Following on from my posting yesterday, it is interesting to note that another ‘fan rescue’ has taken place this week, and one which may well have seen a club survive rather than fold, thanks to the generosity of one (or possibly more than one) fan.
The matter had become public back in March, when Hartlepool United (singular since 1968 when the two boroughs of Hartlepool and West Hartlepool amalgamated, in case you’re wondering) raised a winding up petition against Billingham Town (1), who play in the Northern League Division 1. The connection between the two clubs is that Hartlepool reserves play at Billingham’s Bedford Terrace ground.
As an outsider it’s quite difficult to get a sense of right and wrong in the dispute, and the two parties themselves do not agree on the facts. Hartlepool have been seeking a sum of £10,443.97, and Billingham have been, and continue to be, seeking to distance themselves from the debt, saying it had been incurred by the ‘previous regime’.
According to the Billingham website, Hartlelepool had invested in the redevelopment of Bedford Terrace, but “in 2009 things turned sour with Hartlepool and [sic] when they took away the goalposts prior to Town’s first game of the season. Town’s committee hurriedly obtained some temporary posts and the game against Bishop Auckland took place.” (2)
Hartlepool responded to the story breaking with a detailed statement here. One thing which seems indisputable is that the dispute between the clubs had been simmering for some time.
It has been in and out of court over most of the last year, and in October Billingham turned down the offer from an anonymous fan to pay off the debt (3). The situation is complicated by the fact that Stockton Council own the freehold to the ground.
Matters came to a head this week. The money has now been paid, and according to Billingham, “Hartlepool United have apparently found ‘a third party willing to make payment in full of all sums claimed under the winding up petition’. This was nothing to do with us and we do not even known the identity of that third party.” (4). The Hartlepool version of events (5) refers to “third parties who did not want to see [Billingham Town FC] wound-up“.
My take on all of this is not to take sides – I don’t know enough of the facts – but rather to wonder how a customer, or customers, (i.e. fan, or fans) should step in to save a business (i.e. Billingham). It just doesn’t happen in other business sectors. It certainly doesn’t surprise me that a fan or fans should feel that strongly about their club. What strikes me though is how again the fan proves to be the crucial stakeholder in the survival of the business, something which many a board should take note of. Too many boards show a depressing indifference towards fans, an attitude which I find strange on business grounds alone.
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A very merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all the blog’s readers. Postings may be a tad patchy over the next week, but normal service will be resumed very early in the New Year.