FANS have been warned by chairman Brian Holmes to forget dreams of seeing their Hucknall Town side play in the highest level of non-league football.
Holmes says Town need to take a severe reality-check in the harsh economic climate.
And that means ditching hopes of playing in the Conference (now known as the Blue Square Bet Premier) or even the Conference North — unless another ‘Mr Big’ arrives with a bucket of cash.
“As things stand, we can go up one more division (to the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League, Premier Division), maximum,” says Holmes.
“It would be impossible for us to go any higher, without some very different circumstances providing us the means to do so.
“Life is so difficult in non-league football at the moment because there is so little money about.”
Holmes was enlarging on his statement last week when he stressed that football was no longer the biggest priority at Town. Instead, sorting out the club’s finances was paramount.
Back in 2004, when he was in a position to pump thousands of pounds of his own fortune into the club, Town romped away with the old Conference North title (then known as the Unibond League, Premier Division).
But now Holmes says the club would not even be able to contemplate such a scenario — because of dwindling crowds, which are down to about 150, and a drastic reduction in commercial revenue through sponsorship and advertising.
“Would I like to return to the Conference North?” asks Holmes. “No, I would not. To travel to Blyth, Workington and other places, especially in midweek, would be a bridge too far — and for what?
“Clubs at that level need gates of 1,000-plus every week, yet very few get more than 400. The travelling and expense would be impossible to fulfil.
“At that time, in 2004, our social club was in full swing and taking three times the money it is now. Companies in the area were keen to sponsor, the country’s economics were on the rise and everything in the garden was rosy.
“It’s a much-changed picture now, and I do predict some reorganisation of non-league football because so many clubs are struggling.
“Many rely on major backers or individual benefactors. Locally, we have seen Alfreton Town continue their brilliant success thanks to one man — Wayne Bradley.
“On the other hand, we have also seen Ilkeston Town collapse entirely after their benefactor, Paul Millership, passed away, while Eastwood Town have entered a period of difficulty after Rob Yong’s departure. I hope they can get it sorted but without such funding and unless manager John Ramshaw can work a miracle, it will be down the leagues for them.
“Here at Hucknall, we have worked through this transition and are shortly to come out the other side.
“Yes, mistakes have been made but a lot of hard work has seen the club through difficult times. It will require new blood to continue, with or without success.
“We are about £1,500 per week short if we want to go back up the leagues. However that must come from a reliable source with the club’s best interests at heart.”
As disclosed in last week’s Dispatch, manager Des Lyttle’s weekly playing budget for next season has been chopped from about £1,700 to about £1,000 — while Town continue to pay off their massive VAT debt of almost £90,000.
The only way it would increase is if commercial revenue increased or a new benefactor was found.
“A ‘Mr Big’ could come in,” says Holmes. “But I did it for about five years and I know what it costs. We all enjoyed the roll and the ride but I don’t see many people who are willing to do that in non-league football today.”
In any event, Holmes stresses that Town will not be seeking fresh investment until “the structure of the club has changed” and it has converted into a limited company, complete with 30 to 40 shareholders, which should be finalised this summer.
“The debts built up because of bad management and nobody being prepared to face facts,” Holmes says.
“But by the time next season kicks off, most of our debts will be cleared and we will be able to see light at the end of the tunnel,” he adds.
“We will compete in this league next season with a budget that should deliver us a chance to make progress. It’s in the mid-range. Some teams will have higher, some will have lower. But most will remain at this level of football, and be happy to do so.”
However Holmes is at pains to deny that he lacks ambition for Town.
“Certainly not,” he says. “But we have faced some unstable times recently. First we must rebuild a solid base.
“Success is very short-term if it is built on shaky foundations — and for many a club, the death of it.
“It might not seem as if progress is being made. But we have tackled more than £80,000 worth of debt over seven months this season and still sustained a playing budget.
“That’s not bad going for a club with such a small fan-base and in the current economic climate.”