As supporters ourselves, it’s difficult to find the words to describe the disappointment in Saturday’s result against Aldershot. The season started brightly with the top of the league within our grasp, only for it to have fallen out of reach over the past few weeks. It’s clear that squad reinforcements are required and the January window cannot come quickly enough. Mike Flynn and the boys need the support of all of us, but especially from the Club’s owner in terms of extending the playing budget.
No sooner had the final whistle been blown on Saturday than reports started to circulate regarding the late payment of players and HMRC, together with claims that the Club had been put up for sale.
Although we, the Trust Board, have taken a couple of days to make any public comment, we want to assure members that this does not mean that we have been sat on our hands and not acting in your interests. Much of the work which the Trust Board undertake is outside the public gaze, something which we know from experience allows us to have conversations with a wide range of interested parties which would not otherwise take place.
We have been following and investigating information from sources for some weeks that interested parties had approached the Club’s owner with a view to acquiring the Club. Whilst we are not putting details of that information into the public domain at this stage, we continue to work in the background to establish the credibility of such claims.
Whether the Club is up for sale or not, Sunday’s Club statement made reference to “entertaining such approaches” from third parties. The Trust exists to represent the interests of this and future generations of supporters. With the supporters owning 50% of the County Ground, we call on the current owner and any future potential purchaser to engage with supporter groups and the Joint Venture early in any potential acquisition process.
As many supporters will have been, we were alarmed to hear claims that the players and the HMRC were paid late last month. Again, information has been passed to us in relation to this which led to us contacting the Club on Saturday evening. The owner quickly replied, denying that either had been paid late and that a statement would be made on Sunday. On Monday morning, following a previously scheduled JV Board meeting, it was again put to the Club that payments to the players and HMRC had been made late. Both the CEO and the owner categorically denied the claim, restating that all members of staff (including the players) had been paid by October 31st. They also reiterated that HMRC had also been paid on time.
Whilst this conflicts with information shared with the Trust and reported by the media, we have no evidence to prove the claims either way. We continue to keep an open mind on the matter and will continue to review any further information passed to us.
At the Advisory Board meeting on 15th September, the owner committed to allow a member of the Trust board to inspect the financial records of the Club. Despite multiple attempts and reminders, this has not yet taken place. This was raised again with the CEO and the owner on Monday morning and arrangements are now being made for Scott Curtis, the Trust’s treasurer, to undertake the inspection within the next couple of weeks1. Further details on the contents of the review will be provided in due course.
Until Scott has undertaken this review and confirmed the current financial status, we have asked that the debt/financial page be removed from the Advisory Board minutes.
Many members would have listened to/ watched the OSC/ TSTBL forum with the owner on 20th September 2023. During a discussion regarding the transfer of Club shares, the owner stated that those shares held by Chris Keily were in the process of being bought back and that it would take a couple of weeks to sort out the paperwork. At the time of writing, we have yet to receive confirmation from the Club that the shares have been transferred back and we will continue to press the Club for an update in relation to its share ownership.
Many supporters will always be thankful to the current owner for consolidating the debt and removing the risks created by the historic debentures. But our focus must now turn to the future, especially the financial stability and strategic direction of the Club.
TrustSTFC will continue to be a critical friend of the Club and this will include challenging the owner when answers are lacking or unclear. Sometimes this will be in public, often in private, but always with the long-term interests of our members, supporters, the wider community and our Club. We will continue our work in gaining clarity in the areas set out above and will keep members updated on our findings.
1 Scott joined the Trust board in December 2022 and is a qualified chartered management accountant with over 20 years of experience in senior finance roles.