In the overall scheme of things, the resignation of a football club from one of the myriad of leagues that make up the non-league pyramid is unlikely to even warrant a footnote in the story of English football. Yet there are lessons that should surely be learned from the protracted collapse of Eastwood Town Football Club, lessons that other clubs at that level of the game would do well to heed. Whether they will or not, however, is a highly debatable questionable.
The proverbial fat lady started to clear her throat a little over a month ago, when the club was evicted from its Coronation Park ground by the local council over the non-payment of rent. Already hopelessly adrift at the bottom of Division One South of the Northern Premier League, this turned out to be the final straw for a club whose reversal of fortunes had, over the last couple of years, been just about as dramatic as have been seen in recent years. Following this came a wearyingly familiar sequence of events. The club’s playing staff ebbed away. Matches were postponed. And then yesterday the club tendered its resignation from the league, meaning that closure is now but a legal technicality away.
It wasn’t ever thus, of course. Over the course of the last ten years or so, Eastwood Town had been one of non-league football’s upwardly mobile clubs. The club’s high point was probably the 2008/09 season, when wins against Wrexham and Wycombe Wanderers saw the club reach the Third Round of the FA Cup. Having reached this stage of the competition, however, the luck of the draw evaded them and a narrow defeat at the hands of Kettering Town followed. Come the end of the season, however, came the sweetest of consolations, as the club won the Northern Premier League title and won promotion to the Conference North for the first time.
That season in the Conference North turned out to be the season that might have made the club, but ended up breaking it instead. On the pitch, the success continued with the club finishing the season in fourth place in the table, having finished the season with a nineteen game unbeaten run. The Football Conference, however, barred the club from entering in the play-offs on account of ground grading issues. Coronation Park had the correct number of seats for the league (B grading), but they were spread across three stands and not two, meaning that the A grading needed for the league above was not met. Following a lost appeal, the club’s then chairman Tony Minnis and director Rob Yong – who had been the money behind this rapid ascent – put it up for sale for £1 and, reportedly, debt-free.
It was the beginning of the end of Eastwood Town Football Club. In the two and a half seasons since that failed appeal, the club has won just nine league matches, enduring two successive relegations and with a third pending this season had their financial problems not finally got on top of them. Rumours regarding players not getting paid became increasingly commonplace and during last season the the gas supply was cut off over a failure to pay the bills. In the summer of 2013, meanwhile, the club was forced to issue a statement in which it stated that it, “would like to place on record that contrary to rumours being circulated via social media, there is no cause for alarm regarding the future of Eastwood Town Football Club” following a threat of winding up over the late submission of accounts.
In November 2013 the club was issued with a winding up petition over an unpaid tax bill of £168,000. Vice-chairman Steve Peat said at that time, “Financially the club is crippled, but as well as the turmoil off the pitch, the club are also struggling on it – sitting fourth bottom with just two wins from 14 games so far,” whilst stating that this alleged debt related to Yong’s time in charge of the club. Peat resigned his position shortly afterwards, and the petition was dismissed in the middle of last month, but there are only so many times that what was clearly an increasingly regular barrage of problems can be cast to one side. Cutting the wage bill hadn’t stablised the club off the pitch, and then last month the final act began to play out, with eviction from Coronation Park.
Broxtowe Borough Council sent the bailiffs in over unpaid debts of £45,000. Coronation Park was locked up, the ground’s gates and office front doors were padlocked, and notices were posted which forbade entry to the ground by anyone not authorised to do so by the council, a spokesperson for whom commented on matter in a tone from which complete exasperation at the way in which the club has been run since 2011 was screamingly obvious. Councillor Pat Lally, he council’s portfolio holder for resources, said:
The council tried everything possible to keep Eastwood Town Football Club open, however we cannot do this on our own. A complete unwillingness by the club’s owner to pay its bills has left the council with no alternative. We know the disappointment that this will cause to those who support Eastwood Town Football Club and both local members and officers have repeatedly tried to get the club to face up to its financial situation and work with us. The management of the club simply have not tried to resolve the situation. It is a mark of how much time and effort the council have been prepared to invest that this situation has been on-going since 2011.
It would seem, then, that the council was pushed into a position in which it didn’t want to find itself as a results of the actions – or inaction – of those running the club over the previous few seasons. It’s not all bad news, however, for Eastwood supporters who might wish to rescue something from this car crash. The leader of Broxtowe Borough Council, Milan Radulovic, told the Eastwood Advertiser newspaper this week that:
In the short-term, the Notts FA are still hoping to use the ground for various events this season, and I gather one or two cup finals are scheduled to take place on the pitch in the next few months. We are also very keen to see the ground remain open for functions and whatever other use necessary.
Longer term, I’d like to see a new club rise from the ashes, and I want it to be one that is not only a big asset to the community, but one which is largely run by it. I want to be able to set up a football trust, where we can raise the capital to start a new club as a limited company with a number of people putting in small contributions.
I want to see ownership of the club go back to the people and the supporters, and fans I’ve already spoken to about this are in agreement. In line with that, the ground will be run as a community facility and football ground. That’s my sole intention as leader of the council. I’ll support it in any way I can – I’ll even help to write the constitution if required.
Maybe it’s for the best, though, the death of Eastwood Town Football Club. After two and a half miserable years, and with a council leader who seems to wish to return football in the town back to some sort of normality, there is an opportunity for supporters of the club to take a real role in helping to build the club back up. Continuing the club’s decline further would most likely have only drained more and more people away from it, never to return. As things stand, though, this tiny tragedy has the opportunity to blossom into something else altogether. The Badgers could yet rise again.
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