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The crisis currently engulfing Hereford United continues to rumble on. Here’s John Perkins with the first of two updates from the club.
Previously on 200%… Hereford United, a relatively well respected non-league club saved their Conference skins on the last day of the 2013/14 season. Off the pitch financial crises loomed but the fans and other good samaritans pulled together to meet an imminent tax bill. Meanwhile David Keyte was lying on a beach in Barbados and hatching a plot to ensure the demise of the club with as little impact to himself as possible. Enter a new face, Tommy Agombar, a secretive buyer of no obvious merit or fortune. Quick google searches revealed a very dodgy history and the people he surrounded himself with further increased alarm. A series of broken promises ensured that a large part of the fan base now wants nothing to do with him.
The week’s excitement started with Tommy Agombar’s meeting with Herefordshire council, supposedly to get to know each other. However, Tommy’s agenda had been revealed earlier when it became known that he’d made enquiries to the council about transferring two of the leases on Edgar Street (probably Hereford United’s only asset) to his holding company. Ahead of the meeting he was asked for a chat by a couple of fans. Despite their non-confrontational interviewing technique, a number of his claims were immediately shown to be bending the truth or outright lies. Other untruths emerged as the week progressed.
And here we go…….
He started aggressively with a claim that he’d paid debts. With many staff & players waiting for money, there was evidence filtering out of payments being made to a select few people. It made it possible for Tommy to claim he’d settled debts but those who were paid were vastly outnumbered by the people who hadn’t seen any payment at all. He was also adamant that we’d been accepted into the Southern Premier League but with football creditors still owed money that would seem to be optimistic. Astonishingly, that turned out to be true with people speculating that the chance to have a club the size of Hereford in the league was too good for the Southern Premier to pass up.
Next up was a claim that he’d paid half of the football creditors. Wrong. Not even close. The players have been restrained in their responses but as each deadline the club has to meet looms we get an update on their payment status. No one has received anything and I’m writing this 5 days after Agombar’s claims. The youth team who were on around £80 a week haven’t been paid since March, nor have the staff who weren’t selected in the recent payment lottery.
“All of the Admin staff have been paid” – see above. There are many who have yet to receive anything.
“We’re not in the Conference because they wanted £350,000 to put in their bank account and I refused” Have to love a revisionist. Tommy demanded assurance that Hereford would keep their Conference status if they paid football creditors by the Conference AGM. The Conference agreed but in keeping with Tommy’s unwillingness to part with cash that’s owed the deadline came and went with creditors’ accounts still empty. The Conference then demanded that £350,000 bond and Tommy’s intransigence had us kicked out and demoted at least 2 levels. Cheers big guy!
“When I come down to the club they said to me the club’s gonna need £300,000, that’s it. Since I’ve been down it’s £1.3 million.” If this is Tommy’s attempt to garner sympathy then it has no chance of success. Anyone who buys a business has to do due diligence. If he didn’t do it before buying Hereford then he’s an idiot. Or by saying he was blindsided he’s a liar. Hmmmm. The numbers had previously been outlined by Bulls News in a fairly thorough assessment of what they thought the debt level was. Not surprisingly their calculations brought it far closer to £1.3 million than £300,000. Tommy’s attempt to play the victim card was pathetically transparent even though he tries to claim repeatedly that he wasn’t able to learn the true state of the club.
“David Keyte has nothing to do with the club”. Two days later Tommy Agombar was forced to step down as a Director with the club needing to meet FA rules on fit and proper owners. The petition received on Wednesday 18th June meant that David Keyte was the only listed director for Hereford United at Companies House. Nothing to do with the club – dear oh dear.
With the David Keyte discussion out of the way, it’s time for Tommy to play the bemused victim card again. Tommy cannot figure out why, when he’s paid all (actually some) of the Admin staff they’ve all left. This is the most troubling aspect for Hereford fans. The people we’re talking about here are truly loyal to the club and have put in hours way beyond what they’d be paid for, if the club actually paid them. They live and breathe Hereford United because they’re true fans as well as employees. They’ve been treated exceptionally badly by the people in charge and now they’re being identified as the problem. Agombar tries to distance himself from this by stating that the non-payment is all Keyte’s mess. Except, his anonymity as owner was dismissed on June 3 and his consortium of investors had been undercover since May 28. That means he’s had almost 3 weeks to pay everyone but nothing has happened despite repeated promises. It’s very difficult to work for someone who repeatedly lies to you and that’s why loyal staff who are part of the Hereford family couldn’t wait to get out.
Another of Tommy’s repeated claims was that he was the only hope for the club because no one else was interested in taking it on. Utter, utter bollocks. As he must have been aware, the Supporters Trust with backing from Supporters Direct was prepared to step in and had pledges to cover all of the footballing debts to set the club up for the following season. There’s no doubt that if the Trust bid had gone ahead we would not be looking at the Southern Premier League as the highest possible level we’d be playing at.
One of my favourite parts of the interview was when he claimed he understood Hereford because it was a community just like the East End where he’s from. “Everyone knows everybody every time they do something, it’s exactly the same”. That might be the case but he obviously hasn’t figured out how deep the sense of community goes. By not paying your staff you’re ripping all of us off. And every day that payment is delayed the division between you and us increases. He tries to sell himself by saying he had a three year plan to get us back in the league, conveniently forgetting that his, and only his, attempt to play the Conference dropped us down two more leagues and made that impossible.
