Crisis-hit Hucknall Town set to drop two more levels

Duncan Russell, new manager at Hucknall Town FC
Duncan Russell, new manager at Hucknall Town FC
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Ailing Hucknall Town are set to slide further down the slippery slope by pulling out of their new league before they have kicked a ball.

Strong rumours that Town are to fold completely are wide of the mark – for now.

But ex-chairman Brian Holmes has warned “the club will change dramatically”.

The scheme to move to a new ground has had to be downgraded, while newly-appointed manager Duncan Russell is unlikely to stay.

An open meeting was held at Town’s Watnall Road ground on Saturday when supporters aired their views.

The disbandment rumours surfaced when the club, crippled by debt, asked about resigning from the Northern Counties East League (NCEL), to which they were relegated last season.

Their plan is to drop two more levels on the non-league ladder and play in the Central Midlands League (CML), merging with or replacing their current reserves in the South Division and competing alongside local rivals Bulwell and Linby Colliery Welfare.

The decision is rooted in Town’s well-documented financial problems, which left them owing almost £100,000, including a massive VAT debt.

They feel it would be easier to attract unpaid players in the CML, where travelling costs would not be as steep as in the NCEL.

“We are talking to both leagues and have made it known that it is a possibility we will have to resign from the NCEL,” explained chief executive Liz Morley.

“We need to be in a league where the club has a realistic chance of being able to compete. It’s incredibly hard to recruit players without paying them anything and, while we will have a very small travel budget, it might be better suited to the CML.

“It is sad but it might be the only option. Our debts are coming down, but we still need to raise a lot of money very quickly. One of our creditors has written off 75% of their debt and another has written off 50%.

“But the Talk Of The Town social club, which is our main source of revenue, is struggling, like many pubs and clubs in the Hucknall area. We need to get the message out that it is still open for business.”

By dropping two more levels, Town run the risk of several seasons in the wilderness and even losing their status as the top football club in the district.

Club officials, including Holmes, believe this is a sacrifice worth paying. But they do warn the Yellows cannot go on forever without more help from the Hucknall public.

“It is clear there is very little support for the club at the moment,” said Morley.

“Even our diehard fans are struggling to watch and we think we might get better gates in the CML than in the NCEL.

“It really is up to the people of Hucknall now. We will battle on but we have done all we can.

“We would be interested in talking to anyone who might be able to help.”

The CML’s general secretary Mark Senior confirmed that The Yellows would be able to fill the slot currently occupied by Town AFC.

But it’s doubtful whether newly-appointed bosses, ex-Mansfield Town chief Russell and ex-World Cup star Paul Hall, would be willing to continue as such a low level.

Morley said: “They are aware of the situation and continue to support the club.”

But Russell told the Dispatch: “I wouldn’t want to run a pub side.

“If there is no finance and I can’t attract players, then I don’t know what I would do.

“My job could be untenable. I wouldn’t want to put my name to something that is going to fail. I won’t pull any punches – this club has not been managed correctly.”

Meanwhile Holmes is planning talks with the ground-owners, Welbeck Estates, and Ashfield District Council over the club’s proposed, new stadium, on the other side of Watnall Road, off Aerial Way.

Welbeck have agreed to provide Town with the stadium, as compensation for removing them from Watnall Road, which would be developed.

The economic downturn has scuppered the original £3.7 million plan, which was deemed to be too ambitious and too expensive by Welbeck, who demanded a smaller version and a revised relocation agreement with the club.

Holmes has now come up with a new £1.4 million scheme, which he hopes will not need fresh planning permission.

“Originally, our Watnall Road site was said to be worth £8 million,” said Holmes. “Now Welbeck would be lucky to get £4 million for it.”