Dagenham & Redbridge: Flags & Financial Incontinence
Last Saturday evening in front of the television cameras of BT Sport, Dagenham & Redbridge entertained Aldershot Town in a National League match that may be now be considered to have been of greater consequence for the visitors than it was for the home team. The revival of Aldershot over the course of the last couple of years has been one of the more understated achievements of the National League. Following relegation from the Football League in 2013 and a spell in administration that was accompanied by three consecutive seasons during which the club had one eye over its shoulder at the relegation trapdoor below it, last season saw the Shots climb to fifth place in the table before losing in the play-off semi-finals to Tranmere Rovers. This season has seen further improvement built on these foundations. Aldershot’s win at Victoria Road on Saturday lifted the club to second place in the table, just a point behind leaders Macclesfield Town with fourteen games of the season left to play. All to play for at the top of the table, then.
Home supporters who turned up for this match might have been forgiven somewhat envious looks in the direction of their revitalised opponents. As Aldershot have revived their fortunes, Dagenham & Redbridge find themselves stagnating on the pitch – they are now in eleventh place in the National League table – and potentially at risk away from it, with the news breaking last week that a takeover which completed in January of last year has already run aground. Glyn Hopkin purchased Dagenham last January, paying £1m for his shares in the club. However, following a meeting of the directors of the club held on the first of February, it was confirmed that Hopkin would be resigning as a director of the company (D&RC2017 Ltd., the vehicle which purchased the club in the first place), remaining as a minority shareholder and no longer funding any further shortfall in the running of the club. The four members of the consortium will be trying find a new buyer for the club as soon as possible but, of course, finding someone who will fund the sort of losses that Dagenham have been making may prove to be a tall order.
Two curiosities stand out from reporting of this meeting. Firstly, there is the reason given for Hopkin’s decision to stand aside at the club. The reason given by the club for Hopkin’s resignation was the “disunity within the supporters and in particular the vicious campaign over several months to have the MD (Managing Director) dismissed.” Clearly, relations between Steve Thompson, the club’s Managing Director, who was part of the club prior to last January’s takeover and remains in his position to this day, have been strained, to say the least. Following an aborted attempt to get the now-infamous Billericay Town owner Glenn Tamplin into the club during the summer of 2016 (amongst other things), protests to remove Thompson from his position resulted in a couple of flags – one North Korean, one an American Confederate flag – started appearing at Dagenham matches. These flags were banned by the club, but at the end of October last year the club issued a statement advising that:
On Saturday, 21st October, Glyn Hopkin was invited into the Supporters Club Office and handed, by two members of D&RFC Supporters Club Committee and two other individuals, a sheet of A4 paper. Printed on this paper was a photocopy of a purported email that they alleged was sent by our MD, Steve Thompson.
It was claimed that this email had been sent by Mr Thompson to various other National League clubs and our Safety Officer, Tony Payne.
Mr Thompson had previously denied sending out a generic e-mail to all clubs. It was therefore being implied that Mr Thompson had lied.
The purported e-mail has been confirmed to be a clumsy fake by a number of IT specialists, a fact that was pretty obvious to even a non expert.
Presumably the intention was a deliberate attempt to discredit Steve Thompson and by extension Tony Payne, a highly respected retired senior police officer with Essex Police.
Great strides have been made over the past 10 months, particularly by Glyn Hopkin, to try to integrate the Club with its supporters but it would appear that some of our supporters are not willing to move on. It was therefore very disheartening that the Supporters Club should give so much credence, and be duped, by a bogus document without first checking its provenance.
However in an attempt to stop the inevitable rumour mill that normally surrounds such events the club is making this public statement in the hope of drawing a line under what otherwise could become an unseemly and damaging split.
