Hereford United – Fan Initiatives Gain Momentum
Another week with many developments at Hereford United (1939) but the only result has been increasing polarisation between the club and the fans. Here’s John Perkins with another update from this summer’s crisis club du jour.
Changes at the Club
The club increasingly operates in isolation but there were a few developments that showed they were still continuing with their plan (whatever that is). First of all, Tommy Agombar pulled a Stephen Vaughan type sleight of hand on club ownership. Having withdrawn as a Director prior to the Southern Premier League’s decision to admit Hereford for the coming season, a Tommy Agombar reappeared as a Director of the club a few days later. It emerged that this was Tommy Agombar Jr who had taken over the older Mr. Agombar’s Directorship. Agombar senior’s seven year prison sentence means that he’d never pass the fit and proper person test. (Hmmmm. In 2009, Stephen Vaughan Sr. was disqualified from acting as a director so control of Chester City was passed to Stephen Vaughan Jr).
The only recent interaction with the fans from the club was via Andy Lonsdale (while president of Bedfont & Feltham FC) and then Joel Nathan coming on to Bulls Banter to alternately lie, antagonise and insult other users with the effect that the forum became more unified than they have been in years. Joel Nathan was a new arrival. His main role is Chief Executive of Grays Football club but he’s so big-hearted that he made time to help his chum Tom. His message fell flat with the fans and he and Lonsdale ended up being banned from the forum. And if you were waiting for news from the club then that was it. Nothing. No communication of any substance from Agombar & co since the council meeting on 16th June. However, enough was happening that Agombar’s claim of being a football man rang more hollow as each new change emerged.
Three other Directors were announced. Two were John Harold Edwards and Elke Thuerlings both from the same address in Leigh and with a history in waste disposal. They were joined by Philip Peter Gambrill, a director of Savannah Construction Limited. All three have no links whatsoever to Hereford so naturally an already suspicious fan base was not reassured by these changes. Lonsdale resigned his position as President at Bedfont and was now in charge of the day to day running of things at Edgar Road Street. But an interview with Get West London on 9th July was vague about which club he was actually planning to stick with giving yet more indication that he couldn’t be honest with anyone.
Outside Edgar Street
Local clubs continued to show solidarity with the fans and unpaid players by withdrawing from friendlies. Ledbury Town confirmed officially they were not going to play Hereford and Malvern Town also mentioned they’d been approached and would not consider a game. Requests to teams in mid-Wales were similarly rebuffed with Newbridge declining a game. Perhaps more significantly the bigger names who’d been lined up for games also cancelled with Plymouth Argyle and Gloucester City backing out of previously agreed dates. The Joel Nathan connection had set up a friendly with Grays. Some Hereford fans visited their forum to indicate that the state of the club under its current ownership. Appeals to the fans to stay away were met with profound indifference on the Grays side. Amazingly, Andy Swallow, the owner of Grays contacted Bulls News and asked for fans’ opinions on the upcoming game. No one expected much from this but the game was called off. Herefordshire Council withdrew the club’s safety certificate because they were not satisfied that the club could meet the requirements therein. All events were cancelled until the club could prove otherwise. This led to the cancellation of a friendly with Cardiff City.
Additionally, a match with Help for Heroes was also called off. This had been seen by many as a cynical attempt by Agombar and co to use a charity to get people to attend Edgar Street, particularly as they’d only committed to giving profits from the game to Help for Heroes. The game’s charity status divided fan opinion as to whether it was a worthwhile exception to a boycott but the safety ruling made the discussion moot. A United in the Community (UITC) World Cup 5-a-side tournament was also moved away from Edgar Street. This lack of safety certification is still unresolved so Edgar Street cannot be used for any games.
As of today, the club has two friendlies scheduled. One at Droylsden of the Evo-Stik league. Their owner is Dave Pace who has previous connections with Stephen Vaughan and most likely to Agombar too. Therefore it seems unlikely that any fan pressure will prevent the game happening. Also Eagley FC, an amateur side from Bolton, four divisions below the Southern Premier League announced a home tie with Hereford scheduled for 12th July. Hereford fans asked them to reconsider but so far nothing has happened. A picket is being organised by a concerned Wrexham fan and we hope for a good turnout from a number of clubs showing unity with the Hereford fans.
Local politicians made their feelings known to varying extents. Bill Wiggin, the MP for North Herefordshire backed the call for a fan owned club. Jesse Norman was more forthcoming, calling on HMRC to be very stringent towards the club’s application for a CVA. Furthermore, he raised concerns about issues pertaining to Hereford United with the Treasury committee on July 8th. Herefordshire Council’s stance on the leases was more puzzling. Jim Bowen who heads the council’s scrutiny committee refused to bring up the club’s lease situation for discussion in the July meeting. Independent councillor Jim Kenyon who asked that it be reviewed in the first place vowed to keep chasing the matter.
The staff exodus continued with Jonny Evans (Physio), Roger Lloyd (Kitman) and Ian Harris (Scout) all leaving around July 4th. Ian Pritchard, the groundsman who’d managed to get some payment when he locked the gates to the club, got sick of being lied to by Lonsdale and Mark Ellis. He walked away while being owed £20,000 with the intention of suing for his money. The last of the full-time staff to go was Lee Symonds who’d worked at the club for 17 years, most recently as Club Secretary. Not one full time member of staff who was at the club on the day Hereford retained their Conference status remains at the club.
