HOPEFUL Hucknall Town Football Club are on the brink of being saved after the VAT man provisionally agreed to the club’s offer to settle a potentially crippling tax-bill.
But they face an anxious few days while they try to clear the final few hurdles that stand in the way of the rescue deal.
As exclusively reported in the Dispatch at the end of April, cash-strapped Town were stunned to be saddled with the debt of up to £75,000 after mistakenly failing to pay VAT on revenue items, such as gate receipts, for a period of two years.
With The Yellows also suffering relegation from the Evo-Stik League, Premier Division, the club were enveloped by a financial crisis that could have seen them fold.
However president Brian Holmes hatched a rescue-plan that included an offer of £50,000 to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). This revolved around a loan from the club’s ground-owners, Welbeck Estates, to cover the payment.
The loan would be paid back to Welbeck using money raised from a scheme, whereby club officials and supporters would buy shares for £1 each.
To make these shares active, Town would convert themselves from a members’ club into a limited company.
Now, after a painful, long wait of several weeks, the club says the tax authority has “given a strong indication” that it is willing to accept the offer, which would leave Town free to continue operating.
However The Yellows are not completely out of the woods. Firstly, Welbeck have demanded cast-iron “personal guarantees of re-payment”. Secondly, the FA will not allow the club to transfer to limited status until the tax debt is cleared.
Town have been living on a knife-edge while waiting for a response from HMRC to their rescue package.
An executive committee has been formed to keep the club afloat. This comprises manager Tommy Brookbanks, assistant manager Gary Stones, chief executive Liz Morley and accountant and financial expert Mark Burnell.
Since the Dispatch broke the original news of the club’s plight, a magnificent response to appeals for help has raised £51,000 in pledges to buy shares.
But not all of this money is available immediately. Some donors are only able to pay in instalments over a period of time.
Initially, it was believed that Welbeck wanted only 50% of the loan paid up front, which Town could achieve. Now the position appears to have changed, so the club might be faced with raising or guaranteeing the full amount this summer.
A final resolution to the crisis is expected within the next week after more talks with HMRC, Welbeck, the FA and potential shareholders.
A meeting with some of those shareholders, plus supporters, was held at the club’s Watnall Road ground recently.
Brookbanks was happy with the outcome and says he is is confident the club will be saved.
“The VAT people have been great with us,” said Brookbanks. “Ultimately, we will no longer be in any danger of losing the club. I am happy.
“It is not a done deal yet. But I am hopeful we will now be able to get the club back on its feet.
”It is all on the brink of coming together. There are just a few things to tie up.
“It is a minefield but it’s not as if we have broken any rules. We have not gone into administration or liquidation. We have a debt, which we have acknowledged and which we are paying.
“It is positive simply to get to this situation from where we were.
“We are still taking pledges for shares — and everyone should realise that this money will go straight into a holding account at a firm of chartered accountants.
“It won’t go straight into a Hucknall Town black hole. Everything is being done properly and above board.”
Holmes and Burnell are more cautious and warn that much more negotiating must be completed before Town can celebrate.
Burnell says: “We are caught between three bodies — the tax office, our landlords (Welbeck Estates) and the FA — before we can move on.
“The club has to try and raise funds in advance of the ability to issue shares. By raising the funds, this will help to convince the landlords to loan the money to us.”
“Any money received will be kept in a separate bank-account under the control of Pell’s chartered accountants (my practice).
“If the HMRC negotiations fail, the money will be returned to anyone who requests it. If they are successful and the FA allow us to convert to a limited company, the money advanced will be converted to shares.
“These are delicate discussions and the situation is changing as negotiations are held.”
In the meantime, Town are re-issuing their appeal for financial help from potential shareholders.
They should contact Brookbanks or Morley at the club’s fundraising race night at the Talk Of the Town social club tonight (Friday) or ring Brookbanks on 07869 150107.