So far so unseemly, then, and probably a distraction that all concerned could have done without. But it doesn’t feel unreasonable to ask the question of why the club should have used an official statement regarding the possibility of the club’s financial position being perilous to take another swipe at proportion of the club’s support over something that feels so inconsequential. At a club at which living financially hand to mouth on relatively low attendances whilst the team struggles on the pitch has been a fact of life for some considerable time – last season’s fourth placed finish was only the second in which it had finished above the halfway point in any final league table since their surprise promotion to League One in 2010 – it should probably be unsurprising that unrest of various descriptions have been growing in the stands. But what does it say about the levels of professionalism within the club’s administration that it should have continued to prod at this apparently still open sore? The club, as we might reasonably expect of any business, should be able to rise above such protests, regardless of what one thinks of the validity of the those protests in the first place.
There is, of course, a question at the very heart of this. Glyn Hopkin is a self-made businessman, whose used car business has expanded to over forty branches in what might reasonably be described as a cut-throat business environment. We may assume that Thompson is a personal friend of his at some level, but is a couple of flags, a fake email – which by all accounts wasn’t terribly convincing in the first place – and a protest from a small proportion of the club’s support really enough for Hopkin to have decided that this wasn’t really worth the effort in the first place? Well, it certainly sounds counter-intuitive, that someone who’d made themselves a considerable success in that business environment should be so thin-skinned. So is this really the truth behind why he’s walking away from the club after only just over a year at its helm?
Certainly, it would seem that a more obvious rationale for any hard-nosed businessman to take such a drastic decision is right there in the club’s statement. The statement notes that, “Whilst £1.3 million was raised by the initial allocation of shares this has not been sufficient to cover the losses incurred last season and so far this season and whilst Glyn Hopkin has funded this overspend this funding ceased on the 31st December 2017”, at which point questions should probably start to be asked about the club’s financial management. Considering that the takeover of Dagenham & Redbridge took place in January 2017 and that the club’s statement admits this to be an “overspend”, one can only wonder at what Dagenham & Redbridge have actually been spending their money on. £1.3m is more than £100,000 per month, so even the most generous possible interpretation of these numbers paint a depressing picture of financial mismanagement. This is at a club at which attendances have been sitting at an average of around 1,400 this season and, with the club sitting in a mid-table league position and unlikely to trouble either the top or the bottom of the table, they’re unlikely to increase. In comparison with a bunch of disgruntled supporters, couple of flags and a fake email, this feels like a considerably more coherent reason for the decision to pull funding from the club. And, to be clear, it would be a fully understandable reason. No individual or company should be compelled to continue to fund the losses of a financially incontinent football club.
Certainly, if a club is looking for new buyers, those buyers would likely be more concerned by financial losses totalling these amounts than this “vicious campaign.” Equally certainly, any new buyers will be wanting to take a look at the club’s accounts before they start throwing money into a football club whose bank account may resemble something approximating a bonfire fuelled by fifty pound notes at the moment. Having said that, though, even in the event that new buyers aren’t put off by the state of the books, how many might look at the emphasis placed on “vicious” campaigns against the owners of the club and think, “Well, there’s no way I’m going to be putting in a million and a half quid a year for that.” And in the eventuality that the club can somehow find an individual or group of individuals who are prepared to throw more money onto this particular bonfire and aren’t put off by the club’s florid description of a vicious campaign against them, what could be their plan to get the club back on an even financial keel? Because ultimately, we’re talking about the middle of the National League, here, and budgeting should be tight because income will be slender. That’s the nature of the beast.
With Chester and Hartlepool United’s woes already common knowledge and further news last week that even league leaders Macclesfield Town, who have defied gravity this season by hitting the top of the league table with one of the division’s lowest wage budgets, there is an epidemic of financial difficulty going on at this level of football at the moment, and the most likely body to be effect an arrestment of this trend is the National League itself. In the meantime, Dagenham & Redbridge, it would appear, needs considerable financial restructuring because regardless of whatever protests have been going on elsewhere, the grim truth of the matter is that the sort of losses that the club has been sustaining over this period of time simply cannot continue. Something has to give. Perhaps Dagenham & Redbridge will be lucky enough to find another investor or group of investors who are prepared to fund the club’s huge financial losses. Perhaps they won’t. Either way, something needs to change, whether that’s in the National League’s financial governance or in the structuring of how this club – and others – manage their financial affairs.