The pre-season is slowly but surely starting to rumble to life, but down in Hampshire there is one football club for whom supporters might well be wondering whether it is all worth it this weekend. Aldershot Town’s relegation from the Football League, which was swiftly followed by entering into administration following months of financial mismanagement and boardroom bickering, has put a club formed from the ashes of a previous incarnation which itself had gone to the wall a little over twenty years ago into a uniquely precarious position. In recent years, the Football Conference has been getting increasingly tough on clubs that find themselves teetering on the brink of financial oblivion, and its current rules state quite clearly that any club seeking to enter into a Company Volunary Arrangement (a CVA) have to have an arrangement in place to pay all creditors in full within three years. The days of offering coppers in the pound, in this division at least, are a thing of the past.
The sanction for failing to do so couldn’t be much stiffer – demotion at the end of the season for any club that fails to agree such terms – and this seems to have had something approaching its desired effect, with the clubs of the three divisions of the Football Conference managing, broadly speaking, to stay out of trouble over the course of last season. For Aldershot Town, however, this was bad news. An agreement between the Football League and the Football Conference means that any sanctions regarding financial misdemeanours for newly-relegated clubs will not apply until they have completed a full season in the division. This, however, doesn’t make the small matter of agreeing a CVA that doesn’t offer all creditors payment in full, and this in turn means that Aldershot Town’s uncertain future has merely been deferred by a year. Should the club fail to agree such an arrangement, next season will effectively be a dead rubber, with only prospect of demotion to either the Isthmian League or Southern League on the horizon at the end of next season.
Bearing all of this in mind, it is perhaps surprising that, amongst the numerous headlines proclaiming the death of the club, it has got as close as it has to reaching an agreement that would prevent the club from this particularly embarrassing state of affairs coming to pass. Initially, it looked as if there would be two bids for the club on the table, one from its Supporters Trust and one from a group of businessmen led by the club’s former chairman Shahid Azeem. The Trust’s bid, however, seems to have fallen flat. Considering that the club’s average attendance last season was just 2,271 people – the fourth lowest in the entire Football League – we might reflect that the Trust’s aim of raising half a million pounds to submit a bid for it might have been a little on the optimistic side. The Trust did manage to raise over £80,000, but this is clearly a long way short of the amount of money required to be competitive with any bid, and over the last week and a half or so something of a white flag has been raised in their attempts to purchase the club.
What, though, of the other bid? After all, consortia of businessmen should at least have been able to find the money to pay of creditors and steady the tiller at The Recreation Ground, shouldn’t they? Well, in this case they couldn’t, actually. The group has raised more than £600,000 in an attempt to save the club and the proposed CVA was formally agreed with creditors, but even this has left a £50,000 shortfall which meant that virtual buckets had to brought out again to be rattled in the hope that this amount of money could be made up. Quantuma Restructuring, the company dealing with this mess, had warned that the club could well be liquidated if creditors had not accepted the terms of the deal proposed by the consortium. Considering this, it was perhaps unsurprising that creditors did not vote against it, but joint administrator Carl Jackson warned that this might not be enough to satisfy Football Conference rules:
The offer we have on the table doesn’t quite match what we need to overcome the Conference rules, in terms of payments to creditors. We are still concerned about whether we will have enough funds to take the club forward but we hope to have better news in the next couple of days.
All of this leaves the situation at The Recreation Ground at something of a crossroads, at the exact time of writing. If the club is bought by this group without the Football Conference’s rules on insolvency having been satisfied, it would face the prospect of being demoted at the end of next season no matter how the team performs on the pitch. And on top of that, Aldershot Town will be starting next season with a ten point deduction following their entry into administration as last season came to a close. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some supporters are now openly wondering whether there might not be a better way to spend £600,000 than on this if the club does were to end up being demoted at the end of next season anyway, whilst others might well argue that any take-over involving people that were previously involved in the running of the club might just be another case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” and that it might be preferable to wind the club up now and restart at the very bottom, as Aldershot Town itself started its life in 1992, following the collapse of Aldershot FC, only this time under the management of the supporters trust.
For now, we don’t know whether attempts to make up that shortfall – the cut-off point set by the administrators was close of business on the 5th July – have been successful, though a club statement released on Thursday hinted, in saying that, “Depending on the length of time this fund stays in place other payment option may become available,” that the cut-off date may have already been extended. Furthermore, those putting money in to make up this shortfall might well be justified in asking what, exactly, they would be getting for their money. The current directors and the administrators may well have bee running around, flapping their arms and shouting, “We need £50,000 within twenty-four hours or the club will DIE”, and such story is always likely to generate substantial headlines. However, that deadline same and went, and little changed very much until this middle of this afternoon when – surprise, surprise – in started to be reported that the deadline had been extended until the middle of next week. Those supporters who are paying into the club right now should be demanding something in return – indeed, if the club does manage to scrape through as a result of the sentimental attachment of the fans themselves, the directors of the club should offer a greater share-holding in the club and directorial representation to the club’s Supporters Trust as a way of saying thank you for digging deep in its darkest hour of need. Ethics and business, however, are not often comfortable bedfellows, and it is starting to feel as if there will be further twists and turns before the fate of Aldershot Town Football Club is concluded, one way or another.
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