On Saturday, Weymouth beat Salisbury City by two goals to nil in the Zamaretto League Premier Division. It was a significant moment for the Terras. Having started the season under a ten point deduction for entering into administration towards the end of last season, they had spent the whole of this season rooted to the bottom of the table but this win – their third in the last four matches – lifted them out of the relegation places for the first time this season. Yet at Weymouth, as at so many other clubs at the moment, on the pitch events are taking a back seat to what is going on behind the scenes. Once again, Weymouth FC is in trouble.
Weymouth’s status as an apparently perpetual crisis club goes back to 2007 and the sudden decision of hotelier Martyn Harrison to put the entire team – which was then riding comparatively high in the Blue Square Premier – up for sale. The various twists and turns of politicking that they have undergone since then could fill a library, but probably key points to remember are former chairman Malcolm Curtis, who transferred land the club owned surrounding its Wessex (now Bob Lucas – it was renamed in July 2010 for a deceased former chairman) Stadium into his own name and the arrival at the club of George Rolls in November of 2009, who bought the club from administration. By March of last year, the club had entered into a CVA, but questions have been asked about the validity of this arrangement as well as the manner of which he had acquired his share-holding in the club in the first place.
We might have expected that there would be a warm after-glow following Weymouth’s win against Salisbury City on Saturday but, this being Weymouth, it wasn’t long before another row erupted. In an interview with the Dorset Echo on Monday, Rolls stated that he will, “he will walk away from the club at the end of the month if the hate campaign against him fails to cease.” The details of what he said in this interview can be seen here, but there are several issues that he raises that probably warrant further inspection. Let’s have a look at them on a one-by-one basis.
There are Internet warriors out there, many of which don’t even come to the games, who keep taking their frustrations out on me but the club was haemorrhaging money and the assets were all stripped a long time before I came along. All I have done over the past 15 months is try and keep the club going but still people are not satisfied and now enough is enough.
This is an intriguing statement to come from the chairman of a football club that agreed a CVA less than twelve months ago. It’s all very well using emotive phrases like “internet warriors”, which may cause some people nod in agreement with him, but surely if the club entered into a CVA, this arrangement allowed the club a new, debt-free beginning in exchange for a regular payment to an insolvency practitioner. As such, it hardly seems unreasonable to assume that Weymouth FC is currently debt-free or close to debt free. If it isn’t, the supporters deserve an explanation as to why this is. A little more transparency would go a long way and, given that someone else would have to pick up the pieces were Rolls to walk away from the club, to answer this by saying that it is none of anybody’s business seems disingenuous.
The club has no commercial business coming in and many of the sponsors have not been able to pay their bills. The reality of that is, if I decide to walk away, along with a few of the other directors, it would take a six-figure investment to keep the club going to the end of the season and pay back the loans we have put in.
These are tough times. The national economy remains in ruins and significant recovery seems a long way off. The commercial activities of the club are ultimately the responsibility of the management of the club, although (as we noted on this site several years ago) it has occasionally felt as if there can scarcely be a businessman left in the Weymouth area that hasn’t either poured money into the apparent black hole that is the local football club or has been solicited to do so. If the well that is the goodwill of the local economy can no longer persuaded to put money into the club, perhaps it is time for Weymouth FC to look for a different way of keeping itself afloat.
I have already spoken to Shaun Hearn (the Dorchester Town chairman) about the possibility of a groundshare and a deal has been done in principle where both teams would help each other out, if it came to such a point where one of us needed it. People say a groundshare would be the death of the club but I don’t agree because at the end of the day in the current economic climate it makes financial sense. It is something that needs to be considered through open discussions with the fans. But the fact of the matter is unless more people start coming out and supporting the club, it could well have no other choice.
Whatever the rationale is behind this idea would make for fascinating reading. If Weymouth FC has “no commercial business coming in” and there is little likelihood of any prize money coming into the club for this season at least, matchday revenue is essential to keep playing at the level of the Zamaretto League Premier Division a viable prospect. Weymouth is a club that is relatively well-supported. The club’s average home attendance this season is 554. To give that figure a little context, it’s higher than sixteen clubs in the Blue Square North, ten clubs in the Blue Square South and two in the Blue Square Premier, the three non-league divisions above them, and this is despite the team having been bottom of the table for the whole of the season until last Saturday.
If we assume – and it is reasonable to do so – that match day revenue should be vital to a club playing football at this level, we surely have to look at the relative attendances for clubs that have previously been shunted into ground-sharing arrangements. Here are some (randomly selected) examples of what the effect can be upon a non-league club leaving its home town:
- Horsham: Forced to leave Queen Street at the end of the 2007/08 season – average attendance that season, 537. The following season in the same division (the Ryman League Premier Division) was spent ground-sharing at Worthing – average attendance, 270.
- Gloucester City: Forced to leave Meadow Park towards the end of the 2006/07 season – average attendance, 377. Spent the following season ground-sharing at Forest Green Rovers in the same division (the Southern League Premier Division), average attendance, 302.
- Margate: Left Hartsdown Park in 2002 to carry out extensive rebuilding work, but became bogged down in the planning process – average attendance, 1,233. Spent the following season at Dover Athletic in the same league (the Football Conference), average attendance. 684.
So, there is little evidence to suggest any scenario other than a move to Dorchester Town seriously affecting the crowds that the club gets, and therefore its match day revenue. The Bob Lucas Stadium’s future remains open to question for yet more complicated reasons (which we do not have the time to go into here), but the fact of the matter is that it is difficult to see how Weymouth FC will be more likely to remain solvent if it is playing ten miles from its home town on a permanent basis. There is a good reason why clubs treat the idea of ground-sharing as a potential death knell. If George Rolls believes that “in the current economic climate it makes financial sense”, he needs to set out exactly why this would be and how it squares with the comment that immediately preceded it, that such an arrangement would come to fruition “if it came to such a point where one of us needed it”.
The fact of the matter is that Weymouth, as a community, can support a club the size of the club that is has and that the current situation at The Bob Lucas Stadium is largely down to years of mismanagement. Its historical support, although to an extent flaky, proves that. This state of affairs, however, cannot be allowed to continue. We cannot say for sure whether the future of the club or its ground is yet at breaking point or whether Rolls is merely trying to play a game of divide and conquer amongst the club’s support. What we can say for certain, however, is that the supporters will be there long after Rolls gone and that they deserve frank answers to the questions that they ask. He seems to be acting at present, however, as if the supporters of Weymouth FC owe him a living and he may well find out soon, to his cost, that they don’t.
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