Town fighting to avoid folding amid financial crisis

Town fans at Villa Park
Town fans at Villa Park

AN appeal for outside help and fresh investment has been issued after the taxman came knocking at Hucknall Town Football Club’s door.

Desperate Town want to rekindle the spirit of 2005 when thousands of fans followed the club to the prestigious FA Trophy final at Villa Park.

But unless they receive an injection of cash to pay their debts, plus new personnel to help run the club, they warn that Hucknall Town could be wound up this summer.

“It is a very serious situation,” said club president and former high-profile chairman Brian Holmes.

“Everything has been put in jeopardy, including our planned move to a new stadium. We are at the crossroads. There is a serious possibility the club could fold.”

The crisis revolves around a VAT debt of £65,000 which, after penalties and interest, could rise to £75,000.

The debt was accrued over two years during the tenure of Pete Chapman as treasurer of the club.

Holmes says that, acting on advice from elsewhere, Chapman decided not to pay VAT on revenue items such as gate receipts.

But now HM Revenue And Customs (HMRC) says this policy — also adopted by other non-league clubs — was wrong and it wants its money.

Chapman (70) refused to comment when contacted by the Dispatch — other than to say: “I resigned from the club last October and my action spoke for itself.”

It is understood that Town are considering taking legal action against him. In the meantime, they must find the money to pay HMRC, so Holmes has hatched an 11th-hour rescue-plan.

He has made what is described as “a fair and equitable offer” to HMRC. And if that offer is accepted, it will be paid on the back of a loan he has negotiated with the owners of Town’s Watnall Road ground, Welbeck Estates.

Town would then convert itself from a members’ club to a limited company, whereby fans, business people and the general public would be invited to buy shares. And the money raised from those shares would be used to repay the loan.

“There are complications with the procedure,” said Holmes. “But to get to first base, it is essential that people interested in taking shares in the new company sign up within the next three weeks to enable the transaction to take place.

“If this proposal is not well supported, then the future of the club is in doubt.

“Welbeck Estates have been fantastic. My relationship with them is excellent.

“But we are in unbelievable fantasy-land. Our only chance is to settle the debt.

“Once we get a response to our offer from HMRC, we will have 28 days to deal with the matter.”

However Holmes stressed that his plan goes hand in hand with the need for a larger and stronger management committee at the club.

“Another issue, of course, is our frequent request for help and new people to assist in the running of the club,” he said.

“The committee is down to six people. Should they decide enough is enough, then the club will have to call it a day, regardless of financial problems.”

The demographic of the committee underlines Town’s desire for new blood. Chairman Dave Gamble has suffered two strokes. Vice-chairman John Coleman has Parkinson’s Disease. And general manager Dave Green is soon to retire.

Former Derby County director and ex-millionaire property developer Holmes brought the glory days to the club after arriving in 2001 and has pumped in more than £500,000 of his own money over the years. But he was 68 this week, has retired from business and has also had health problems.

The club is ripe for a fresh benefactor — or a complete takeover.

So short are they of off-the-field bodies that chairman Gamble was working on the turnstiles at last Saturday’s final home game of the season.

Gamble said: “My gut feeling is that we will rally round and get the money. But we are in limbo at the moment.

“I would urge people to come forward. We had fantastic support at the FA Trophy final and I’d like to see those people come back and help us.”

Town’s problems have been magnified by relegation from the Evo-Stik League’s Premier Division. And manager Tommy Brookbanks is in no doubt that changes are long overdue.

“Unless people come in and start helping, and there is some form of investment, it’s very difficult to see what we can do,” said Brookbanks.

“We have to restructure completely and start from scratch. Hucknall people have to realise that unless they come and support their team, and invest in their team, we are not going to be only three or four levels below the Football League any longer.

“I hope and pray people come forward. I hope this is the wake-up call the club needs. But I am not confident at all.

“We either sort the club out or we don’t. We will see whether the Hucknall people want it or not.”

AN OPEN meeting to discuss Town’s crisis was being held at the Talk Of The Town social club at the Watnall Road ground on Saturday (April 30).