The FA Trophy run of the 2004/05 season must seem likely an awfully long time ago now for the supporters of Evo-Stik League Division One South side Hucknall Town at the moment. That year’s Trophy final might not have felt quite as glamorous as it might have done in previous years on account of being played at Villa Park because of the rebuilding of Wembley stadium, but Hucknall were there playing against Canvey Island, a match which they only lost by six goals to five on a penalty shoot-out after a one-all draw. The club’s run to the final had started in the First Round of the competition, in front of 273 people for a comfortable home win against Bracknell Town. Six matches later, having beaten Radcliffe Borough, Southport, Northwich Victoria, Cambridge City and, over two legs, Bishops Stortford, the team, which was then playing in the Blue Square North, took the pitch at Villa Park in front of a crowd of over 8,000 people and they almost walked away with the trophy.
The club’s descent has been gradual. Relegation to the Premier Division of the Evo-Stik League came in 2009 and a further drop came two years later. That it was in financial difficulty had been reasonably common knowledge for some time, but the last twelve months or so have become a period during which those difficulties have taken on an almost farcical quality. The club has had five different managers over this time period, and is now rooted to the bottom of the Evo-Stik League Division One South table with just fifteen points from its twenty-five matches. Former chairman Derek Blow quit the club in the middle of December and the club had to endure a wretched Christmas and New Year period, when an 8-1 home defeat at the hands of Rainworth Miners Welfare on Boxing Day was followed by the club only being able to field a team of eight players for a New Years Day trip to play Loughborough Dynamo.
Loughborough only led by two goals to nil at half-time, but a final score of thirteen-nil couldn’t have provided a worse start to the new season for the club and provided an appropriate visual metaphor for the dismal position in which the club has found itself. The defeats have continued since then, but anything that could have happened on the pitch has been eclipsed by events away from it. The club – which had to to stop paying its players at the end of last season – had been on the receiving end of an unpaid tax bill for an amount reported as £87,000, although the size of the club’s debt has subsequently been described by Chief Executive Steve Peat as being “”not anywhere as bad as that” (referring to the previously reported figure.) With crowds having slumped to less than 150 for home matches, perhaps the precise size of this debt has become something of an irrelevance. What isn’t an irrelevance, however, is the effect of enforcement action with regard to the debt which has now been instigated by HMRC.
Last Friday afternoon, the bailiffs turned up at the club’s Watnall Road ground and removed mowing equipment as well as items from the club bar. The club has confirmed that it will be able to fulfill its next league match against Coalville this weekend, but it has also had to confirm that its social club will now be closing. For clubs at this level of the game, such facilities are critical in providing extra streams of revenue in order to sustain paying wages which can seldom be supported by gate receipts and sponsorship money alone. It is, perhaps, this more than anything else which raises a huge question mark over whether the club has a viable future. At present, it is unclear whether this closure is temporary or permanent, but if the closure of its social club is to be a permanent state of affairs, the club will have to plug this financial gap by other means, and in the current financial climate difficulty of doing this should be self-evident.
If the club can stagger on to the summer and regroup, then there is a chance that the club can survive. What is, perhaps, the most striking aspect of the situation that the club finds itself in today is the relatively small amount of money that all of this is over. Tomorrow is transfer deadline day and millions of pounds will likely be thrown around in transfer fees, contracts and agents fees. If we were to take “football” as a single phenomenon, there is obviously enough money sluicing around to be able to take care of the likes of Hucknall Town. Even if the amount of money that the club owes to HMRC is as much £87,000 – and even this amount has been described as overstated by the club itself – then this is change down the back of the sofa to any level of the professional game. It’s something that may be worth bearing in mind tomorrow, as Sky Sports News shrieks for eighteen hours while clubs throw money around as if it’s going out of fashion. At the sharp end of non-league football, such luxuries might as well exist in a parallel universe.
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