The former York City owner John Batchelor died at the relatively youthful age of fifty-one in a Stockport hospital on the eleventh of April. The news of his death has been greeted with a mixture of shock and surprise by many that were aware of him. It would, however, be fair to say that his death hasn’t been greeted with much sadness by those that came into contact with him in football, at least. Batchelor, who seemed to revel in role within lower league football so extreme that by the end he could almost be described as a pantomime villain, never seemed to give a damn about those that he screwed whilst he was alive. Perhaps the lack of sadness at his parting is what he would have wanted.
His arrival at York in 2002 was all about creating a fuss and creating headlines. Having had a moderate career in touring car racing, he was unknown within football but promised great things for the club. He redesigned the club’s kit to incorporate a chequered flag and changed its name to “York City Soccer Club” as a rebranding exercise. For the duration of his involvement at Bootham Crescent, however, he was running it into the ground. Persimmon Homes, who had agreed to purchase the club’s ground, had paid him £400,000 in sponsorship money for the sports club that he was now claiming York City to be a part of, but only a quarter of this was said to find its way through to the football club’s coffers. Batchelor brought himself a £250,000 house and, nine months after he took over, York City were in administration.
Batchelor attempted to buy the club back from the administrator, but lost out to the Supporters Trust in March 2003. The seeds that led to the club’s relegation from the Football League, however, had been sewn. He stayed out of football for the time being, though, before returning to the game in 2008 with a series of unsuccessful bids to buy failing clubs. First of all, he turned up at Mansfield Town, where he was lined up as the replacement to their very own reviled chairman, Keith Haslam. Indeed, there were some that believed that Batchelor was introduced as a potential owner to make Haslam seem more palatable to supporters. His interview with the local newspapers has since entered into infamy:
“Let’s be clear, I want a football club, preferably one in the league. The ONLY reason that I want it is to make money, the only reason that I want to do that is to look after my immediate family. I can only do that by making it work on the pitch and as a result making it work commercially. This would be MY club, if you like what you see come and watch, if you don’t, then stay away. I am not even interested in discussing it with “fans”, however, I will talk to customers anytime.”
In the five intervening years, he had made his business practices perfectly clear. He had bought a stream of companies, only to see the majority of them collapse. In the most infamous case, he bought Moornate Chemists, a Burnley based family firm with a downpayment of £70,000 and further payments to the sum of £415,000 promised to complete the sale. Moornate was soon subsumed into another Batchelor company called The Besglos Polish Company, but David Brown, the man that had sold Moornate, didn’t see any more of the £415,000 that he was owed and within months Besglos was in administration. He recalled that Batchelor once said to him, “This is what I do for a living: I fuck companies”. Batchelor spent a spell in hospital towards the end of 2006 suffering from alcohol dependency.
The modus operandum hadn’t changed at Mansfield. The big “marketing” trick was to change the club’s name to Harchester United, after the fictional team from Sky TV’s “Dream Team” soap opera. The deal foundered and he then pitched up at Accrington Stanley, offering £1.5m to buy the club, relocated it to Leigh and call it Lancashire United. Accrington’s then owner, Eric Whalley, was unimpressed and rejected the offer. He was then involved in attempts to buy Chester City and as recently as last summer was fronting a four man consortium that was attempting to buy Southampton from the club’s administrators. It was, perhaps, his brazenness that proved to be his undoing in a business sense. In December of last year he signed a declaration which barred him from acting as a company director for seven years. The Insolvency Service’s public statement on the matter made for pretty damning reading:
“The misconduct is primarily concerned with both companies making payments to Mr Batchelor personally. These payments totalling about £50,000 were made between 12 June 2007 and 06 August 2007 at a time when he knew that the companies were insolvent. Furthermore, Mr Batchelor took control of each company by utilising their funds to buy their own shares. This in itself was not illegal, but the structure of the acquisitions, was detrimental to the creditors of the companies concerned, and to the benefit of Mr Batchelor’s connected companies, which were taking over the businesses. Mr Batchelor took over Besglos on 28 March 2007 and placed it into Administration on 07 August 2007, and Moornate on 30 April 2007, placing it into Administration on 26 July 2007.”
“This is what I do for a living: I fuck companies”, then, passes from being a way of conducting business to being an epitapth for a man whose impression upon the game was entirely negative. It’s difficult to imagine that there would have been a death bed repentence – there’s no form in his entire back catalogue that indicates that he would have done so, and we know for certain that he never made any public apology for his behaviour in business. Considering the number of times that alcohol makes an appearance in stories about his business activities, it would be easy to draw the conclusion that it was the alcoholism that ended up doing for him and this would certainly explain (although it wouldn’t vindicate) some of the public pronouncements that he made over the last two or three years.
As such, the terms of engagement between John Batchelor and football supporters were drawn pretty early on. He was pretty open in his contempt for football supporters, and football supporters were hardly backward in coming forward with what could be described as ripe opinions about him. Maybe, on one level, we should find sympathy for anyone that lives their life in the shadow of alcoholism. However, he never gave any indication of showing any regret for his actions or his public statements, and the only sorry conclusion that we can reach is that at least football will be better off for his no longer being around. Ultimately, to say only that “we should find sympathy” for him seems to be the most damning indictment of all. John Batchelor: This is what he did for a living. He fucked companies. It’s not much of a legacy, when all is said and done.