Hucknall Town are safe and sound again -- thanks to Morley and Graves

GLORY DAYS -- Brian Holmes celebrates Town winning the Unibond League title back in 2004.
GLORY DAYS -- Brian Holmes celebrates Town winning the Unibond League title back in 2004.

A new year has heralded new hope that Hucknall Town’s debt-ridden era of doom and gloom is about to come to an end.

Former chairman Brian Holmes is back at the helm to steer Town through their last stretch of troubled waters.

And this week, he not only disclosed that nearly all of the crippling debts that brought the club to its knees in 2011 have finally been paid. He also heaped praise on chief executive Liz Morley and manager Andy Graves for their sterling roles in keeping the club afloat.

“Liz has done a fantastic job,” said Holmes. “She has been a first-class administrator and has been instrumental in keeping the club going. We are alive and kicking thanks to Liz.

“As for Andy, without him, we wouldn’t have a team. He has done an excellent job. He is the Brian Clough of Hucknall Town!”

Holmes should know. When he first got involved in football as a millionaire businessman on the board of directors at Derby County, Clough was manager.

Not until the summer of 2001 did Holmes take the plunge to run a club of his own. And his eight-year tenure as chairman of Town yielded unforgettable success, with The Yellows winning the Unibond Northern Premier League title in 2004 and reaching the FA Trophy final at Villa Park a year later.

Sadly, after he stepped down, it all turned sour. And a double whammy in April 2011 comprised relegation and shocking revelations that the club owed more than £75,000, mostly in tax to HM Revenue and Customs.

Many non-league clubs in similar positions in recent years have gone under. But Holmes, as club president, hatched a survival plan with the help of ground-owners, Welbeck Estates.

Off the field, Morley took charge of the ailing finances. On the field, after the club had tumbled down the leagues and reverted to amateur status, The Yellows turned to Graves.

“Now, we have very little debt, and the team are playing well and attracting good-sized crowds,” said Holmes. “HMRC have told me they can’t find anything more we owe them, so the club is finally in a position to gradually and slowly move forward.”

Holmes, who is 72 in April, has taken charge again after Morley was forced to leave her post because of illness.

“I am back in the frame because there are so few people who want to get involved,” he said.

“Thankfully, we have a hard core of helpers, but we are desperate for new volunteers to come forward.”

For now, Holmes is determined to press ahead with two crucial elements of his rescue plan -- a shares scheme to turn Town from a members’ club into a limited company and plans for a new stadium on the other side of Watnall Road.

Back in 2011, more than £51,000 was pledged by fans and backers in shares for incorporation, which persuaded Welbeck to loan the club money to help pay off the debts. And planning permission had been granted for the new community stadium, which Welbeck were to provide in return for selling the current ground to developers.

However, both schemes were put on the backburner. The economic downturn resulted in the value of building land halving in price, while Town’s lease for Watnall Road, which included the all-important re-location agreement, was in the name of the unincorporated club and, therefore, required re-negotiating.

Now there is light at the end of the tunnel, and Holmes is to hold a key meeting with Welbeck in the next few weeks to thrash out the way ahead.

“I will try and keep everything together until we eventually reach the promised land of a new stadium,” said Holmes.

“It will be a scaled-down version of the original plan, and it might need fresh planning permission.”

The stadium might even include the current ground’s main stand, which has been closed this season for health and safety reasons but which, Holmes revealed, is now likely to be retained by the club and should be open again soon.

“Whatever happens, we will definitely form a brand new company, with some very special share certificates, which will give us a better platform to go forward,” Holmes promised.

“People who donated generously in 2011 will be top of the list when the shares are issued.”

Holmes, who himself is still owed tens of thousands of pounds by the club, will become a major shareholder, along with others, while a board of directors will comprise “people with the best interests of Hucknall Town at heart”.

“Then, hopefully, in about two years’ time, we might be on our way again to higher and better things,” he said.