No Trust In The Trust: Kings Lynn Football Is Given To A Speculator

No Trust In The Trust: Kings Lynn Football Is Given To A Speculator

By on Jan 15, 2010 in Latest, Non-League | 14 comments

When David Handley, who had made several bold claims about the amount of money that he would put into the new football club for Kings Lynn, pulled out of the race to start a new club at the last minute because of worries about his credit scoring, it seemed as if the obvious next step would be for the council to do the right thing – to give the prized lease on The Walks stadium to the Blue & Gold Trust, who were intent on setting up a not for profit community club at the ground, with no-one to try and make a profit and the aim of running itself sustainably.

Regrettably, however, even the most black and white of decisions often turn out to be different shades of grey, and West Norfolk Council decided instead to award the twenty-five year lease to Buster Chapman, the owner of King’s Lynn’s speedway team. It is a decision that speaks volumes about their opinion of the supporters of the club (over 350 of whom have joined the Trust) that they should choose to entrust the future of football in the town to someone that has stated quite openly that he intends to make a profit from the club over those whom, by both their very nature and the regulatory structure under which they would be operating, would be prevented from doing so.

Elizabeth Nockold of West Norfolk council stated that the council, “were particularly impressed with their strong business focus and their knowledge and experience of running a successful stadium-based sports business”, all of which jars somewhat with what happened when Chapman made an apparently half-hearted attempt to resucue the club when the winding up order was issued against it last year. His buy-out was rejected by the FA because he wasn’t interested in setting up a limited company. “”I’ve never had a limited company, never owned a limited company and don’t intend to so that really blew everything out of the water”, he told BBC Radio Norfolk at the time. Nockold also described the trust as the “Blue & Gold Supporters Club”. If she couldn’t even get their name right, what chance did they have?

The Chapman family have been fairly open in stating that they intend to make a profit from the new club. How they intend to do this would normally be open to speculation. Many have tried to make money from non-league football before, and many have lost millions of pounds in the futile attempt. The only people that have are those that have managed to sell the grounds and pocket the profits. Buster Chapman and his family may turn out to be the greatest economists of all time, but otherwise their hopes of making any money from Lynn FC (as it will be known) would seem low.

Or will they be? The club’s brand new website boldly states that entrance fees for the 2010/11 season will be £8 plus an extra £2 to sit. It’s probably fair to take a look at some of the other entrance fees that are offered by clubs in the Premier Division of the Ridgeons League by way of comparison. Needham Market FC, currently second in the table, charge £6 entrance with no apparent extra charge to sit. At mid-table Newmarket Town, entry is £5 with no advertised extra charge to sit (and with £5 membership entitling club members to 50p off admission prices). Finally, struggling Ely City charge £6 to get in. £10 to sit down sounds like a lot of money to watch Ridgeons League football and there is no cast iron guarantee that the club will be successful in this league, even though, with the resources at their disposal, they should be.

So, watching Ridgeons League football at Lynn FC will be expensive. What are the new owners’ plans for the involvement of the supporters in the club? One might expect that, after a tight race, the Chapmans would wish to get the supporters trust involved in the running of the club and offer them a place on the board. Indeed, it was widely rumoured that the trust was told that it would be offered a place on the board of directors of the club. Whether this iffer was made or not we don’t know, but what we know for certain is that there will be no Blue & Gold Trust member on the board of Lynn FC. Instead, there will be a monthly “fans forum”. To put it another way, there will be no say for the supporters of the club in how it is run, merely a “forum”, which, it has to be said, offers no guarantee of fan concerns being acted upon. Numerous people will now say, “we all have to pull together for the good of the club”, but this overlooks the question of what the club actually is. The club is the shared emotions of hundreds of people and their identity. There is nothing wrong with questioning his decisions, if his decisions are wrong.

