A Weekend Is An Eternity In Hereford
Towards the end of the week that Hereford were expelled from the Conference, things continued to change rapidly. Fan unrest was growing as the events of the last couple of days were enough to prove to a number of sceptics that Agombar and co were not good for the club. Here’s John Perkins with an update.
Friday 13th June
First of all, some good news. A friendly had been arranged for Saturday 14th June with Pegasus Juniors of the West Midlands (Regional) League Premier Division. The comments from Edgar Street about Pegasus Junior’s potential status as Hereford’s feeder club hadn’t been enough to put them off but complaints from club members and sponsors at least got the directors to reconsider. Friday 13th proved unlucky for Mark Ellis when Pegasus Junior called to confirm the cancellation of the match. Heartening to see local clubs coming out in support of the fans’ stance with isolation of Hereford United a good thing.
The petition to Hereford council to reject the transfer of leases to Tommy Agombar’s companies continued to gain traction. It had more than 2,800 signatures after 24 hours on-line and continued to pop up regularly on Twitter and Facebook. Increased sharing on Facebook and Twitter meant that the signee list was growing every hour. This all built on the positive example set by C2 recruitment, one of Hereford’s major sponsors, two days earlier. The company was a back of shirt sponsor and provided other support to the club but their concern about treatment of staff led to them backing out. The strongly worded release is shown below and was a remarkable statement.
“As a main sponsor of Hereford United Football Club, C2 Recruitment has decided to terminate its official sponsorship with immediate effect. We have been very disappointed with poor decisions the club has made which ultimately has led to their expulsion from the Football Conference delivering a huge hammer blow to the city of Hereford and its people. We are also deeply concerned about the lack of corporate responsibility the club has shown towards its playing and non-playing staff.
C2 Recruitment is extremely focussed on delivering the highest possible levels of care to our valued employees and as a business we simply cannot and will not be associated with the clubs hierarchy who have failed repeatedly to pay its employees their salaries. This is morally wrong and deeply disturbing. As a business we would like to place on record that we do however fully support a football trust owned by the people that really do matter in all of this, the supporters of this proud and wonderful club.”
Much kudos to them for leading by example.
Hereford seemed to be a step closer to knowing where they’d be playing in the 2014/15 season. The Southern Premier League were prepared to accept Hereford United but in their words – ”inclusion is dependent on meeting certain criteria within a time frame imposed by the League.” Well, that’s that then. Given their success rate of meeting certain criteria within a timeframe imposed by a League it isn’t going to be long before the club is looking for another home.
While Hereford continued working with a load of anonymous trialists kept well away from the public eye, last season’s players were finding teams for next year. Although they still had no clarity about whether they’d ever see their missing pay. The most interesting signing so far was that of Daniel Lloyd Easton who had proved himself to be an excellent young goalkeeper. By signing for Southport and reuniting with Martin Foyle he gave a very clear signal that his disgust with Hereford was only limited to the board. Rod McDonald had joined AFC Telford United, Chris Bush had moved to Welling and Kingsley James’ signing at Chester City was announced the same day as Hereford’s expulsion. Hopefully the whole team find places at clubs who treat them well.
The staff were voting with their feet too. Linda Richards updated people on Facebook that she was leaving stating that she couldn’t work with the new owners whose motives “are completely beyond anything she could fathom”. She also confirmed she hadn’t been paid for March or later months despite promises to pay the full amount by June 10th. And same as for the players, Tommy Agombar and Andrew Green, the new accountant, refused to take her calls.
A group of local businessmen scheduled a meeting with the council on Tuesday 17th June (one day after Tommy Agombar). In addition to wanting to express their concern about the long term plans of Agombar, their main purpose was to discuss the implications of starting a new club in the city. Given the scale of the problems at Hereford United, the phoenix approach is increasingly being seen as the most viable option for the long term. Their stance is that the club should be community-focussed and Hereford United Supporters Trust will be represented at the meeting. The group is led by Jon Hale who has raised money to help Hereford United for many years. The others are also fans who have had a long association with the club.
In the midst of everything the club kept a very impressive silence but had many people looking forward to a Fans forum scheduled for Monday 16th June. Surprise, surprise – one more broken promise as Agombar cancelled it citing “prior commitments that are unavoidable”. So if prior commitments were in place why was a fans forum suggested for that date. Transparently, more nonsense from the club.
Meanwhile, Mark “Mouthpiece” Ellis was still in overdrive and he seemed to have a willing audience in the shape of the Hereford Times. A rapid succession of articles appeared where Mr. Ellis was allowed to present the club’s viewpoint with no counter argument. Given that a large proportion of their reader base was horrified by the ongoings at Edgar Street this was baffling to say the least.
