There’s Been a Fishy Smell Emanating from Cleethorpes
So, what is a football club to do, under such circumstances? Some have received an injection of funds from directors, while others have managed to borrow money secured against their grounds. A lot of clubs, however, have simply found a way of muddling through, deferring wages or furloughing their players, and waiting for money from bailouts that have been thrashed out elsewhere. The number of clubs to have actually folded has been vanishingly small – the biggest to fall this year was Macclesfield Town, who’d just been relegated into the National League, but they had been a financial basket case for several years – but, despite this, it doesn’t seem particularly likely that the fortunes of clubs will be improving that much soon.
All of which takes us to Cleethorpes, on the North East Lincolnshire coast. The 21st century has not been terribly kind to Grimsby Town. They started the new millennium in Division One of the Football League, playing as equals against the likes of Manchester City, Sheffield United and Wolverhampton Wanderers. But whereas those three clubs all now inhabit the Premier League – and two of them have played European football – the last two decades have been tough on the club, who fell down through the divisions and were relegated into the Football Conference in 2010. It took the club five years to get back into the League, but the club’s performance since their return in 2016 hasn’t been especially stellar either. The four seasons since then haven’t seen them finished above 14th place in League Two, with all the feeling of stagnation hanging over the club that such a record implies.
A sizeable proportion of the club’s support has laid the blame for this stagnation at the door of chairman of John Fenty. Fenty has a long association with the club – he became a director of the club for the first time in March 1999 before leaving the position nine months later, but returned after the ITV Digital collapse and became chairman in April 2004 – but that isn’t to say that he’s been popular amongst supporters. Divisive would be the better word. Some have argued that his financial support has kept the club alive when it would otherwise have collapsed, but others counter-argue that his decisions have been one of the prime reasons behind the club’s decline. These viewpoints do not, of course, have to be mutually exclusive from one another. Fenty resigned as chairman in 2011 but continued as the club’s de facto chairman until the appointment of Philip Day into the position in May 2020.
Over the last week, however, Fenty’s search for investment into the club has come under considerable scrutiny following the sighting of an individual with a particularly colourful past at Blundell Park, and the subsequent announcement that this investor would be investing £1m into the club. That investor goes by the name of Alex May, but he hasn’t always, and under his previous name of Alick Kapikanya he was involved in something that should have ensured that he was allowed nowhere near any football club of any standing in this country.
Alex May is a convicted fraudster. Working alongside fellow conman Marshall Joseph, he recruited a team of conmen, including a conveyancing agent, to acquire the title deeds to ten houses, using fake passports or driving licences and utility bills to pose as the real homeowners. The fake documents were then used to sign over the properties to Joseph so that he could take out loans with a number of financial institutions, securing the mortgages against the ‘stolen’ homes. The gang made £3.5m before their arrest. Joseph admitted conspiracy to defraud and a bankruptcy offence and was sentenced to four and a half years in prison. Kapikanya admitted conspiracy and was sentenced to six years. After his release from prison, he changed his name from the easily Googleable Alick Kapikanya to the considerably more anonymous-sounding Alex May.
This isn’t May’s first attempt to involve himself in professional football, either. In June 2018 he was sniffing around Chesterfield, while a year later he was an advisor to an attempted takeover of Notts County by lawyer Colin Dodd. However, an investigation by the Mirror established that May had changed his name and had this particular past., and Dodd himself told the Mirror at the time that:
Alex May, when we were first introduced, disclosed everyone about his conviction. He has changed his name. He came clean and told us and everyone involved in this transaction is aware of that.
He deserves a second chance, everyone makes mistakes in life and that is what we are doing.
That is on the record, everyone involved in this project knows his background. He has spent the last 10 years trying to restore his reputation. He has been helping us with his knowledgeable contacts.
County were sold at the end of July 2019 to Alexander and Christoffer Reedtz, the Bulgarian owners of the Football Radar analysis company, while Chesterfield ended up under the ownership of their supporters trust.
The idea that May’s attempt to get his feet under the table at Blundell Park is a flash in the pan of a story seems specious. At the end of April, he became listed as a person of significant interest in a company called Town Centre Living Ltd alongside… a certain John Fenty. The company is listed as being involved in the “Development of building projects.” Neither May nor Fenty have explained what, exactly, this company is all about, or how its fortunes may have ended up intersecting with those of Grimsby Town FC, although May did release a statement, seeking to clarify his involvement. He claimed that his share purchase offer came with no strings attached, but few have been swayed by that claim.
Suffice to say, though, property developers and football have an extremely chequered history, and May’s declarations proved to be worth very little, when they were put to the directors of the club. May wanted to purchase £1m worth of shares in the club, but on Monday the directors of the club – including manager Ian Holloway – voted to reject the offer, with their subsequent statement confirming that, “The board had previously made it clear to Mr May that because of his criminal conviction he could not become a director or be involved in the management of the club.” This hasn’t quite been the end of the matter for Fenty, either. He has had to resign as the Deputy Leader of North East Lincolnshire Council over his connections with May.
This season has proved so far to be another challenging one for Grimsby, who currently lie in 20th place in League Two, just three points above the relegation places. Tom Shutes has been interested in getting involved at Blundell Park for some time (with high-falutin’ plans for a new ground), but an attempted takeover earlier this year faltered because information that the club had previously requested from Mr Shutes was not forthcoming:
Mr Shutes first approached the Club approximately two years ago with a view to acquiring it in conjunction with his proposed redevelopment on the docks. He wanted to complete the purchase by the end of November 2018. That did not happen. In February 2019 a representative of Mr Shutes attended a Board meeting and presented the plans which Mr Shutes has now made public. The Board was happy to proceed further and asked the representative to let it have financial projections for the running of the Club over the next five years.
In particular, the Board required clarity on the cost of the new stadium, how this would be financed and the financial implications for the Club i.e. would there be capital and interest repayable over a period of time and if so what period or rent payable and again at what rate and over what period. Such financial information is also required by the EFL in connection with the change of ownership. From that date and up to present that information has not been forthcoming.
Still, though, this week it has been reported that Shutes has been back in contact with the club with a view to investing in it. Whether anything will come out of this or not is anybody’s guess, but at least, if there is much consolation to be taken from a pretty dismal week for Grimsby Town, supporters can take solace from the fact that at least Shutes isn’t a convicted fraudster who – just as Spencer Trethewy, the man whose three months at Aldershot FC in the early 1990s were pivotal in the death of that club, had previously done – changed his name by deed poll in order to give himself “a fresh start.” It’s the thinnest of silver linings, but when you’re 20th in League Two during a global pandemic that has been threatening the ongoing viability of professional football in this country, it’s better than nothing.