A lower league football club famous for its FA Cup giant killing exploits has been wound up at London High Court. Established in 1924, Hereford United had played at either non-league or lower league level continuously for 90 years. The Company behind the club will now be liquidated following the Court’s refusal to accept a plea from the Company’s lawyer. The lawyer had claimed Andy Lonsdale the owner was on his way to Court with proof of £1,000,000 of funding raised to pay creditors of the club, however, he had taken a wrong turn and was now stuck in a traffic jam.
The first sign of trouble, debt collectors at the door
Debt collectors and Bailiffs have been a regular sight at the club for many months as an ever growing list of creditors tried to recover money they were owed by the club. The full extent of the financial crisis and miss-management at the club was uncovered as the company entered liquidation. Bristol based liquidators, Mitzi Mace have been appointed as the official receivers and have advised that the company operating the club had in excess of 900 creditors, including over 150 small local businesses.
Ade Daramy, the Insolvency Service’s Media Manager said:
“Creditors will receive a notice and a creditors meeting will be held in the near future. Some assets, mainly furniture have been recovered, however, they are of little value. The company does not own any of the buildings as they were all leased from the council. There is also some memorabilia and sports equipment which could be of interest to fans, but little else. It does not appear at this stage, that there is anything of sufficient value to merit holding an auction.”
Relegation and miss-management, the perfect storm
Hereford United will no longer play in the Southern League and face having their results this season expunged from the league records. Following the announcement one loyal group of fans arrived at Hereford’s Edgar Street ground and set up barricades to prevent creditors from removing the few remaining assets. The winding-up petition was served by the major creditor, HMRC attempting to recover £100,000 in unpaid tax. Hereford United’s financial problems followed problems on the pitch and in 2012 relegation from the Football League. The club’s at the time new owners then refused to deposit a £350,000 insurance bond, leading to the club being demoted to the Southern League from the Conference League. United now become the first professional football club to go out of business since 2007 when Scarborough were forced in to liquidation.
Fans had been concerned about Mr Lonsdale and his business partner’s suitability to run the club ever since they had taken over. Originally the group was fronted by Tommy Agombar until a previous conviction for theft was uncovered and he was barred under the fit and proper director’s test of the Football Association. It then emerged that Lonsdale himself was convicted of fly tipping, however, he was allowed to take control as the conviction was spent.
In an interview with the Guardian, Mr Lonsdale said:
“I am absolutely gutted that the club has folded. We did what we could, but the club was already in crisis when we took over. We have invested over £600,000 and worked very hard just to keep a team on the pitch. What hurts most is that we could have saved the club, I genuinely had a bank statement to present in court proving we had secured the £1,000,000 necessary to pay off the creditors of the club. I left in good time to get to the court and got stuck in traffic in London, there was nothing I could do about that.”
Mr Lonsdale added that the group will be appealing against the High Court decision, while conceding that many of the club’s supporters would be pleased that the groups’ ownership had come to an end.
Supporters and the Council remain united
The Edgar Street ground is owned by Herefordshire Council, who announced immediately after the ruling that they would be seeking to take possession of the ground. In a statement, a spokesperson for the Council said: “The ground will be secured and the process of finding a suitable new tenant will begin. Our plan is to ensure the continuation of football in the City and at Edgar Street.”
The Supporters Trust of Hereford United had already devised a plan for a fan-owned and operated club run in conjunction with the Council and at the Edgar Street ground. The Trust’s Vice Chairman, Martin Watson explained that “many fans simply did not trust Lonsdale’s group and as far as they were concerned the club died when they took over. At a recent meeting of the trust, the overwhelming majority of supporters stated that they did not want to be associated with the club in its current form and ownership. We are all just relieved the whole crisis is over and are now determined to return football at whatever level to Hereford. The Council, we believe, will support us in our aim of building a community football club, this is not the end, it is just the beginning, we can and will rebuild the club.”