Disunity & Mistrust: Another Typical Summer In The Weymouth Boardroom
A club that has never been far from the radar of this site for the entirety of its existence, the ongoing travails of Weymouth Football Club has been one of the more enduring stories in non-league football circles of the last ten years or so. The story of what has happened to this club since its boom and bust years of the middle part of the last decade are too convoluted to go into here, but over the last couple of seasons it has at last started to feel as if the club might finally have found itself on a somewhat more secure footing than it had in its recent past. True enough, the Premier Division of the Southern Football League might not be the height of football sophistication, but the club seemed to have stabilised off the pitch, which was a start, and a ninth placed finish in the league table last season might have offered some optimism that a club with the potential of Weymouth – four figure crowds were, after all, a regular feature of the club’s rise to the Conference National a few years back – might be starting to regain a little of its poise.
All of this makes the recent machinations at the club seem all the more surprising than they might otherwise have done. Although it only opened twenty-six years ago, it has long been understood that the club’s Bob Lucas Stadium is an unsatisfactory home for the club. In terms of its facilities there is little wrong with it that a lick of paint wouldn’t sort out, but its location is inconvenient, and furthermore the complicated machinations that took place behind the scenes at the club while it was at the lowest of the several ebbs that it has suffered in recent years have left the club’s future tenure at the ground uncertain. The most notable of these was a land deal agreed at the end of October 2008 which transferred the ownership of land surrounding the ground to a company called Wessex Delivery Partnership, a company set up by the club’s former chairman Malcolm Curtis in partnership with Morgan Sindall Investments.
Plans to move the club to a new site, however, have continued to be contentious. Wessex Delivery Partnership has an option to acquire the Bob Lucas Stadium in exchange for providing a new stadium within five miles of the current ground to be at a build cost of £7million plus grants and to Football League standards, with this option in place for fifteen years from 2008, when the agreement was signed. The club, however, feels that the current preferred site at Lodmoor is unsuitable for environmental reasons and because of its susceptibility to flooding, but WDP claims that a condition survey carried out in 2010 demonstrated that The Bob Lucas Stadium needs £500,000 worth of repairs spending on it, and a further £300,000 over a period of five years. The club disputes this, though, and states that it would prefer to stay where it is, but on a redeveloped site with improved community facilities.
If the club is to fight this land deal, however, what is the best way to do so? After all, Morgan Sindall would reasonably be expected to have deeper pockets than the club, so any legal challenge to it has to be the right one. Considering all of this – not to mention the assortment of characters that have passed through the club’s doors in recent years – it might have come as some surprise for supporters and share-holders of the club to find that the club’s chairman, Nigel Biddlecombe, had been talking to one Steven Beasant about a deal to challenge his particular land grab, and Beasant is a man with something of a history. He had previously been involved with a consortium that had attempted to purchase Weymouth in November 2009, in a role that was described as “purely a consultant on behalf of the consortium.”
There was good reason for the use of such euphemism. Beasant had been declared bankrupt on New Year’s Eve of the previous year following the collapse of two of his previous companies with debts of a little under £10m and, amid rumour at the time that there was more to this bankruptcy than met the eye, he was quoted at the time as saying, “There is nothing hidden away – no money elsewhere – like some have suggested. I have to just focus now on keeping going, keeping my head above water and keeping myself alive.” At the time of this attempted take-over, his bankruptcy was still undischarged and he would have been unable to take a directorship of the club by law.
Less than a year after his discharge from bankruptcy he arrived at Rushden & Diamonds with Gary Calder, a previous Chief Executive of Weymouth and also the man who had been the chairman of then-Conference South club Hornchurch, who went bust summer of 2005. They had a plan for the club. Their company, Planning Bureau Developments Ltd, would be based at the club’s Nene Park ground, offering NVQs within the sport and leisure industry. Within three months, though, that plan was starting to unravel. Back in Weymouth, a sports trust called WeySports was making local news headlines over confusion regarding who exactly was eligible to gain the qualification on offer, with Planning Bureau Developments having acted as the link between the company offering the NVQs – Luis Michael Training – and local sports clubs undertaking the training. By March, however, Planning Bureau Developments had not begun fully trading from Nene Park and Calder resigned the Rushden chairmanship, passing it to Liam Beasant whilst Steve joined the board of directors as its Chief Executive.
Shortly afterwards, it emerged that the club was under a transfer embargo from the Football Conference because of an unpaid tax bill, and they then received a five point deduction in accordance with Football Conference financial auditing rules for reporting inaccurate information in their quarterly financial reports. The end, when it came, was swift. Rushden & Diamonds were expelled from the Football Conference in June 2011 after failing to satisfy the league that they would be able to fulfil their fixtures, and a month later they entered into administration. The club hasn’t played a match since, though a new club, AFC Rushden & Diamonds, has been started by supporters and is flourishing in the United Counties League. Planning Bureau Developments Ltd, meanwhile, remains active as a limited company with Steven Beasant remaining as its sole directors, with other two associated with it, his son Liam and Christopher Ryan,
The details of the proposed agreement between the club and Beasant have already been made public, and it is probably appropriate, considering the amount of washing of the club’s dirty laundry that has been done in public, that it should come through the club’s supporters forum. The details were leaked by the former Weymouth FC Community Trust chairman Paul Cocks, and he claimed that, under this agreement, All costs for the action would be met by Beasant or his company, that the club would receive a 5,000 capacity stadium with facilities matching the Bob Lucas Stadium with a one hundred and thirty year rent free lease, and that any net profit from the sale of land would be split, with 25% of it going to the club and 75% to Beasant. The club’s vice-chairman, Mark Coleman, told the Dorset Echo in response to this that, “A legal challenge for the land was proposed to the rest of the board on Wednesday of last week but it was only a short presentation and until all the details are looked into, there is nothing really to talk about”, but some are concerned at the fact that Nigel Biddlecombe may have become involved with someone with such a chequered past as Beasant, and that conversations over this matter may have been ongoing for some time with some of the club’s other directors having had no knowledge of it until very recently. The club’s AGM, held on Saturday, saw the directors putting on a show of unity for the assembled share-holders, but how long this might last for is anybody’s guess.
Such is the level of factional fighting at Weymouth, however, that the true motives behind anybody doing or saying anything concerning the club remain shrouded in mystery, and if anything the level of dysfunction at board level is so great that it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that the biggest threat to its long-term future might not even come from the likes of Morgan Sindall, but from those that would seek to be the people that are running it right now. Already this summer, the club had to issue a statement of apology to its supporters after another row found its way into the public domain, which led to Biddlestone almost leaving his position as chairman. It had also been suggested that the club’s finances may be on the turn again after overspending last season, a fact confirmed by Saturday’s meeting. It is understood that there is a degree of unanimity about the desire of those connected with the club to move towards a community ownership model. If Weymouth Football Club is to achieve this, it needs to put this seemingly endless bickering behind it once and for all.
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