It’s been a pretty bad last few months for football in Yorkshire, to varying degrees. In May, Sheffield United were relegated from the Premier League and, since then, Leeds United have sailed close to extinction (and we haven’t heard the last of that yet) and Scarborough went into liquidation and were reformed as Scarborough Athletic. Since the start of this season, Sheffield Wednesday and York City, two teams that looked to be going in the right direction, have had appalling starts, and now Conference club Halifax Town have been landed with a winding up order by the Inland Revenue over an outstanding debt to them of £100,000.
Since first dropping out of the Football League in 1993, Halifax have had, it’s fair to say, “mixed fortunes”. After a couple of difficult seasons they were unexpectedly promoted back up in 1998, but found life back in the League to be too much of a struggle and were relegated again in 2002. As recently as 2006 they made the Conference play-off final, but struggled last season and only narrowly avoided relegation. Off the pitch, though, their problems have been mounting up. They entered into a CVA in September 2003 which requires them to pay £4,000 per month to their creditors on top of their normal running costs, but their long-term future was thrown into doubt when chairman Geoff Ralph resigned and put the club up for sale for £1 on condition that the new owners took responsibility for the club’s debts. Since then, the club have been involved in talks over a takeover led by two businessmen, David Bosomworth and Bobby Ham. These talks, however, have continued to stall and the Inland Revenue are now circling over a tax bill that is outstanding outside of the CVA. The race is now on, and the takeover needs to be completed before the court case on the 5th September if extra funds are to be made available to pay them off. If this doesn’t happen, the CVA could be failed and the club could be put back into administration, which will cost them ten points that their early season form indicates that they can’t afford, or worse.
The dilemma for HTST is that one of the conditions of the proposed take-over is that they surrender their share (approximately 5% of all shares in the club) to the consortium concerned. It’s worth pointing out that the Trust is believed to have a very good working relationship with the consortium and that, subject to certain criteria being met (although the actual criteria themselves weren’t mentioned in a recent press statement), they will transfer ownership of these shares, but this is causing some unrest amongst their supporters. At present, they are intending to put forward a ballot with a recommendation that this should take place, but this raises the potential for discord within HTST itself.
The Trust’s constitution isn’t available on their website (you have to contact them to see a copy of it), but I would be surprised if it didn’t specifically include the purchase of shares as one of its stated aims. Is HTSC specifically requesting its members to vote against its own constitution? There is no question that members of the consortium seeking to buy the club have already put a lot of money into Halifax Town, but why are they pushing for a 75% stake (the point at which they have complete ownership of the club, and don’t have to seek the approval of all shareholders before making important, constitutional decisions relating to the running of the club)? Something about it, to my (neutral) eyes, doesn’t “smell” right, particularly as I have been unable to find any official statements answering these fairly fundamental questions.
At the time of writing, it’s too early to tell what the exact state of play at Halifax is. The story in the local paper today certainly leans towards the scaremongering end of the spectrum – for all the talk of winding up orders, the most likely scenario would be the ending of their CVA and another spell in administration – and it looks from a distance as if what we are seeing here resembles a stand off in which all parties are waiting to see which one blinks first. We’ll have to keep our fingers crossed that all concerned do their best to ensure that the supporters’ best interests are in the fronts of all of their minds, and that HTST, which has done excellent work at Halifax Town over the last four or five years or so, continues to hold the position of influence at The Shay that it currently holds.