When David Handley, who had made several bold claims about the amount of money that he would put into the new football club for Kings Lynn, pulled out of the race to start a new club at the last minute because of worries about his credit scoring, it seemed as if the obvious next step would be for the council to do the right thing – to give the prized lease on The Walks stadium to the Blue & Gold Trust, who were intent on setting up a not for profit community club at the ground, with no-one to try and make a profit and the aim of running itself sustainably.
Regrettably, however, even the most black and white of decisions often turn out to be different shades of grey, and West Norfolk Council decided instead to award the twenty-five year lease to Buster Chapman, the owner of King’s Lynn’s speedway team. It is a decision that speaks volumes about their opinion of the supporters of the club (over 350 of whom have joined the Trust) that they should choose to entrust the future of football in the town to someone that has stated quite openly that he intends to make a profit from the club over those whom, by both their very nature and the regulatory structure under which they would be operating, would be prevented from doing so.
Elizabeth Nockold of West Norfolk council stated that the council, “were particularly impressed with their strong business focus and their knowledge and experience of running a successful stadium-based sports business”, all of which jars somewhat with what happened when Chapman made an apparently half-hearted attempt to resucue the club when the winding up order was issued against it last year. His buy-out was rejected by the FA because he wasn’t interested in setting up a limited company. “”I’ve never had a limited company, never owned a limited company and don’t intend to so that really blew everything out of the water”, he told BBC Radio Norfolk at the time. Nockold also described the trust as the “Blue & Gold Supporters Club”. If she couldn’t even get their name right, what chance did they have?
The Chapman family have been fairly open in stating that they intend to make a profit from the new club. How they intend to do this would normally be open to speculation. Many have tried to make money from non-league football before, and many have lost millions of pounds in the futile attempt. The only people that have are those that have managed to sell the grounds and pocket the profits. Buster Chapman and his family may turn out to be the greatest economists of all time, but otherwise their hopes of making any money from Lynn FC (as it will be known) would seem low.
Or will they be? The club’s brand new website boldly states that entrance fees for the 2010/11 season will be £8 plus an extra £2 to sit. It’s probably fair to take a look at some of the other entrance fees that are offered by clubs in the Premier Division of the Ridgeons League by way of comparison. Needham Market FC, currently second in the table, charge £6 entrance with no apparent extra charge to sit. At mid-table Newmarket Town, entry is £5 with no advertised extra charge to sit (and with £5 membership entitling club members to 50p off admission prices). Finally, struggling Ely City charge £6 to get in. £10 to sit down sounds like a lot of money to watch Ridgeons League football and there is no cast iron guarantee that the club will be successful in this league, even though, with the resources at their disposal, they should be.
So, watching Ridgeons League football at Lynn FC will be expensive. What are the new owners’ plans for the involvement of the supporters in the club? One might expect that, after a tight race, the Chapmans would wish to get the supporters trust involved in the running of the club and offer them a place on the board. Indeed, it was widely rumoured that the trust was told that it would be offered a place on the board of directors of the club. Whether this iffer was made or not we don’t know, but what we know for certain is that there will be no Blue & Gold Trust member on the board of Lynn FC. Instead, there will be a monthly “fans forum”. To put it another way, there will be no say for the supporters of the club in how it is run, merely a “forum”, which, it has to be said, offers no guarantee of fan concerns being acted upon. Numerous people will now say, “we all have to pull together for the good of the club”, but this overlooks the question of what the club actually is. The club is the shared emotions of hundreds of people and their identity. There is nothing wrong with questioning his decisions, if his decisions are wrong.
The chance was there, but it has gone. The opportunity was there for a new club, a community club that would seek to build links with the people of the town and would value itself primarily as an asset to the town of Kings Lynn. And there were volunteers that would put in the hours to make it work. For whatever reason, West Norfolk Council chose to ignore this and give it to someone whose credentials in running a football club – and football is a very specialised area – amount to very little indeed. Meanwhile, the supporters of the club are divided, although a sizeable number are deeply upset with the council over the decision that they have made. It is now down to Chapman – he has to prove himself to the supporters, and he has to remember that this is not a game. Kings Lynn FC lasted for 130 years. Lynn FC is for life, and not merely until he gets bored with it, comes up against criticism or realises that he isn’t making as much money from it as he thought that he may. Ultimately, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the new club is little better off than it was in October, except without any matches to play or the rest of this season and starting next season two divisions lower than they were when the taxman stepped in.