Non-league football is often described as a family, and one of its more recurring themes is that certain names have a tendency to turn up over and over again, like half-forgotten uncles at a reunion. Take, for example, Gary Calder. Calder was the chairman of Hornchurch FC when their money suddenly ran out towards the end of 2004 and he pitched up some time after this at Weymouth, as the Chief Executive of the club. Calder arrived at Rushden and Diamonds at the start of December with the father and son team of Steve and Liam Beasant in tow. Steve had been involved in a previous attempt to buy Weymouth, and the plans that they and Calder had were, in some respects, appealing. Their company, PB Devs, was set to be based at the club’s Nene Park ground, offering NVQs within the sport and leisure industry. Within three months, though, that plan was starting to unravel and since then the wellbeing of Rushden & Diamonds FC has taken a distinct turn for the worse.
As early as the middle of January, there were signs of cracks in this potential panacea for smaller clubs. Back in Weymouth, a sports trust called WeySports was making local news headlines over confusion regarding who exactly was eligible to gain the qualification on offer, with PB Devs having acted as the link between the company offering the NVQs – Luis Michael Training – and local sports clubs undertaking the training. By March, PB Devs had not begun fully trading from Nene Park (the date that they had been expected to open for trading had been January of this year) and Calder resigned the chairmanship, passing it Liam Beasant. Meanwhile, it became apparent that the club was under a transfer embargo from the Football Conference because of an unpaid tax bill, and they then received a five point deduction in accordance with Football Conference financial auditing rules for reporting inaccurate information in their quarterly financial reports.
At the same time, a winding up petition was presented against the club by a local company, Cloverdale Catering, which is to be heard on the thirteenth of June at the High Court in London. By the end of April, it was becoming apparent that there was something seriously wrong at Nene Park. Its former owner, Keith Cousins, had claimed that he left Rushden & Diamonds debt-free when he passed it on to the new owners and the club’s defence seems to have been that its outstanding tax bill owed to HMRC was inherited from Calder’s time in charge of the club. That Calder is so closely linked with the Beasants and that Liam Beasant had been the vice-chairman at the time seems to be a detail that the club overlooked in its public statement on the subject. And none of this answered the question of why the club was suddenly losing money so drastically.
As if this wasn’t enough, it was also by this time apparent that the player’s wages hadn’t been being paid on time by the club. For two months, they had been being paid by the supporters representative on the board of directors of the club but, although she received written confirmation that she was to be repaid this money in full, she is understood not have been repaid a single penny of what she lent the club yet. As if this wasn’t farcical (and, as an aside, morally reprehensible) enough, it has since emerged that the club failed to pay its players subsequent to this to the extent that said players even considered going on strike. If the club was debt-free at the start of December and hasn’t been paying its players or its tax bill, where, one might reasonably ask, has any money into the club been going? Unpleasant rumours have been circling amongst the club’s support on this subject for a while.
The icing on the cake seems to have come with a creditors’ meeting called by Steve Beasant last week. The aim of the meeting was apparently to assuage creditors, several of whom may have been concerned by the winding up petition brought by Cloverdale Catering (who themselves are understood to be owed £60,000). It seems, however, from reports from several people that were present at it, that couldn’t have gone much worse. Liam Beasant, the club’s chairman, wasn’t even present, but his dad (the CEO) was, and he couldn’t even answer what one would consider to be a reasonably straightforward question – that of what the club’s debts total are at present. In addition to this, rather than providing answers to the creditors to clarify how they were going to be paid, emphasis seems to have been placed upon the creditors themselves to come up with solutions to the club’s woes. Considering this, it would not be surprising if said creditors took the opinion that they are highly unlikely to get paid and joined those seeking tougher action against the club.
The best guess that can be given with regard to the club’s current debts is that they may be in the region of £750,000, but even this has been described by sources as a “best guess”. Beasant has called a Supporters Forum for tonight (Tuesday), which, in a moment of extreme clarity, will be chaired by the former owner Keith Cousins in order to prevent the meeting from being “used as an opportunity to attack the current Directors”. The club’s official announcement of this meeting is, in a quite literal sense, pathetic. What its exact purpose is cannot be clearly ascertained from the announcement and there is a distinct hint of, “Well, we’re out of ideas – have you got anything?” about it all. It states that, “The meeting is to discuss the Club’s position, and the need for all to step up to help save the Club”, but, in view of the fact that there is a winding up order that has been issued against the club that hasn’t been satisfied, players have not been being paid on time and the club has already been deducted five points by the Football Conference, it would seem to be perfectly evident to anybody that Rushden & Diamonds FC is in a whole heap of trouble. That, to bring it down to a handful of words, is the club’s position. A case could even be made for the question being asked over whether the last six months have been incompetently or dishonestly managed, because it looks a little from as if the outside as if it must be one of the two.
It is the second part of the statement, regarding “and the need for all to step up to help save the Club”, that should concern the supporters, many of whom would naturally wish to do exactly that. The question that they should perhaps be asking themselves, however, is what exactly this statement means. Do Rushden’s supporters wish to “save the Club”, or prop up the current owners, who have done precious little over the last five months to suggest that they are capable acting as its custodians in a manner that will be in anything like the long-term in of interest of the supporters. In the meantime, The Diamonds Supporters Group has set up a website with the aim of fundraising and publicising its current plight, while the club’s supporters trust has set a meeting for later this month to discuss the matter further. Whether they will able to save Rushden & Diamonds is open to question, but they may at least try. What form exactly this will take is not known exactly, but at least by tonight they may have a better idea of just how bad the situation at Nene Park actually is, and this will be something of a first, on recent form.
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