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It all started around a week ago, when a committee member at Northern League club Billingham Town found an envelope taped to the gates of their Bedford Terrace ground. Inside the envelope was a writ from Hartlepool United, who allege a debt of £10,443.97 owed for improvements carried out to the ground by them. The club has been using Bedford Terrace for its reserve matches for several seasons and had an agreement to pay for upgrades to the ground and the pitch, and they claim that Billingham were aware of and reneged upon a replayment agreement after one payment was made. Billingham, for their part, claim that the “agreement” signed was not signed by someone that is a director of the club any more, and that he wasn’t authorised to sign any agreement in the first place.
Relations between the two clubs soured at the start of this season when, Billingham claim, Hartlepool United removed the goalposts from Bedford Terrace prior to their first match of the season. The writ seems to be the endgame in a long running dispute and if the payment is not made in full by the 18th of May, Billingham Town will face a winding up order. In this case, however, the ins and outs of who signed what, who said what to whom and who did what to what seem somewhat irrelevant. What is relevant is two-fold: firstly, there is the moral aspect of one football club threatening winding up proceedings against another football club. Secondly, there is the matter of the amount of damage that Hartlepool United Football Club will do to its own reputation in the pursuit of this money.
It is difficult to argue with the repugnance that many Hartlepool United supporters feel towards the heavy-handed approach of their club over this matter. One might have expected better from a club such as Hartlepool, who have had their own fair share of financial difficulties over the years. The club’s owners, a company called IOR Ltd, may consider the principle of it to be more important than the amount of money concerned (and even if they were to claim poverty, £10,000 is a relatively trifling sum for a League One football club), but it is surely not unreasonable to hold the opinion that football clubs should have a degree of empathy towards other football clubs – in particular football clubs that are smaller than themselves. The moral argument can perhaps be best summed up by the fact that Hartlepool United hold the record for the most applications for re-election, at fourteen. On each occasion they were, to a lesser or greater degree, dependant upon the goodwill of other clubs in giving them another go and voting them back in.
Even if we disregard the matter of the moral aspect of this situation, the issue of the damage done to Hartlepool’s reputation over this matter could prove to be highly damaging. There can be little argument that, thus far, this incident has been a public relations disaster for the club. They issued a terse public statement at the end of last week, but nothing since then. Indeed, the end of the statement states pretty clearly that, “As this is now a legal issue, the Club will be making no further comment at this time”. Perhaps they simply don’t care what anybody else thinks – that would be the most rational conclusion to draw from the public statement – but the owners of the club are playing fast and loose with the good name of their club.
The ongoing silence seems unlikely to be broken, and this is causing anger amongst a section of the club’s own supporters. Hartlepool United’s average attendance this season of 3,457 is the lowest in League One this season. They may be able to afford to run a Northern League football club into the ground in pursuit of a £10,000 debt (indeed, this seems likely unless Hartlepool relent, as it seems pretty clear that Billingham, who don’t even pay their players, are going to be able to find that sort of money over the next two months), but can they afford to alienate those that turn up at Victoria Park every week? How are the floating football supporters of Hartlepool going to feel about turning out to pay and watch a club that is in the process of seeking the winding up of small, amateur neighbours?
The irony is that, on the surface, the winding up of Billingham Town would be unlikely to make much money for any of the club’s creditors. Bedford Terrace is owned by Stockton Council, so the only assets that the liquidated club is likely to own are likely to be minimal. Should Billingham Town go to the wall over this, Hartlepool United may not even get their money back. Should this just be a heavy-handed attempt at brinkmanship, it is a pretty poor show of behaviour from a football club that should have had enough brushes with the financial grim reaper to know better.
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.
I’m a Hartlepool fan and I’m really unhappy with the club’s stance on this situation. You note the lack of explanation, we’ve sadly come to expect that with out mysterious owners rarely even commenting to the fans unless serious pressure is applied as it has been here.
This has only happened once before in their 13 year reign so you can tell the secrecy that goes on. As you said, the club have no chance of getting their money back so why bother chasing it?! They’ve soured a long running relationship with a local side for the sake of a few bob.
The Northern League has proved a fertile ground for recruiting players over the years and this will not help relationships with any club in the league.
In the end the club have alienated their own fans and there’s now talk of collections in order to help BTFC survive. For the sake of 10 grand they surely could have done without this bad publicity. A massive own goal.
Even worse, the local press have know about this dispute for some time and did not report on it in fear of being banned from the ground again (HUFC banned the Hartlepool Mail and the Northern Echo, the main two papers who report on their games, from the ground in 2008, again over money) and it was a paper that doesn’t even cover Hartlepool (the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette) who thankfully came out with the story.
Try this thread & you will see what we are thinking…IOR hang your heads in shame..
Adam if thats your stand fair enough try getting facts right tho and the last sentence has four factually incorrect statements
What is relevant is two-fold: firstly, there is the moral aspect of one football club threatening winding up proceedings against another football club. Secondly, there is the matter of the amount of damage that Hartlepool United Football Club will do to its own reputation in the pursuit of this money.
There is an example of this that came in 1983 when Leeds United issued a demand for payment over the transfer of Trevor Cherry to Bradford City which put the club into receivership (the predecessor of administration for football clubs)
Certainly it never seemed to damage the reputation Leeds United.
“Certainly it never seemed to damage the reputation Leeds United.”
Is that possible? ;o)
Whatever the claims and counter-claims, many of us at Pools consider that the club have scored a massive own goal on this. IOR have rarely been forthcoming with info of any sort, the fact that they have bankrolled the club for more than a decade has to an extent meant that we’ve been prepared to put up with the silence with not much beyond a few grumbles; this however is already proving to be the final straw for some.
Quite how IOR expected to get through this without a storm of bad publicity is beyond most of us. I’m concerned as well because this will stay long in the memory and mean that even as and when the ownership changes it will remain a stigma that the fans will be reminded of constantly.
I think many of us don’t want rid of IOR – they’ve given us a decade of stability and relative success – but at the same time trying to support their actions towards Billingham Town is like defending the indefensible. They may yet prove to be legally right, but it would be ultimately a pyrrhic victory.
Do you care to enlighten me with those four factual errors, Mr Faith?
Surely receivership isn’t a predecessor of administration, it’s a different and more serious process.
Whatever the rights and wrongs, what do Hartlepool United hope to gain, Billingham Town dont have any assets, so unless, and it would be very ironic, genuine fans like those at pools have a collection and help fund raise the money theres no money to get anyway.
One suggestion elsewhere is Hartlepool have no reserve team pitch, surely they couldn’t be that callous as to wind up a skint Northern league club just to get the lease on what is, as they’ve proved by playing there in the past, a perfect venue for their reserves.
Lets hope not!
Why IOR would shut down a skint Northern league club…What do they hope to gain??? Here is a story that IOR are doing right now to the HUFC supporters.
The Supporters Association has a building on the corner of the ground (corner flag) that is used as a public house. Away fans are welcomed on match days and the building is used through the week by supporters. This building was built by the supporters under an agreement with an old chairman’s permission.
Today we see IOR legally trying to get this building back through solicitors correspondences to the supporters Association. Once the local council sell the ground to Hufc owners – IOR. The supporters association will be removed from the Corner Flag by the IOR. This is a supporters association that has supported (financially) Hufc over numerous decades.
Please feel free to contact the Supporters committee who would gladly verify these details
On a closing note, we once had the words on the club badge” The Towns Club ” today we have “1908” and IOR Ltd underneath it..
[…] opened with the impending “fight to the death” between Billingham Town and Hartlepool United. Before that my pre-season journies had included a […]