All’s Fair in Lovering’s War: Barry Town’s Struggle
Nearly ten years ago, Barry Town were celebrating their sixth Welsh Cup win at the expense of Cwmbran Town. This was the third season in succession that they had claimed not just the Welsh Cup, but also the Welsh Premier League title. The end of that very successful era saw a change that would lead the club to a war within and, as it stands today, a fight for their very existence.
Enter Stuart Lovering, the club’s supposed saviour. Following the success of 2003, Barry were crippled by mounting debts and an administration that resulted in the loss of the majority of players and backroom staff that had helped them to the summit of the Welsh Premier. Stuart Lovering bought Barry Town in December of 2003 and attempted to have the fans warm to him by giving the impression that he would be conscious of his responsibilities as club owner. He is quoted as saying, “Killing a town’s football club is one of the most disheartening events that can happen to any community”. Recent events suggest that during the last ten years, Lovering lost heart.
With Barry Town all but relegated from the Welsh Premier in 2004, Lovering sounded his ambition for the club. He proudly announced that he has a vision to emulate European clubs like Real Sociedad and had plans to build a 40,000 capacity stadium. This was the just one in a long line of erratic announcements and decisions that saw Barry Town become increasingly uncomfortable with its owner.
Lovering’s actions read like the behaviour of a man lacking in common sense and borderline tyrannical. In 2004 he discussed fielding himself in a fixture towards the close of the season. He increased ticket prices despite relegation, making Barry Town the most expensive team to watch in Welsh domestic football. He stopped fundraising for the club at Jenner Park and banned supporters from using the club house for meetings. He spent thousands rebranding the club even though it proved unpopular. He reveals a new line of Barry Town merchandise which includes Barry Town branded thongs. He drastically cuts the playing budget which leads to the resignation of the manager and director at the club, Lovering then brings in a new management team and subsequently increases the playing budget.
Lovering ends 2004 by refusing to settle debts with the local council, despite a contribution by the Supporter’s Club, and opts to move playing activities to first Port Talbot and then Treforest, which would leave any supporter from Barry with a forty mile round trip to watch a home game.
Stuart Lovering’s bizarre behaviour continued over the course of the next few years. 2005 saw him put the club up for sale for the first time, grossly overvalued at £400,000. Lovering had bought the club for £125,000 two years prior to this. In 2006 he asked local businesses to pay off Barry Town’s debts to the local council, unsurprisingly, this didn’t happen. The club was relegated to its lowest ever league status in 2007, later on in the year Lovering put the club up for sale again, this time valued at £495,000.
In 2008, Lovering made a threat to pull the team from the Welsh League if a sale was not made in five weeks. He had reduced his asking price to £250,000, which was still twice what he’d paid for the club, but he was unable to find a buyer. The deadline passed and the threats to remove the club from the league proved to be empty, but this was not the last time Lovering would make such a threat.
Barry Town Supporters’ Committee was set up in January 2009, this group would take care of matters to do with match day organisation on a non-profit basis. Lovering requests that all income be declared to him, the BTSC rightfully refuse.
Football continued at Jenner Park under the stewardship of the BTSC, with the odd interference from the callous owner (a full list of offences can be found here). Recent successes include Welsh Cup victories over Merthyr Tydfil and Haverfordwest which led to a third round tie against Newport County. The game ended 3-2 in Newport’s favour but a steely Barry Town made it a highly competitive game. This season also saw them get to the semi-final of the Welsh Cup, beaten by eventual winners, Prestatyn Town.
Stuart Lovering was not to be ignored and in October of 2012, he once again requested the removal of Barry Town from the Welsh League. His request was rejected, the league citing that only the club secretary can take such action. So, Lovering began the process of appointing himself as club secretary.
By January of 2013, Lovering had successfully made himself club secretary. In the interim, he had put the club for sale on Zoopla for £160,000 and, shortly after the club had celebrated its centenary, sacked the much loved manager, Gavin Chesterfield (although the BTSC refuse to recognise this and Chesterfield continues in the role). In March, Lovering delivered a contract to the BTSC that made demands which were seen as unfair and as such, they rejected it. It has since been rewritten a number of times, but on each occasion, very little difference can be discerned. One BTSC member stated, “It is not a mutually agreed contract but a ludicrous piece of dictat”.
Amidst the rewriting and rejecting of contracts, Lovering also made an attempt to claim Barry Town’s prize money from getting to the semi-final of the Welsh Cup. The BTSC had funded this cup run in its entirety and as a result of this dispute; the unpaid players of Barry Town had an end of season tour cancelled.
Within the last few weeks, Stuart Lovering has started to make real on his threats. Recently the Under-19’s team was withdrawn from their league; Lovering claimed that this was due to a lack of players. The BTSC has confirmed that there were seventeen players to pick from for the team’s remaining fixtures. This has affected the remaining thirteen teams in the league as Barry Town’s Under-19’s results have had to be expunged.
On Tuesday night, earlier this week, Barry Town’s senior team were due to play Ton Pentre at Jenner Park. Stuart Lovering contacted Ton Pentre, match officials, the Welsh League and the local council informing them that the match will not be going ahead. There was no cause for the fixture to be cancelled and Lovering’s actions went against the wishes of the BTSC.
It appears that Lovering is doing all he can to disrupt Barry Town, perhaps hoping that it will force the BTSC’s hand and make them sign a deeply unfair contract. The Welsh League is holding a meeting on Monday May 13th, and Barry Town’s dilemma will be on the agenda. The club’s withdrawal from the league with only two games to go would greatly affect league standings with all their results being expunged.
The BTSC, fans of the club and the thousands of sympathisers from around the world that have contacted BTSC via social media will hope that one man’s folly does not end the story here for Barry Town.
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