It has not been a season to cheer about for Halifax Town fans. Struggling at the wrong end of the table, getting into administration and taking a ten point penalty that meant they only managed to avoid relegation on the last day of the season. But there will be no more fighting for the belegured Shaymen after the club’s administrators failed to secure a deal with the creditors, meaning the club is heading for liquidation and could be playing as low as the Northern Counties league next season.
Just a couple of weeks ago there was belief the club would just about pull through, but between then and now the state of Halifax’s finances has gradually unravelled. It was widely assumed the club owed the taxman around half a million but it soon emerged this was closer to over £800,000 of the total £2.1 million debt.
A long running saga
Halifax have had long-running financial problems and were still paying off their CVA from their last spell in administration this season. But while some clubs use their spell in administration to get their house in order, the Shaymen were still struggling with long-running debt and ownership issues and this season have been largely propped up by the David Bosomworth/Bobby Ham consortium who had been unsuccessfully trying to buy Town for the best part of a season, but couldn’t complete the deal due to complications with previous owners and shareholders. It seems unlikely the pair can rescue the club this time around and its unlcear if they will stay with the club in whatever form and wherever in the non-league pyramid they resurface.
Halifax’s problems started to spiral out of control when former chairman Ray Moreland issued a winding-up petition against the club for just under £8,000, forcing them into administration. From then on it was a battle with the creditors to get them to accept the terms of a new CVA. The administrators had offered 2.5p in the pound, but this was rejected as creditors had demanded 10p in the pound and with no compromise on the cards liquidation looks like the only option.
To put this in context, one of the creditors who spoke to the Halifax Courier was builder Roy Barnett, who built the club’s East Stand. He’s owed £200,000. If he’d been offered 10p in the pound, he would have got £20,000. The 2.5p offer would have seen him get just £5,000. It’s small wonder many of the creditors rejected this very small offer.
The club now has until the end of the assorted lower leagues AGMs to reform or face the prospect of not playing in any league. In their current state they’re unlikely to be in any league but supporters have often rallied before in times of crisis. Indeed, Halifax’s Supporters’ Trust have vowed to attempt to resurrect the club and they may yet find themselves kicking off next season, although quite where is anybody’s guess. A local derby with Brighouse Town in the Northern Counties league is on the cards if this happens. If they take this route they’ll be following in the footsteps of Scarborough who went bust last season, resigned from the Conference and reformed at Northern Counties level, a full five divisions below the non-league top flight.
Not the first and certainly not the last
It also means the Conference has been unable to get through another season without seeing a club fold, take voluntary relegation or be kicked out due to off the field matters. The aforementioned Scarborough, Canvey Island, Northwich, Boston, and Telford are just some of the teams who’ve dropped out of the non-league top flight while Weymouth, Cambridge, Exeter and Crawley have all flirted with financial meltdown in the past few years.
Some of these are down to chairmen pulling the plug or running the club into the ground, others are due to ground redevelopment costs getting out of hand, while some are the classic football model of overextending the playing budget in the hope of instant success, then having to face up to the realities when this anticipated success isn’t achieved. The net losers here are the fans and local businesses, both of whom have put plenty of money into these clubs.
Reprieve for the Robins
Ironically Halifax’s demise means another reprieve for the considerably more financially stable Altrincham, who lost the relegation battle against the Shaymen on the final day of the season. It’s the third reprieve in as many seasons for the Robins, who finished bottom after a points deduction in 2006 but were saved due to Scarborough’s collapse and Canvey’s voluntary relegation, while Boston’s double demotion a season later due to financial difficulties kept Altrincham up.
The Cheshire club have a strong Supporters’ Trust with plenty of fan representation at boardroom level and were one of the few clubs at Blue Square Premier level to turn in a profit last tax year. However the Robins have struggled since gaining promotion three seasons ago and must have hoped for some on the pitch stability and success at a lower level as opposed to another relegation fight. Alty chairman Geoff Goodwin even told the Non-League Paper this week: “I take no pleasure from the situation and it doesn’t do us any favours. We could’ve done with a few years in the Blue Square North to get our breath back.”
Nonetheless, you won’t find Altrincham overstretching themselves next season as they battle to stay in the non-league top flight – the club and manager Graham Heathcote have always maintained that the Robins won’t live beyond their means, even if this means the threat of relegation. But with one of the best sets of fans and this refreshing honest and mature approach to finances, if Alty do go down next season they’ll still be in a decent financial position come what may.