But let’s not deflect from Ellis. Everything that comes out of his mouth is comedy gold and he started Friday 13th by having a go at the manager that every Hereford fan would love to buy a beer (or a cigar) for. According to the man with the mystery CV, the manager’s job was too big for Peter Beadle and that was why he moved to Sutton United. The interview had the blatant subtext that he and his colleagues saw Beadle as inadequate for dealing with the significant operation that they were building within the club. Seeing as there is no evidence that they’re building anything, it’s more likely that he scared them off by coming across as a man of real integrity.
I’ve thought about this some more and this throwaway interview is quite enlightening. It shows how little Agombar, Ellis and co understand the people of Hereford. Many of our families have attended Hereford United games through multiple generations so the club is in our blood and we feel part of a special collective. That community is tight-knit and very critical of those who treat us poorly. On the other hand, do the right thing and you’ll be adopted pretty quickly. As a result of what he did for the club at the end of the season, Peter Beadle is one of us. By attacking Peter Beadle, Mark Ellis is sneering at all of us. It’s clear that by continuing to perpetuate the wrongs of Keyte’s chairmanship, by refusing to communicate openly and honestly and by criticising people we consider one of us, Agombar, Ellis and co have made it clear that they have no wish to be part of our community. For that reason they will never fit in and they need to go.
Saturday 14th June
Saturday was somewhat quieter than Friday with the main talking point being Hereford’s hastily arranged practice match with Belmont Wanderers, a second tier Sunday League side. Fans expressed disappointment with Belmont that they played so it will be interesting to see if the planned rematch on Wednesday goes ahead. Not surprisingly the game was a one-sided affair with the Hereford trialists coming out on top. More surprising were the threats issued to a fan at the game where it was made clear that if he posted anything on-line then he would be in trouble. Another own goal when you consider that the fan in question has been a regular volunteer at the club and been prominent in fund-raising for the club.
The bond required by the Southern Premier League was now thought to be in the region of £25,000 by 4th July with £5,000 due sooner.
Increasingly people were severing ties with the club. Fans moved to reclaim personal items used to decorate the Starlite rooms bar and the successful season of comedy events scheduled there ground to a halt. The remaining two days of the Bull The Other One Comedy Festival fundraiser was cancelled because the promoter hadn’t received guarantees that the Starlite Rooms were capable of holding the event. On top of that, a number of regular patrons had made it clear that they did not want to support events at the club with the current owners in place.
Sunday 13th June
Sunday continued with more news of staff resignations. Mick Loader who’d worked in marketing the club and recently set up a successful weekend with Ronnie Radford revisiting the ground. Steve Niblett, the club photographer also departed. Steve had been instrumental in much of the fund-raising for the club with his most recent efforts the sale of memorabilia to help raise money for unpaid staff.
One positive note was that the noticeable shift in the stance of the Hereford Times. It was showing itself to be much more sympathetic to the fans and ex-employees while starting to put distance between the paper and the club. They also confirmed what everyone suspected about Mark Ellis. Despite his claims of helping AFC Bournemouth, QPR and Sheffield Wednesday to promotion in recent years, the truth was that he’d helped as a part-time scout getting travel expenses.
The Hereford sense of community prevailed over the opportunity to play a much larger club when Belmont Wanderers pulled out of their friendly rematch with Hereford, scheduled for Wednesday 16th June. They were unaware of the implications of the first match but their statement made it clear that their allegiance was with the fans. Cancellation was the only option for them when they realised how people felt.
Agombar might have found a convenient excuse to avoid fans’ forum on Monday night but it turns out he was looking for a meeting with Hereford United Supporters Trust on Monday afternoon. He was flatly turned down by the Trust who stated that there was no point in talking about the future until he’d settled with football creditors, paid council debts, settled Martin Foyle’s and HMRC’s winding up petitions as well as meeting the demands of the Southern League to assure the club’s status for the season.
Late on Sunday it looked like the Hereford story was going to take another couple of twists. On one hand, Hereford United’s page on www.companieslist.co.uk suggested that the club had been liquidated. Bulls News had also found the club was due in court on Monday morning to face yet another winding up hearing. The mystery deepened because there was no indication what the hearing was about.
In the five days the situation at the club has declined significantly. It seems clear that Tommy Agombar has no interest in the wellbeing of Hereford United or anyone associated with it.
Although Tommy Agombar and Mark Ellis are more obvious targets because they are the current faces of the club, it is essential that no one loses sight of the fact that it was David Keyte’s decisions, lack of ethics, arrogance and spite that brought us here. Keyte was the one who decided that his mistakes should be paid for by the misery of others. He proved indifferent to other people’s relatives and dependents, mortgages and bills so long as he could continue to enjoy the benefits of owning a number of racehorses and a second home in Barbados. It has been rumoured that he has left the club but no one really knows for sure. He cannot be allowed to walk away from the disgraceful situation that he has made with no consequences.
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