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Tranmere Rovers & Cheltenham Town Stare Into The Abyss
The Derbyshire town of Ilkeston and Sheffield are a mere forty-five miles apart, but that difference must have felt like light years today at the High Court in London, as Ilkeston Town of the Blue Square South were wound up over a claim for £47,000 brought about by HMRC while Sheffield Wednesday of League One managed to cheat the grim reaper after the Co-operative Bank agreed to fund a payment of £780,000 to HMRC to keep Wednesday ticking over while the search for the a new buyer for the stricken Yorkshire club continues. The extent to which this is a moral conundrum is a debatable one. Wednesday clearly seem to have access to the sort of credit facilities that a club of Ilkeston’s means don’t have. That a judgement that Ilkeston were “plainly insolvent” could be made in under two minutes, as happened this morning, while Wednesday were rescued by the same registrar on the same day may stick in the craw of some, though.
Ilkeston Town’s recent travails have been reasonably well documented. They were rescued in the first place by local businessman Paul Millership in 1992 when their ground was sold by Erewash Borough Council, but Millership’s untimely death at the age of fifty-nine in 2007. The club was taken over by millionaire construction company owner Chek Whyte in 2008 but, although the club managed to get promoted from the Northern Premier League and into the Blue Square North via the play-offs, Whyte’s companies ran into trouble that left him £30m in debt and close to bankruptcy, and at the end of last year he confirmed that he would no longer be able to fund the club. New chairman Gary Hodder managed to keep the ship steady until the end of last season but new owners were desperately needed and not forthcoming.
It feels as if, at some point, wires have become crossed. The Football Conference were presumably given assurances by Ilkeston Town before the start of the season that club could get the funding in place to keep the club solvent and fulfil their fixtures. By today, however, with new owners not forthcoming and no action apparently having been taken by the club itself towards into administration (which would, at least, have stopped today’s case against them), the decision was taken by Registrar Derrett – the same registrar, for the record, that wound up Hyde United last season before the club won on appeal after a desperate money-raising effort – that the club couldn’t be allowed to continue to trade. They have the right to appeal and it was being reported by late this afternoon that an appeal had been lodged, but whether there is much scope for it to be overturned is open to question. The club had claimed that it would be tying up the sale of one of its players for £20,000 in the couple of weeks, but this was less than half of the amount owed and payments of £1,000 per month from the start of this season (when, of course, existing PAYE liabilities would have to continue amongst other things) feels like an optimistic offer to put at such a time.
The seven teams that, at the time of writing, have had wasted their time playing Ilkeston Town so far this season may well already be wondering how their matches so far this season were allowed to be played. It would be easy for us to direct our ire at the High Court or at the HMRC, but it should be understood that, no matter how many times football clubs have been perceived to have “gotten away with it”, the fact of the matter is that no-one has any legal obligation to accept anything less than the full amount owed by the date of the hearing. Turning around and saying, “they should have given us more time”, after the event isn’t necessarily going to be good enough under such circumstances. Did everybody get complacent on the basis of the vast number of previous winding up orders that clubs of all shapes and sizes have managed to sidestep? At the time of writing, there has been no official statement on the part of the Football Conference.
Which way now, though, for supporters of the club? The good news for them is that, whilst Ilkeston Town Football Club own the stands that surround their New Manor Ground stadium, the land upon which they are built is owned by the local council, meaning that it is unlikely that they will be of much interest to anyone winding the club up and selling of its assets. This means that there is no reason, presuming that the council are in agreement, why a new club can’t start at a lower level from the start of next season. Hopefully, this will be done under the ownership of a Supporters Trust, and it is to be hoped that everyone at the club falls in behind any such plan. Supporters of the club may look at the example of Chester FC, who won their first home league match as a new club by six goals to nil in front of a crowd of over 2,700 people at The Deva Stadium this evening. If the will is there it can be done but with such control comes responsibility. If they own their own club in the future, a new football club for Ilkeston has to be run with one primary goal: that this must never be allowed to happen again.
