Ebbsfleet United: When Players & The Ownership Fall Out

Having finished the season just one place short of the play-off places in the National League, you’d think that Ebbsfleet United would be a fairly happy place at the moment. Indeed, it’s saying something made for the progress made by the club on the pitch  over the last couple of seasons that this season was a tiny step back. Ebbsfleet ended the season in eighth place in the table with sixty-seven points, having finished sixth and with seventy-four the season before. This, however, requires a little context. At the end of the season before last, Ebbsfleet were promoted from the National League South through the play-offs, having failed to get over that hurdle the year before. In comparison with the bouncing between these two divisions over the previous few years, the club seems settled in the National League.

Storm clouds have been brewing all season, though. The players of Ebbsfleet United have been paid late over thirteen of the last fifteen months, and had, as of yesterday, still not been paid for the end of April. How do we know this? The players told us themselves, and it’s not even the first time they’ve done so this season. It was reported in October last year that players and staff had turned up four days late for the start of pre-season training and that players had gone seven of the last ten months without getting paid on time. After it happened again at the end of January, they issued a statement advising that they had been paid on time once in the previous twelve months, that their pensions hadn’t been paid, and that they’d unknowingly played matches earlier in the season without the correct medical insurance in place. This astonishing revelation deserves to be repeated in full:

The football club were unable to make the players medical insurance premium which they are contractually obliged to do. The football club consciously withheld this information from the players resulting in the players playing three matches in the national league without cover. This would have been catastrophic for any players that would have been unfortunate enough to suffer a serious injury, this could have resulted in the end of a player’s career.

The players were made aware by their pension company that the football club had not made any contribution to their Government Work Place Pension since June 2018. It had come to light and confirmed that not only had the employers contribution not been paid but the players contribution hadn’t either. This had been deducted from their monthly salaries and withheld without their knowledge or authorisation.

This year has seen a steady stream of stories emerge which hint at the financial issues and deep unhappiness that has been enveloping the club this season. At the end of March, the players refused to warm up for their National League match against Wrexham in protest at the ongoing issues over their wages and issued a new statement describing their unpaid wages as a “disgrace” a few days later. Meanwhile, it was confirmed that the club was set to be suspended from its training ground over an unpaid £30,000 bill there. A few days after this was reported, a meeting was held with the Fleet Trust and details were minuted on the club’s website. The club’s accounts are currently two and a half months overdue at Companies House.

On top of all of this, earlier this week a further statement followed from the Ebbsfleet United players which alleged that Dr Al-Humaidi had refused to meet face-to-face with the players and that he “continues to mislead every employee of Ebbsfleet United FC with fabricated documents such as Telex Transfers of amounts sent on three separate occasions from Kuwait.” In other words, claiming to have paid them when he has done no such thing. These allegations were denied almost immediately by the club, who claimed that any of the club’s remaining contracted players – the club has seven players contracted to June 2020 – can make formal contractual requests as of the end of this month and that, “Any suggestion of attempts to deliberately mislead may result in legal action.” In other words, the club is calling the players liars.

We obviously don’t know who is telling the truth and who is lying here, but it’s difficult to think of a single reason why the players would do. They just want to get on with their jobs, and they want to be paid on time, have their health insurance paid, and have their pensions attended to in the manner which had been promised. Is the implication here that they are lying for the sake of it? That yes, a Telex Transfer payments have been sent that have not been received by the players? Because this all starts to sound somewhat difficult to believe. Ebbsfleet United’s players are not likely to be on incredibly high salaries. They have mortgages to pay. Obligations to meet. If the club isn’t able to meet these on time, it should explain clearly and concisely why this should be. And if these bank transfers are being made but then delayed by extra checks without cashflow being a problem, then perhaps they should be sent a little earlier. As the employer, it is on Dr Al-Humaidi to get the players’ wages into their bank accounts on time, every month. Excuses, month after month, are not good enough.

It’s a familiar enough story, this. Taken in isolation, any of the individual problems that have beset Ebbsfleet United over the course of this season might have been chalked off as bad luck, oversight, miscommunication or honest mistake. However, when there has been a conflation of problems at Ebbsfleet United over the course of this season, and the club’s reaction to this, increasingly defensive and snippy, right down to outright calling the players liars, hints at an owner out of his depth with the delicate handling required for a football club playing at a level at which the overwhelming majority of clubs live a hand-to-mouth existence. It seems unlikely on the basis of available evidence that Ebbsfleet United could get anywhere near eighth place in the National League again next season. Manager Garry Hill is a non-league veteran, but he’s not an alchemist. Unless something significantly over the course of this summer, the most likely question to be asked at the start of next season will be that of how far they might fall until Dr Abdulla Al-Humaini either shapes up or shifts out of the club.