disputed this debt – as he has the other three that have joined the petition – but the question of what benefit any creditor would get from taking on a winding up petition if they were unable to substantiate the amount of money that they were claiming remains unanswered, as does the small matter of whether two separate solicitors – one of which is a specialist in insolvency proceedings and states on its on website that they are “regularly instructed in Winding-Up Petitions and have the expertise in both bringing and defending petitions” – would continue such action without having the documentary evidence to prove their claims.
All of this leaves us with, as is so common in these cases, more questions than answers. The Stadium For Cornwall, which Truro City were due to be sharing with the Cornish Pirates rugby club and Truro & Penwith College will not, it was confirmed by Cornwall Council at the end of May, be receiving any public money towards its construction and is expected to cost between £14m and £24m to build. Truro City are due to be tenants under this arrangements, but the circus of the last nine months or so has delayed the commencement of work on the new stadium and the other partners in this project could be forgiven for wondering whether it is worth having this club involved in the project at all. The stadium, the public have been repeatedly told, will be built in the fullness of time. What sort of club Truro City will be by the time it is completed is not a question that is easy to answer at this stage, though.
Meanwhile, what will happen between now and the next court hearing for Truro City? If they enter into administration, could that effectively be considered admittance of the debt and would Tiger Commercial (Truro) Ltd, who would surely have a blocking vote in any proposal, be amenable to any CVA proposal put forward under such circumstances? Or is the club so certain of the non-existence of these debts that it will take its chances in court in four weeks time? Might he even chance his arm with a pre-pack administration, as George Rolls did with Kettering Town, and what might the FA and the Football Conference make of this? As it has done before, Kevin Heaneys involvement in football is provoking a considerable amount of head-scratching and eyebrow-raising in non-league circles this week. Truro City supporters will be praying that he plays his hand right over the next few days or weeks.
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