Trouble Brewing At The Wessex Stadium, Yet Again

By on Oct 16, 2009 in Finance, Non-League | 5 comments

In his 2006 book “Floodlit Dreams”, writer Ian Ridley brilliantly summed up the small town politics that drive the running of so many football clubs. He had taken the chairmanship at Weymouth Football Club with big ambitions, but a combination of under-achievement on the pitch, vultures circling overhead and internal squabbling saw him eventually removed by a coup d’etat. At the time, it appeared on the surface as if the club might have a bright future, but problems for the future from which they have never fully recovered.

By the spring of this year Ridley was back as the chairman of the club, but the Weymouth that he found was a very different beast to the confident (to the point of being arrogant, some might say) club that he had left several years prior. Malcolm Curtis had been the most significant of the chairmen that The Terras had found themselves lumbered with since Ridley’s departure, however, and the club is still reeling from his time in charge of the club to the point that they might join the inglorious list of clubs that fail even to see the season out. Ridley returned to the club to find it up to its eyes in debt, with a promised new stadium that was being widely regarded as the panacea for all of their ills no nearer being built and facing a relegation battle in the Blue Square Premier.

It was a battle that they didn’t win. They slipped quietly down into the Blue Square South at the end of last season and since then the situation has continued to deteriorate. With a squad made up of youth players and cast offs from elsewhere, Weymouth’s slide has continued this season and they are currently bottom of the Blue Square South with just win from their opening twelve matches of the season. Issues on the pitch, however, have been overshadowed – as ever – by events in the boardroom. At the start of last month, the club was given seven days to find £50,000 to avoid administration. The club launched “Saviours 100″, a fund to raise the money from 100 different individuals raising £500 each to keep the club alive. It succeeded – albeit with an extension required – but this initiative, the latest in a long line of sticking plasters applied to the club to what is clearly a serious and institutional problem at the club, only kept the wolves from the door for so long.

They managed, on this occasion, about five weeks between crises. Ian Ridley has left the club (he is suffering from cancer and believed that the stress of the situation at the club was exacerbating his condition) and, last weekend, manager Matty Hale resigned after a 5-0 home defeat by Maidenhead United in the league. At the start of this week, in what  is, for a club in their financial position, either an act of staggering stupidity or extraordinary bravery, they confirmed that they were issuing legal proceedings against Malcolm Curtis for “Gross Negligence and Misfeasance during the time of his directorship of the company”. The reason for this being such a high risk move for the club is that Curtis currently guarantees over £200,000 for money owed to Barclays Bank and Carlsberg that were run up club during his time in charge at The Wessex Stadium. There was a verbal agreement between Curtis and the club for him to continue to guarantee what are effectively loans, but Curtis (who, you’ll be unsurprised to hear, is a property developer) is now calling in the debt.

What, then, would Curtis stand to gain from bringing a winding up order against Weymouth Football Club? Well, when Curtis was in charge of the club he sold the perimeter land around The Wessex Stadium to himself. If he was to end up as one of the club’s largest creditors, he would be likely to benefit from the sale of any of the club’s assets were they to be wound up. The club, therefore, has to seek some sort of arrangement to avoid the threat of closure. Their visitors this weekend, dauntingly, are the Blue Square South leaders Dover Athletic, and it seems likely that the collection buckets will come out at The Wessex Stadium again. Another sticking plaster may or may not be applied. Another crisis averted, for now. But Weymouth Football Club will continue their slide back towards the Southern League – the same league that they were in when Ridley took over six years ago.

He must wonder why he ever bothered to get involved.  He was been treated appallingly by the other directors and shareholders at the time that he was removed from the club to be replaced by Martyn Harrison and indeed there were sections of the Weymouth support that didn’t cover themselves in glory in the way that they spoke about him at the time either. Ridley, however, is one of the few good guys in a football soap opera that surely cannot run forever. The number of appeals to “local businessmen” from the club to “invest” in Weymouth Football Club must surely have bled the local business community dry by now and, in any case, surely any sensible businessperson would by now have realised that the word “invest” is little more than a not particularly subtle code for “throwing fifty pound notes onto a bonfire”.

Which way now, then, for Weymouth Football Club? Their can be little question that the musty smell of deterioration that has been enveloping the club is fast becoming the pungent stench of decomposition. When the buckets come out on Saturday, Weymouth supporters may have to ask themselves an uncomfortable question: what are they raising this money for? Are they raising it to keep their club alive, or are they raising it to prop up a cadaver? The uncomfortable truth is that they may just be paying to purchase more sticking plasters. Legal action against a former chairman feels like a last throw of the dice. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of what he might have done and the sense of injustice that this may engender, it is difficult escape the conclusion that this time the bad guy might just win.

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    5 Comments

  1. I have read Ian Ridley’s book and it is a cracking read and feel for him with his reason health problems and a continued thankless desire to help his home town club. It’s looks as if the game may be up for Weymuff and Curtis’s canny move in purchasing a perimeter ransom strip around the Wessex Stadium will seal their fate in any plans to raise capital from a ground redevelopment. The club’s planned legal proceedings against Curtis could be the final nail in the coffin and it’s difficult to see how they could fund what will be expensive legal costs.

    Paul

    October 16, 2009

  2. It starts with an inaccuracy “saw him eventually removed by a coup d’etat.”. (Actually he-IR- resigned over the dismissal of Mick Jenkins feeling that his control of “footballing matters” had been undermined ). It continues, just like his book with an extremely one sided (although hugely entertaining) view of events and fails to highlight how his local and national press and TV campaign against Martyn Harrison (bankrupt in 2 weeks, two months etc) aided the club’s demise and directly resulted in the general lack of support from the fans for MH. MH came in because IR had desperately appealed for financial assistance because “Living The dream” had run the club into debt and an urgent cash injection was needed. Unfortunately the injection was so large that Ian could never come to terms with the fact that he would no longer be “choosing the wallpaper” for the WFC “house”. Also omitted is that MH offered the club to him free of debt but at the last minute (literally)HE chose to withdraw and to recommend (to a by-now very ill) MH to accept the Bush offer

    Mike

    October 20, 2009

  3. I rather think, Mike, that you are missing the point of the article. Finer details of what happened at the time that Harrison replaced Ridley notwithstanding, Weymouth’s biggest problem over the last three years has been the passing of the club to a succession of local businessmen that have successively mismanaged the club. And that certainly includes Harrison.

    admin

    October 20, 2009

  4. This is how non-league football is and probably always has been.

    It is all incredibly predictable too.

    Martin

    October 22, 2009

  5. I’ve got a knack of moving to places with financially ruined clubs – I was bought up in Weymouth, moved to Southampton for university in 2006, and moved near Southend a few weeks ago. Mind you, it’s difficult not to move into areas with financially suicidal clubs nearby these days.

    I’ve lost track of this story, but I do know that there’s a long-running sub-plot involving the Wessex Stadium site; when they first moved there, their harbourside former ground became an Asda. Said Asda is the only supermarket in Weymouth apart from a Morrisons and Somerfield in the north of the town, serves maybe two-thirds of Weymouth and all of Portland and Chickerell, and is thus extremely busy even on a weekday morning. There is definitely potential local demand for a larger supermarket, and there’s been mutterings about a larger Asda being built either on or next to the Wessex Stadium site. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is relevant to Curtis buying the neighbouring land – with a view to selling to Asda later on.

    (There’s an added complexity in that the stadium is on the boundary between local councils (West Dorset and Weymouth & Portland), and the former have been rather less keen on development…)

    David Howell

    November 1, 2009

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