The Supporters run the club and it doesn’t cost the chairman a penny, what could go wrong? We find out at Barry Town FC.
One thing remains constant at all British fan owned football clubs. They were born because the traditional methods of running a football club failed. The benevolent chairman who ran out of cash with no white knight in sight, the speculators and hangers on stripping one too many assets or whatever. They have failed. The reasons for each, particular failure are varied but usually have something to do with IOU notes and ignoring invoices. As true as this is there are always exceptions to the rule. One club in South Wales is one such exception. Instead of bailiffs knocking on the door or FA sanctions threatening to remove a license, the Chairman and General Secretary look set to withdraw the club from the league. This club is Barry Town.
Barry Town was once the force in the Welsh game. They conquered all domestically winning seven out of eight titles between 1995 and 2003 and even put in strong European performances. They were the only full-time side in the league at the time and whilst they often didn’t have crowds over 500 they got most of their funding from their Champions League adventures. Their high point came in the 2001-02 season when they managed to beat Porto at Jenner Park 3-1 in the Second Qualifying Round of the Champion’s League after being tonked away 8-0.
It wasn’t to last.
Money started to dry up on crowds of 500. John Fashanu was appointed chairman of the club but left in 2003 after his attempt to make Barry Town a team that was watched all over the world, by bringing in Nigerian players and selling international television rights, didn’t quite work and he decided that going on I’m a Celebrity was probably a better career move. AWOOOOOOGAAAA
When he left the club it had over £1million in debt – an absolutely astonishing amount for a League of Wales side.
The next season the club were top of the league again but the debt became too much and they sunk in administration. Every full-time player left and a group of amateurs were brought in to stem the financial losses. The team plummeted down the league table as they were being hammered by semi-pros every week.
With the supporters desperately trying to find a way of saving the club Stuart Lovering stepped in and paid £125,000 to service the CVA and buy the club from the administrators. This saved the club for the time being but the money problems continued and the club were relegated from the Welsh Premier in 2003-04 and slipped down a further division the next season. The lowest level they have ever competed at.
After their first relegation Lovering raised the ticket prices by £1. A bit of a kick in the teeth to all those loyal supporters who had to watch as the club that they loved was nearly wiped off the footballing map. The members of the Supporters Club raised the issue with Lovering but he labelled them moaners in the local press and then banned them from the club. This led to smaller crowds as a large proportion of them went off to start a breakaway club Barry FC.
Then in January 2005 their rent was put up and they could no longer afford to play at their spiritual home Jenner Park but instead were exiled to Treforest 20 miles away. Their exile only lasted for a year and half and they returned to Jenner Park in May 2006. The club then enjoyed a rare moment of success when they were promoted to the Welsh First Division under Gavin Chesterfield in 2007.
Lovering then decided that enough was enough and put the club up for sale in autumn 2008. The asking price was an extortionate £195,000 but despite that he nearly managed to sell the club onto a local coach company owner but the brakes slammed on last minute and the club remained unsold.
With Lovering still attempting to find a buyer the Barry Town Supporters Trust negotiated the control of the footballing side of the club from him in 2011. They were to run all the on field matters including finding the £275 it took to stage a game per match. The players are amateurs, only playing for the love of the club so the footballing side of the club is not costing Lovering any money.
But in early October Lovering removed Secretary Dave Cole and appointed himself in the position. This gave him one power that he had not had previously – to withdraw the club from the league.
The Supporters club offered all of the money that they had saved to try to buy the football side of the club but this has been flat out refused by Lovering who is asking for £100,000 for the football side of the club and £150,000 for the social club.
This has led to the FAW stating that they are worried about the situation surrounding Barry Town but that have not, as yet, had any formal application to withdraw from the league.
Quite where the Barry Supporters are going to get the rest of the money from to buy the club is a mystery. Quite how Lovering has estimated that the club is worth £100,000 is even more mystifying.
More questions remain. Why is Lovering doing this now/at all? Is it because it is the centenary year of Barry and the club may be worth more this year because of the sentimentally? If the ST are willing to let him keep the social side of it (which he apparently makes a tidy profit from) why isn’t he letting the football side go at a knock down price? How can anyone know anything when he continually makes himself unavailable to speak to anyone?
The guessing games look likely to continue and rumour has it that the club has to be sold by December or be withdrawn from the league. At least for the fans of Barry Town they will know soon, one way or another.