Without wanting to say I told you so, the news that Leigh Genesis’s chairman and main backer has pulled out, leaving the club in the financial lurch, should come as a surprise to no-one.
Back in the summer the Unibond Premier League team announced the club was to be rebranded (that’s rebranded, not renamed) from Leigh RMI to Leigh Genesis, complete with futuristic logo and a promised brand new 12,000 capacity new stadium.
That may have generated plenty of column inches but, as we pointed out back in June, the decision to employ a full-time manager and players on high wages, plus cutting off one of their main revenue streams by not selling shirt-sponsorship, seemed a little financially naÃ¯ve, at best.
Now Dominic Speakman, the man who brought the club and imparted his Genesis vision and brand on this small suburb of Greater Manchester, has pulled out, leaving Leigh seriously short of cash.
In fairness to Speakman, he’s hardly been helped by the local council over the building of the new stadium, Leigh Sports Village.
Leigh have been largely homeless this season, after the playing surface at Hilton Park — shared with rugby league side Leigh Centurions — was cut up badly and the rest of the ground condemned. Since then they’ve led a nomadic existence, waiting for their new stadium to open.
The trouble is, due to disputes between all parties involved — the council, the developers, the builders — Genesis haven’t been able to move. First they were given a date in late August, then this kept being put back, until now the current projected date is December 13th, although even that isn’t definite.
With Leigh homeless, and no major source of revenue coming into the club, along with crowds dropping even further to an average of around 150, it was clear things couldn’t continue as they were.
It appears the final straw for Speakman was the cost of the stewarding bill for the new ground. The council’s health and safety committee decided the new ground needed 45 stewards at a cost of £3,000 on matchdays for games to go ahead.
Compare this to Hilton Park, where stewarding costs were under £200, and you get another drain on resources for a club that desperately needs to get its costs down.
But despite Speakman’s best intentions — and these seem a lot more genuine than owners of other clubs in the division — it’s hard to feel too much sympathy towards a boardroom that came up with a business plan that was riddled with holes from the start.
First you have the decision to spend a large amount of cash on the X-Box logo rebranding, and to extend this ‘brand’ to replacing shirt sponsorship. Then there’s the move to a new stadium that far exceeds their needs, and not considering that operating costs would be considerably higher.
Then there was the decision to employ a manager and players on full-time wages that were vastly out of step with the rest of the division, a strategy that did not work for Colne Dynamoes at the end of the 80s, nor for countless other clubs since.
Each of these financial decisions, on their own, would have been questionable at Unibond level, but put them together and you have a recipe for a financial meltdown after just four months.
It is a bit easier to feel some amount of sympathy for the fans, especially those who’ve followed the club since its days as Horwich RMI, before the then ambitious board upped sticks and moved to rugby-loving Leigh.
While the majority of supporters seem appreciative of what Speakman was trying to achieve, even if not many seemed to question the business plan, there’s a real possibility their club, as they know it, will die, possibly before the end of the season — an unpleasant state of affairs that you don’t want to wish on any set of supporters.
Leigh fans are used to living a hand-to-mouth existence, and being passed from one ambitious-yet-ultimately-doomed scheme to another. If the worst happens and the club does go bust, they could do worse than going back to their roots and reforming as Horwich RMI — a perfectly distinctive name with plenty of history and heritage behind it.