The chance was there, but it has gone. The opportunity was there for a new club, a community club that would seek to build links with the people of the town and would value itself primarily as an asset to the town of Kings Lynn. And there were volunteers that would put in the hours to make it work. For whatever reason, West Norfolk Council chose to ignore this and give it to someone whose credentials in running a football club – and football is a very specialised area – amount to very little indeed. Meanwhile, the supporters of the club are divided, although a sizeable number are deeply upset with the council over the decision that they have made. It is now down to Chapman – he has to prove himself to the supporters, and he has to remember that this is not a game. Kings Lynn FC lasted for 130 years. Lynn FC is for life, and not merely until he gets bored with it, comes up against criticism or realises that he isn’t making as much money from it as he thought that he may. Ultimately, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the new club is little better off than it was in October, except without any matches to play or the rest of this season and starting next season two divisions lower than they were when the taxman stepped in.

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    14 Comments

  1. How sad.

    West Norfolk Council sound stuck back in 1750.

    Martin

    January 15, 2010

  2. I don’t suppose the local media weighed in heavily behind Chapman? Just a thought.

    ejh

    January 16, 2010

  3. And so it starts again…a missed opportunity, other than for the “Clubs in Crisis” folder to hold more stories here on 200% some years down the line.

    One thing “Lynn FC” fans can do is turn out in droves at the next council elections and vote Knockold and her cronies out of office.

    NottyImp

    January 16, 2010

  4. As a member of the B&G Trust I was obviously disappointed with the outcome but understood the council’s decision.

    In one corner they had a group with a proven track record in managing a stadium (at present the ground is as much a millstone as an asset), much of the infrastucture already in place and altogether a ‘known’ entity.

    In the other the Trust only launched in November and is far from the finished article in terms of being the ‘sum of the talents within the fan base’ that I am sure it will become.

    For the Trust to win it had to pull off one hell of a bid and presentation and my guess it was all a case of too much too soon. Had the situation arisen 12 months down the line then I think the criticism would be a bit more valid but given the circumstances I think the council just chose the safe bet for their asset and the club

    Tony

    January 16, 2010

  5. perfect through, but i believe there needs have trust.

    Flint Einstein

    January 16, 2010

  6. Very sensible comment Tony. Having been involved with the formation of Seadog Trust at Scarborough, and its subsequent evolution into Scarborough Athletic FC when the original club went under, I can understand how daunting the situation can be. However, the timescales at Scarborough and Kings Lynn are not that dissimilar. We first started talking about forming a Supporters Trust at Scarborough in the summer of 2006, and I think we formally registered the Industrial & Provident Society in either October or November of the same year. We became a football club a few months later in June 2007 following the liquidation. From gathering fans together in an organised group to owning and running a football club in under a year. It is perfectly possible and achievable.

    What galls me about the Kings Lynn situation is the fact that West Norfolk Council have given the green light to an ownership structure exactly the same as before, and not insisted on anything different to try and safeguard against the same scenario arising again in the future. No thought appears to have been given to representing the supporters of Kings Lynn at boardroom level, nor to the exit strategy of the Chapmans (they will not live forever). Given their very public aim to turn a profit, one can only hope that any monies the Blue & Gold Trust raise are not just handed over to the new club – supporters must insist on proper representation and ownership in return for any money they put into the club.

    Simon Cope

    January 16, 2010

  7. Why was it the obvious step after Handley pulled out? Many of us saw David Handley for the waste of time he proved to be and had the Trust as our first option. There is indeed a school of thought which believes that Handley unintentionally sabotaged the Trust’s bit with his public announcement once he had bailed out of the race that he was going to fund the Trust, thus ensuring that the council thought the organisation was merely a front for his egotistical empire building.

    It should have been the Trust from the word go, perhaps they weren’t prepared to offer as much “hospitality” as the prominent local businessman was? Just a thought.

    Neil

    January 17, 2010

  8. Simon, I accept it is possible for a Trust to set up in a short period of time but in all truth would you have felt confident going up against an established competitor for the ‘rights’ so soon?

    I also agree that the council appear to have gone for ‘more of the same’ but I believe there are now more safeguards in place (time will tell). My guess is the Chapmans have promised a better return on the stadium than the Trust and so it probably looked like they could put more into the football club whilst also taking their ‘cut’ (a trick they have pulled off at the speedway).