Steve Niblett continued his sound work raising money for employees who were waiting for cash from the club. Henry Cluney, a founder member of Stiff Little Fingers, played a fund-raiser at a Hereford pub with other local bands and the kitty swelled some more. Hereford United Supporters Trust have formed a supporters’ team with Joel Edwards, a former Hereford United first teamer, as player/manager. They have been prompt in building ties with local teams and other fans’ teams with matches intended to be fundraisers and something for Hereford fans to rally round.
As the fan mood became more disenchanted there were increasing calls for boycotts and isolation of the club. As a result of a number of strong statements and their unwillingness to talk to Agombar unless all football creditors have been paid, Hereford United Supporters Trust had become a focal point for the fans. Much of their time has been working with local resources so it’s unsurprising that we’re not party to much of what they’re doing. However, Thursday July 2nd was important because they acted to get the fans thinking. A poll was opened to their membership to ask whether the fans wanted to boycott the club or not (closing 8th July).
This catalysed other fans’ groups with the London Bulls and Scottish Bulls both issuing statements that announced support for a full boycott. Hereford United Independent Supporters Association asked for consultation from fans ahead of their next board meeting. The results of the HUST vote were announced early on 9th July and 74% of eligible members voted. Of those 95% voted in favour of a complete boycott of Hereford United (1939). This gives the supporters’ organization a strong mandate in requesting that all supporters refuse to attend home matches, sponsor or advertise with the club or attend any event that could benefit the club. The boycott could be lifted if all players and staff, football creditors, the council and costs of winding up proceedings were paid.
The more reticent HUISA also issued a statement announcing their board meeting for 4th August. They set a closing date of 11th July for feedback from members but interestingly said the feedback they’d received showed “that our members’ views are broadly in line with the result of the vote carried out by HUST.” Hereford fans come from all over the county (and beyond). As people are becoming more reconciled to not visiting Edgar Street, they’re looking at alternative teams to watch while the Hereford situation plays itself out. Those teams who refused friendlies will see some benefit, as will the clubs of fans who have tried to help. Even Worcester City, who were Southern League rivals of old, are likely to see some Hereford fans in the crowd.
Right now we have two sides divided over a prime patch of real estate in the centre of Hereford. On one side we have Agombar who cannot pass the fit & proper persons test, Lonsdale with his illegal fly-tipping past, two other directors whose main interest is waste disposal and one more in construction. They’re not interested in football so it looks like the club will be allowed to decay while they make a play for the leases and subsequent development. On the other hand we have the supporters and organised groups who want to see football at Edgar Street but cannot reconcile visiting the ground with the current incumbents in place.
With one month to go before the season kicks off there is no manager, no players, no safety certificate, no staff beyond Tommy’s crew, no groundsman and increasing isolation from the community. Rumour has it that local refs have also been advised to steer clear. It looks unlikely that a ball will be kicked in anger at Edgar Street this season but this may be exactly what Agombar (or his backer) wants. We need the Council to be firm on the leases, HMRC and other creditors to refuse the CVA, the FA to look at who actually is behind this deal and a complete fan boycott of the club so it becomes a major financial burden to whoever is behind it. Liquidation of Hereford United (1939) is a real possibility but this is probably the best hope for the club in the long term. Thus far, we don’t know who is backing Agombar but there are too many links to and hallmarks of Stephen Vaughan for us not to be concerned that he is involved.
For the fans it’s rapidly becoming important to prepare for the 2015/16 season. We want our club back, whether it’s HUFC (1939) or HUFC (2015). We want all those fans who will be making do with other teams in this coming season to have a team they can be proud to rally round in the near future.
Omid Djalili said it best on Twitter on 11th June. #HerefordUnited will NEVER not exist. You’ve shown the world a ‘never say die attitude’ in 1972 AND 2014. It’s something in the water.
A late extended P.S. – The Hereford Times whose uncritical reporting of Agombar and co has been a real concern announced that the club had appointed an assistant manager on 9th July. It turns out that they’d also announced a manager late on July 4th buried in a report about Jonny Evans’ departure. You’d think appointing the manager would be big news. The man seen as more capable than Peter Beadle is Jon Taylor, former assistant manager at Banbury United. From having just been in charge for the now cancelled Help for Heroes game he somehow graduated to being the ideal man to take the club forward. According to Joel Nathan this was due to his knowledge of the Southern Premier league.
There are many reasons to be suspicious of this appointment. Taylor has been involved with this crowd of proven liars from the original football trials on Day 1 so it’s doubtful that he’s on board due to his footballing expertise. It’s also unclear how long he’s been involved in the Southern League to get that valuable expertise (Google is not helpful) but the two seasons he was definitely at Banbury they came 16th & 19th in the league. Taylor owns and runs a footballing academy in Bedford. Also listed at that business address are other family members with interests in sale and acquisition of residential development land and it seems Jon has some history in that field too. (This was researched by Radfordbull on Bulls Banter). Taylor also has strong links to Jed McCrory who is another of those names you don’t want to see associated with your club. McCrory recently lost a battle with Lee Powers over ownership of Swindon Town with the judge in the case stating that he frankly didn’t believe McCrory’s evidence.
And the assistant manager? Step forward Neil Phelps. Former occasional video analyst for Martin Foyle with coaching experience with youth teams at Pegasus Juniors. In five years we’ve gone from the experienced management team of Graham Turner & John Trewick (with their extensive contacts) to Jon Taylor & Neil Phelps. If Agombar is a football man who only wants to take Hereford back to the League he’s got a bloody funny way of showing it.
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