Football Management

Commentary on the management of over 160 English football clubs by Dr John Beech, winner of the FSF Writer of the Year Award 2009/10 Twitter: @JohnBeech Curator of! Football Finance

Another fan rescue

Posted by John Beech on December 24, 2010

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.


5 Responses to “Another fan rescue”

  1. It is difficult to know who is right and hwo is wrong in this situation. Sad to see clubs in court with each other though

  2. I don’t believe that this was a ‘fan’ rescue. The original offer to cover the ‘debt’ was turned down by BTFC because of liability for court cost payment afterwards. The sum ‘paid’ by the third-party sourced by HUFC (at very best a local business and not a fan) is for the disputed sum of £10,443.97. Also worth highlighting that the agreement HUFC had in place, whereby BTFC would start to pay rent on using their own ground, was signed by a third-party who had ceased to have involvement with BTFC on the date of signing.

    • John Beech said

      Many thanks for that input Andy – it does put a rather different perspective on matters. At best, it would seem to be a Hartlepool ‘fan’ to the rescue, of Hartlepool, saving them the embarrassment of wining in court. Meanwhile Billingham presumably are still facing legal costs which they can’t afford.

  3. R.M.P Hole said

    I don’t believe that there ever was a fan. Hartlepool behaved like bullies and would undoubtedly have lost in court. Having started out trying to wind up Billingham Town they ended up paying Billy’s costs. The idea of an anonymous benefactor is utter nonsense and a way of avoiding a complete thrashing in the courtroom.

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