The fans forum comes up and Tommy’s take is why should he do a fans forum when everyone’s likely to go crazy and he didn’t need the aggro. Ah-hah – so it wasn’t cancelled due to an unavoidable prior engagement as announced on 13th June. Shock. He might not want a fans’ forum but he’s open to talk to anyone any time. Even the interviewers here called his bluff. They said they’d tried to talk to him at the ground earlier in the day but he’d refused. Tommy claimed he wasn’t there but the conviction of the interviewers leave you in little doubt about who is telling the truth.
One of the best questions was how much Tommy Agombar had put into the club. He countered the fans to ask how much they’d put in and each could cite 20 to 30,000. Agombar turned to one of his “advisors” who said he’d put in £200,000. Given the non-payment of staff and creditors it would be very interesting to see where the supposed £200,000 had gone. It certainly wasn’t being lavished on the potential players who were sleeping overnight in the former Starlite rooms on camp beds, calling into question the club’s ability to meet health and safety requirements.
The discussion turned again to staff payments and “disloyalty”. Agombar cited the press officer and payroll man (actually a woman) who were paid and left. Wrong. The press officer still hasn’t been paid despite having two young kids and a third on the way. Each had confirmed in their departing statements that they left despite no incoming payment because they could not agree with the way the club was being run. And there the discussion (lies) ends in the first interview. Agombar walks off to see the Council and our “intrepid” interviewers waited to talk to him when he emerged. One of the few truthful things he said was that he’d be willing to talk when he came out.
The conversation restarts quickly with the leases. Tommy claims he’s not an asset stripper and he has no interest in the leases because he’s a football man. He does reveal however that his entourage are interested in the leases. He also says that he offered a seat on the board to anyone on the council who is interested for transparency. He’s ebullient getting back on the theme of creditors all being paid off (yeah, yeah) and the winding up claims being dismissed. Except they’re not. Martin Foyles’ claim is very much alive having been deferred to 30th June. Unusually the HMRC winding up order was not published properly in the London Gazette. That slip of protocol means the HMRC hearing is deferred, not dismissed, and given the lack of Tommy’s repayments, HMRC will be back.
Tommy’s next step is a trip into fantasyland. He’s decided Hereford will only be in the Southern Premier League for one season. With no manager in place and no signed players that’s a huge extrapolation. But don’t worry, Tommy has a solution. Hereford will be the only full –time team in the Southern Premier League. Quite how this gels with his vision of Hereford being a self-sustaining club is anyone’s guess because the crowds at this level cannot sustain full-time players. But he believes a bit of success will get the fans on board and the crowds will carry it. No. Hereford’s crowds have been in decline for years and many of the remaining loyals do not want to touch the current regime with a bargepole. His model has no chance. But no worries, he has a football consultant – Mark Ellis – and they’ll be announcing a football manager in two weeks to coach the fantastic players we already have. The players that no one knows who they are. But… we have a European tour to look forward to. Yay! The self-sustaining club who cannot set up local friendlies is going on a European tour for pre-season games. Hahahahahaha. Yeah Tommy we can’t wait to book.
Back onto football creditors and it’s Martin Foyle’s turn for an attack from Agombar. According to Tommy, Martin Foyle said we had to pay him 22,000 but Tommy tried to do a deal with him for 30,000 but he didn’t accept it. Our intrepid negotiator tried to do another deal with Foyle for 60,000 but he didn’t accept it. At that point Foyle went to the LMA who demanded £145,000 on his behalf. Just because, obviously. This week was also the first time we heard from Foyle in weeks. His take – he’d agreed a settlement with the club but had it withdrawn. It was the withdrawal that led him contacting the LMA. Talk of repeated calls from Agombar was nonsense. The only person I believe here is the current Southport manager.
Agombar can’t even deliver on the simplest things. Towards the end of the interview he agrees that more openness and clarity is needed from the club. He and his team commit to releasing a statement the following day. 5 days later – nothing.What comes through loud and clear is that Agombar is a master of saying what he thinks people want to hear to get himself an easy ride. He believes that his gift of the gab is sufficient to blind people to what is going on and to be fair to him he has something of a point. He’s obviously convinced that if he reiterates how he’s a football man then people are going to view him much more leniently.
However, with anyone who operates on this level it’s not long before people see through it. There is already a significant number of Hereford fans who have already outed him as a bullshitter. Yes folks, this is Hereford’s current owner. A mouthpiece with little substance who surrounds himself with other dodgy people and chancers. These are not people who are focussed on the football. They’re vultures who are looking for what they can get from a vulnerable club and redevelopment that could reap huge dividends if leases are transferred. The sooner we get rid of them the better but I’m not sure it will be soon. But, it’s important that other clubs learn from our experience. Football is the loser when people like Agombar and co get involved.
You can follow John on Twitter by clicking here.
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Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
A semi-musical mash-up of the above-described video nasty can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfKXJMeJIDM
Mp3s of this atrocity can be downloaded here http://www.songstall.com/disposablehatstand for a small fee, aiming to raise funds for Hereford United Supporters Trust in our ongoing efforts to preserve our club, making ‘I’m a Football Man’ the worst fundraising single since Live Aid.
Current players are not football creditors. They are normal employees and (should) have greater protection under contract law. Good luck Hereford fans.