It never rains but it pours for Weymouth Football Club. There have been unsavoury rumours emanating from the Dorset-based Blue Square Premier club for over two years now, and the club is now fighting for its very life after the collapse of a take-over bid last week. As some you may recall, at the start of December former chairman Malcolm Curtis had offered the club up for sale having transferred the land surrounding the club’s Wessex Stadium into a company’s name. The chairman of their local rivals Dorchester Town had been hovering on the margins, offering the possibility of a merger between the two clubs, though this seems to have faded into the background. Since then, however, developments have left the club struggling to just stay afloat.
Curtis gave up the reins at The Wessex Stadium to a consortium of local businessmen and former club directors just before Christmas, but he has retained the ownership of the land surrounding the stadium through a third party company, Wessex Delivery Partnership LLP, which is backed by a company called Morgan Sindall, the investment arm of a construction company which, for the record, announced an annual profit of £71m at the end of last year. None of this bodes particularly well for the future of the club. Bills, reportedly contrary to a promise made by Curtis upon his departure as chairman, have not been being paid since Curtis departed, and the club had been putting all of its eggs into the basket of a take-over by two local businessmen, Colin Hill and Lee Power, who had previously been involved at fellow Blue Square Premier club Rushden & Diamonds.
At the end of January, the take-over of the club by Hill and Power seemed to be a foregone conclusion. They were carrying out due diligence and were enthusiastic at the possibility of the purchase. However, since then, everything seems to have fallen apart. What exactly has been going on behind the scenes at the club are open to almost endless debate. What is believed to be fact is that a £500,000 offer to buy back the land surrounding the ground was rejected by Morgan Sindall, who may well believe that the site will have a greater value should they be able to secure ownership of the entire site. In the meantime, however, the club’s chief executive, Gary Calder, has issued a stark warning to the clubs supporters. They now owe £300,000 to various creditors, and the players have not been paid yet in 2009. The players issued fourteen days’ notice last Monday giving them the option to terminate their contracts and leave the club if they are not paid up to date. On Saturday, manager Alan Lewer has also confirmed that he will have to resign if the funds are not forthcoming to secure the clubs future by the end of this week.
What looked like the final nail in the coffin was reached at the end of last week, when Power and Hill’s proposed takeover of the club was confirmed as being dead. The sticking point over the land surrounding the stadium proved to be insurmountable to them. The new owners of the land wanted “significantly more” than they had paid for it just last year. With the club now losing £9,000 per week the club was running out of options so, in a last, desperate measure, the club has put a million shares in Weymouth FC up for sale at 50p each, hoping to bring in enough money to keep the club going until the end of the season and prevent a complete financial meltdown. Early signs are optimistic – at the time of writing there are no definite figures, but it has been rumoured that between £70,000 and £100,000 has already been pledged, though whether this will prove to be enough to do anything like secure their future is very much open to question.
There is something that you can do to help. The club’s supporters have opened a website, Save Our Club, at which you make donations to help to keep them alive. No-one knows whether the extent to which this crisis can be averted through last minute negotiations between the various parties that have already been involved in discussions regarding the the club’s future. What seems certain, however, is that Weymouth Football Club will die unless not only this current crisis is averted, but also the club sets in place a fundamental change in the way that it is run. It needs to adjust to a more sustainable business plan in the long term and if this means surrendering its place in the Blue Square Premier, then so be it. As important as it is to overcome their current difficulties, they must also ensure that this is not allowed to happen again. There will be little point in them surviving this episode if they do not learn from it. Such debates, however, are for the future. For now, we can only wish them the very best of luck in their battle to keep their club alive.