THE CRISIS engulfing Hucknall Town took one step forward but another step back after another week of drama matched only by the phone-hacking scandal that has gripped the nation.
The good news was that managers Tommy Brookbanks and Gary Stones, and most of his players, agreed to stay at the club for the start of the new season — even though they won’t be paid a penny.
But the bad news was that the taxman refused to relent over Town’s VAT debt, which has now risen to more than £84,000.
The Yellows had hoped to negotiate a period of grace that would give them up to two or three years to repay the money — after an initial downpayment of £50,000.
Hucknall’s Conservative MP, Mark Spencer, intervened to hold talks with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), urging them to accept. He said: “I think it would be a mistake if HMRC were to try to force the club to dissolve because they would not get their money.”
However, after a conference-call meeting on Tuesday afternoon with officials from HMRC, Town were told their offer was not acceptable.
The club’s chief executive Liz Morley steadfastly refused to divulge any details from the meeting. But she was clearly downcast when confirming to the Dispatch: “There is still no deal.
“I cannot comment any further but there is no agreement. However, there is still hope and Mark Spencer, who has been brilliant, will get more hands-on when he returns from holiday the week after next.”
It is understood that HMRC, who now employ a special task force to deal with errant football clubs, are demanding full payment of the £84,000 within 12 months. If they cannot wrench this from the club as a body, they could pursue individual members of the club.
The effectiveness of Spencer’s negotiations is now key to the future of Hucknall Town. For without an agreement with HMRC, The Yellows become more and more insecure.
For instance, the £57,000 worth of pledges made by club officials and supporters to finance a shares-scheme rescue-package would have to be returned to those investors.
And privately, Town fear that it wouldn’t be long before other streams of income would be affected too, such as sponsorships and social-club bookings.
Already their annual general meeting (AGM), which was scheduled for Sunday July 24, has had to be postponed. The club are still seeking a new chairman to replace Dave Gamble.
At least, for now, Town still have a team for the new Evo-Stik League, Division One South season, which kicks off on Saturday August 14.
This follows the decision by Brookbanks and Stones to remain at Watnall Road, despite the most traumatic 14 months imaginable at the helm — and even though the club can no longer afford to pay Brookbanks’s £300-per-week, three-year contract.
“If we go, it would only add to the club’s woes, which they don’t need,” said Brookbanks. “If we don’t dig them out, who will?
“If we keep going, who knows? Someone might come in and invest for the future.
“We are loyal people and we have affinity with the people of Hucknall. So we have to try and turn things round.
“I didn’t think things would get this low but we are going to give it a crack and see how it goes.”
Brookbanks told the players of the club’s decision to go amateur on Thursday night last week before their latest pre-season friendly at home to Retford United, which they lost 2-0.
All bar one — defender Martin Ball, who has left to join divisional rivals Grantham Town — have agreed to stay. Now the club are praying they remain true to their word.
To help build camaraderie and spirit, the squad are having a weekend in Leeds after their next friendly, at Harrogate Railway Athletic, tomorrow (Saturday).
And Brookbanks says he will continue to search the bargain-basement, plus the pool of young talent across the county, in a bid to strengthen his resources.
“I just have to hope people are still ambitious enough to play for a once-big club in Hucknall Town,” he said.
“There is no plan for the season whatsoever, except that we will fight tooth and nail for every point.
“As far as predictions go, I haven’t got a clue. I don’t think anyone has ever tried to do what we’re doing at the non-league level we are at. There is no template. It is a totally unique situation.
“I will take it one week at a time, not get too down if we lose and not get too high if we win.”
However Brookbanks is desperate for one thing — backing from the fans.
“I just hope the supporters get behind us,” he said. “There is no point talking about repercussions now. Forget the blame game. The club is in the state it is and we all have to join together to get it back on its feet.
“The players and myself have pledged our loyalty to the club and I expect the same back from the fans. They have to see the bigger picture now.”