Ilkeston Town, then, seem likely to follow Bromsgrove Rovers into the history books, and the season is only just a month old. The appeal may yet be successful, but this will be likely to only come with payment of their HMRC date having been made in full by the appeal date. Whilst we can only offer sympathy for the supporters of Ilkeston Town FC, it is also a reasonable time to remind them that they themselves are the “club” in Ilkeston Town Football Club, and their future remains in their own destiny if they have the gumption to make it work. The examples of how this can work are all around them and, should they decide that this is the only (or the best) way that football in Ilkeston can progress, there is a community that will help them to realise this ambition. It may seem dark at the moment, but all tunnels have light at the end of them.
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 feel extremely sorry for fans of Ilkeston Town having been through the same thing as a fan of Scarborough FC. The future can be bright if the fans can energise themselves and set up the running of a new club, spending only what they can afford, rather than the boom or bust policy that has caused this awful mess.
It does however raise another issue, and once more I have to state an interest. I think it’s wonderful that teams reform, but they must start at the bottom of the pyramid and not just drop down two divisions. It is currently no great deterent for a club and less reputable owners to go for it and throw money at achieving success. If they fail they can start again debt free and just drop down two divisions, which happens to clubs through poor performances on the pitch.
This also leads to the clogging up of Step 5 leagues. Only one team from each step five league generally wins promotion. That means a club (and I’ll use the case of Farsley AFC here as it affect my club Scarborough Athletic) can drop down but have a head start as it has far greater resources as it’s starting from fresh with no debts. The same could be said of Scarborough Athletic when we joined Step 6, but at least two teams were promoted from that division.
The current situation means that some step 5 leagues are as strong if not stronger than some step 4 and even the lower reaches of step 3 leagues.
Surely the FA leagues committee can sort this out in an instance by installing the play off system across the board, even if it does mean 6 teams going up into step 4 to replace the perneial strugglers who are punching above their weight but were placed in higher leagues some time ago owing to re-organisation of the pyramid.
Surely the idea is for stronger clubs to play at the top of the pyramid?
Anyway, I digress. Good look to all at Ilkeston Town, especially the fans who as ever are the ones really affected by all of this.
Is it not getting to the stage where the various leagues with pro and semi-pro clubs must put in an extra clause that requires all PAYE to be up to date before they’re allowed any points they’ve scored to be used for their league place.
The trend of clubs pretending they’re going concerns whilst owning a relative fortune to HMRC (in other words the taxpayer), and then complaining that they’re getting wound up doesn’t seem to be diminishing.
While there’s no real reason why the HMRC should be treated as a preferential creditor, when a club isn’t paying its taxes, it’s probably safe to say, it’s not paying smaller creditors either, and as the leagues end up with unfulfilled fixtures and a head ache, preventative action would seem prudent.
I’m surprised by your comment: “It is currently no great deterent for a club and less reputable owners to go for it and throw money at achieving success. If they fail they can start again debt free and just drop down two divisions, which happens to clubs through poor performances on the pitch.”
How can the liquidation of a club be no great deterrant? If owners manage a club badly and it goes to the wall it is a terrible thing. Fans are left uncertain as to what the future is, players have to move on, local business suffers and so on. Liquidation benefits no one as even creditors will rarely get all of their money back. The only person who isn’t scared of liquidation is an owner who thinks nothing bad can ever happen or is up to something bad already.
Also I think your point about clubs going all out for promotion and then re-forming a few levels down if it goes wrong, no-harm-done, is plainly wrong. No one has an additude like that. If a club is reformed it is almost always with new owners and a new attitude. Reformed clubs are almost always reformed by fans, with the purpose of having their club ‘back’ and never allowing it to be in financial difficulty ever again.
I am a Chester fan and have seen this very situation first hand. I really cannot understand your attitude towards our club. The liquidation was an awful experience, yet through it we have something which is a million times better than the old club. We’re a community club, benefitting the local area, rather than bringing it down. And HMRC will be very happy that we pay what we owe now, surely that’s better than owing in the first place?
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