How are the supporters of a football club to judge a new owner? Perhaps the answer to that is the question of how desperate for a new owner they are, but even in the most extreme of circumstances, one common theme of recent years has been that supporters have been more prepared to carry out their own due diligence on those that turn up, out of the blue, promising to repair their clubs. And rightly so. Why should someone with no – or, at best, very little – prior interest in a football club turn up there intending to run it? What could their motives for doing so possibly be? This is an especially pertinent question when we are talking about the lower divisions and non-league football, where profits for even the most prudent of owners are likely to be minimal.
In view of this, it is only fair to ask the question of why another serial football club owner, George Rolls, should have decided to quit Weymouth Football Club of the Southern League Premier Division to take over the ownership of troubled Blue Square Premier club Kettering Town, which, he confirmed this evening to BBC London’s Caroline Barker, should be completed by the end of this week. And perhaps even more pressingly than this, why is he taking ownership of this club and leaving Dorset barely a couple of weeks after stating that, “Weymouth fans can rest assured that the Rolls family will not be leaving any time soon.”
This hagiography from the official Cambridge United website gives us a version of Rolls’ past, but it is events subsequent to the writing of that particular article that cause the most concern over his suitability to run any football club, never mind one in as delicate a state as Kettering Town have been this season. Within six months of becoming the chairman of Cambridge United, Rolls had departed from The Abbey Stadium after spending just eight months as the club’s chairman following the club’s farcical pre-season during the summer of 2009. Manager Gary Brabin was sacked by Rolls despite claiming the Blue Square Premier’s Manager of the Season award after leading Cambridge to the final of the play-offs, but he was sacked by Rolls during the summer and replaced with the former Leyton Orient manager Martin Ling. Ling, however, quit the job after just nine days, citing irreconcilable differences with Rolls. This was enough to force Rolls from Cambridge, which meant that Ling did return to Cambridge United and he stayed at the club until his dismissal in February of last year.
Rolls, however, couldn’t stay away from football for long, and by the start of 2010 he was back involved in the game, this time at the perennially-troubled Weymouth FC. In January of 2010 he told BBC Solent that, “Short-term is all about survival in the Conference South this year. Long term, it will be to front the club debt-free and be back in the Blue Square Premier and full-time.” He failed in all respects. Weymouth tumbled from the Blue Square South and into the Southern League at the end of the 2009/10 in bottom place in the table, having managed to win just twenty-two points all season and conceded more than one hundred goals, while, within less than three months of the above interview, Weymouth were in a CVA with debts of £822,000. Admitttedly, this wasn’t a debt run up on Rolls’ watch, but as ploys to get debt-free go, it’s about as dishonorable as they come.
What has happened at Weymouth over the last couple of years could fill a book of its own, but it has included holding talks with nearby Dorchester Town with a few to a ground-share, resigning and handing the chairmanship to a Lithuanian businessman who subsequently resigned, only for Rolls’ wife Amanda to join the board in his place and much more besides. Still, though the denials over him looking to take over at Kettering Town continued apace. Here he is, denying it at the end of December last year, and here’s a message from Weymouth’s official site posted less than two weeks ago, which quotes Rolls as saying that, “no takeover of the troubled club was ever going to materialise.” Rolls stated very publicly very recently that he was only acting as an “advisor” to Imraan Ladak and Kettering Town. What, all concerned will reasonably be asking today, has changed so much over the last couple of weeks or so? Or was Rolls lying all along?
The man now being linked with Weymouth FC is Tony Campbell. Campbell is a former chief operating officer from Plymouth Argyle, but he has also dabbled elsewhere – most notably at Rushden & Diamonds FC last summer, where he introduced Japanese businessmen to the club with a view to taking it over shortly before it folded. It has been suggested by some that Campbell is little more than a front man for the Rolls family to circumvent FA rules on multiple influence on clubs maintain control of Weymouth, but this is obviously unprovable. He will have much to prove at Weymouth, but many of the clubs supporters now give the impression of having been kicked from pillar to post so many times that their trust will be very difficult to win over.
It is understandable that Kettering Town supporters may be desperate at the moment. The question of how desperate they are will likely come to define their relationship with George Rolls, if or when he takes over the ownership of their club. What is clear, however, is that Rolls has considerable explaining to do. The long, tall and short of it is that his arrival at Nene Park seems likely to be tainted by the belief of many that he lied repeatedly over his plans to take over there, and considering the fact that he has found it almost impossible to stay out of the limelight since he first started indulging his desire to run a football club in 2009 makes it difficult to have any confidence whatsoever that he can provide the stability that Kettering Town needs.
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