    If that is the case are you saying the Trust should have got it purely on idealogical grounds? Thats pretty difficult for the council to justify, however laudable the idea

    Wholeheartly agree with you final sentence though, but again that will be down to the membership

    Tony

    January 17, 2010

  9. It’s not that widely known outside of Scarborough, but the last chairman of Scarborough FC, Ian Scobbie, was also intending to form a new club in the summer of 2007. We got wind from the North Riding County FA that another Scarborough club had applied for affiliation, and subsequently discovered that the same club had been making enquiries to both the Northern Counties East League, and also to our eventual landlords, Bridlington Town. The Trust and Scobbie had some fairly heated discussions about the situation, with neither side wanting to back down. Bearing in mind that Mr Scobbie is an insolvency lawyer, and that most of the Trust board at the time were nowhere near as highly skilled it was quite daunting to say the least. In the end, Mr Scobbie never submitted his formal application to the NCEL by the deadline date, meaning Scarborough Athletic FC came into being as a not-for-profit mutually owned football club. To this day I’m not entirely sure whether Scobbie actually wanted to form a new club, or had other reasons for effectively attempting to derail Seadog Trust’s efforts.

    As for West Norfolk Council – well, the problem is that there are no guidelines at the Football Association for what should happen when a club folds and is reformed. At the very least the FA should stipulate that any individual or corporate body seeking to form a new club should undertake consultation with existing fan bodies at the defunct football club – official supporters club and/or supporters trust. Ideally the FA should take the opportunity of a clean slate to insist upon boardroom representation for fans should a democratic supporters trust operating in accordance with the guidelines of Supporters Direct be in existence. I’ll certainly put that idea forward via Supporters Direct and Malcolm Clarke of the FSF, but I’m not going to be holding my breath!

    Simon Cope

    January 17, 2010

  10. Tony – I don’t think it is so hard to justify favouring a Trust on idealogical grounds – after all, one of the Trust’s aims was to run a community club, so the local social benefits appear to be much greater from the Trust bid…

    oftenscore6

    January 19, 2010

  11. Tony – I don’t think it is so hard to justify favouring a Trust on ideological grounds – after all, one of the Trust’s aims was to run a community club, so the local social benefits appear to be much greater from the Trust bid…

    oftenscore6

    January 19, 2010

  12. Please, please dont take this as support for the Chapman’s as I was fully behind the Trust model as the way forward (both idealogically and in supporting in practical terms) but…

    ‘Community’ can mean many different things and in the Chapman’s bid was both a commitment to the Football in the Community scheme (something the previous board distanced itself from), a desire to see those players brought through to the 1st team AND possibly most importantly an undertaking to look at expanding the very popular and successful study centre that they run at the speedway to involve the football club (they also run regular events at the speedway with the community police unit which would have again counted in their favour)

    Would that have been enough for me, probably not and I would have still gone for the Trust but I am just pointing out that it might not be as black and white as some would have you think

    Tony

    January 19, 2010

  13. To Fund a self financing, Trust owned football team with so few trust members and supporters attending games would be very daunting indeed as I am guessing that the council were looking for certain guarantees regarding ground occupancy and finances accruing from it.
    I also reckon councils in general would rather deal with individuals than Trusts with regards to accountability for their actions. Mind You, they probably don’t like facing an angry mob if they act irresponsibly themselves either.
    All this said, I still think it is a very short sighted council decision and one taken not on behalf of the supporters and/or trust members and I agree with Simon Cope’s suggestion to not make funds collected by the trust available to “profit” making concern. Sounds like supporters will be funding the Chapman empire for years to come judging by the projected ticket prices.

    Lol

    January 20, 2010

  14. Sounds to me like a group of wanna be managers where pipped at the post by a proper business model by professional business people! look at the football club today heading for another top of the heap finish!

    Kevin Barry

    April 29, 2013

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