Trouble at Rossendale United and Rothwell Town
Posted by John Beech on March 1, 2011
Those who are ‘fleet of ear’ will have picked up on Sunday’s 5 Live Investigates that Rossendale United and Rothwell Town (and, to pick up on Kevin Rye’s well-placed pass, not Runcorn Linnets!) have serious cause for concern. Clubs in crisis as you go further down the pyramid tend to be less well reported. These two clubs have come across my laptop screen this last week, but I would certainly not claim to have full knowledge of what is happening, and would welcome any corrections, updates or amplifications.
First up is Rossendale United. The club faces expulsion from the League for non-fulfillment of matches (1). The immediate problem is that the club’s water supply has been turned off (2), which proved to be the last straw for the three fans who in effect had become the management team struggling to keep the club going (see also here, posting by David Hancock).
The club is suffering from a classic case of BWS - ‘Benefactor’ Withdrawal Syndrome. The club had been ‘saved from financial ruin’ in 1999 by local ‘benefactor’ Andrew Connolly, who ironically is a demolition expert. His long-term goal was – and here the dreaded ‘A’ word. ‘ambition’ inevitably creeps in – to take the club to the Conference (3). As he put it at the time, “If it’s good enough for Manchester United, it’s good enough for Dale“.
Initially things went relatively well, with a grant for new floodlights (4) and the appointment of a Commercial Manager (5). By 2003 Connolly and his wife Sandra were beginning to feel the pressure though, and a new Board was appointed (6). Managers came and went (nothing out of the ordinary there then!), but in 2006 the Chairman, Declan Callan, who had been “hailed as the man who turned the club around” resigned (7). Connolly expressed his continuing committment to the club, and pointed out “I have personally invested £370,000 into the club which has put enormous strain on my main business” (8). Many a fan would have doubtless seen this as Rossendale United’s good fortune, but I would see it as the setting up of a business model that would clearly be unsustainable if Connolly was either unwilling or unable to continue this funding. It would also see it as financial doping, the deliberate attempt to buy success and upset the competitive balance within the league.
By the end of that year, Connolly was becoming understandably exasperated. He said he would pay the bills “for the very last time” (9). This is how he saw the situation:
“I am lost for ideas for the club. No local businesses want to get involved but we are now probably in the highest position that we have ever been.
‘My company has put £40,000 in since January and I am totally disillusioned. There are around 67,000 people in Rossendale and we get around 0.05 per cent of them watching the football. Nobody is bothered. I cannot force people to watch or get involved and I will probably be putting the club up for sale. Few other businesses have supported the club and close friends have asked me what I am doing? I am not going to cut the wage bill but I am doing a lot of soul-searching and something has to change rapidly.”
By March 2007, the wage bill had been planned for a cut of probably 70% (10), and in April there were reports of unpaid wages (11). The following month a supporters group was reported as having taken over the running of the club (12), and Connolly had agreed nonetheless to settle the clubs debts. Sponsorship deals were negotiated (13 and 14), and the following summer the club acquired a major new sponsor (15).
In November 2009 Connolly announced the club was up for sale (16). He was “seeking a new investor to take the club forward“. Connolly announced “Any investor who wants to come here can invest straight into the club and not worry about any debts, because it’s all paid off” (17). No investor seems to have rushed forward, and in February 2010 Connolly brought in Nolan Redshaw to market the sale of the club (18).
The resignation of the then volunteer management committee (19) seems to have marked the beginning of the present crisis, although this appears to have been much more an outcome of the situation rather than a cause. The true extent of the crisis was revealed in a statement at the end of February (20). Connolly made a statement which was published on 25 February in the Manchester Evening News (I can’t find it on their website, but I have it from a newspaper database) in which he said:
“After taking stock of the situation at Rossendale United it is now clear that the club has been left in a perilous financial situation.
Over two years ago the club was debt free, it is now in considerable debt.
After 12 years of being involved and ploughing a considerable amount of personal monies, time and effort in it now seems the club is exactly where it was then.
This I believe is due to lack of support and generally a total lack of interest from the Valley.
I now feel that without this interest or investment the club will cease to exist.”
Latest news from the North West Counties Football League is that the club will be suspended if they fail to play their next home game, due on 5th March (21). Their away games at Squires Gate last Saturday and at Ramsbottom United this evening had already been cancelled. The end, it would seem, is nigh.
At Rothwell Town there is a less clear picture of events. There is a report that the club has sold its ground, that the money raised is insufficient to cover its debts, and that the club has gone into Administration (23). I blogged on Rothwell last May, when Imraan Ladack of Kettering Town had flirted, unsuccessfully, with them over a possible groundshare. Anyone closer to the club who has more (sourceable) information is invited to add it in the comments section.