Report by Harry Taylor
Tonight's fans forum was supposed to answer many of the questions that the fans had following the revelations in recent weeks about the clubs financial position. Characters from Harriers past such as Pete Fryar and Mark Yates attended and the room was full for an evening which would prove to be very interesting.
The night kicked off with a introduction to the new directors and members on the top table - Mark Serrell (left) who has previous experience with Stourbridge and Halesowen Town, along with Brendan Phillips, who was rumoured to be bringing in a consortium, who is now involved with the commercial deals and he has been making links already. We later learnt that the consortium which previously became disinterested in putting money into the club is now interested under Dave Reynolds. This was along with the introduction of a new Company Secretary in Dave Colwell who replaced John Baldwin who resigned last Saturday. This news was greeted with cheering from many corners of the room.
The night was then split into three parts - the past and present, the future and then to end the night talking to Steve Burr about the squad and related items. The first part started with Mark Serrell giving a presentation, asking many of the questions the supporters have been asking, starting with what happened at the board meeting on October 28th when Dave Reynolds took over as chairman. Barry Norgrove announced an £8,000 shortfall which Reynolds paid. Out of the five initial investors who were interested only one remained and this was the person who has been much reported in the press who wanted to invest 300K into the club immediately and then 100K into January, with contact only made five days previously on October 23rd.
However there was no letter of intent and they also had to undertake an exercise of due diligence which could take some time. With a winding up order due to be commenced in the following fourteen days the board then unanimously agreed that Dave Reynolds (right) return as Chairman.
Some brief recent history was given of Reynolds; that he bought shares in Aggborough Holdings via another board member, and in 2009 the embargo in place due to the dispute between Newton and Reynolds was lifted - he rejoined the boardroom.
In December 2009 the situation became apparent that the club needed money. Reynolds gave advice that wasn't heeded but he still gifted the club an interest free loan of £50,000 with £1,000 to be paid back each month. After the third month the payments had stopped and the loan is still yet to be repaid.
In April of the next year he was called to a board meeting and asked if he could become Chairman*, but due to the lack of financial information, he couldn't decipher how bad the financial circumstances were. On the 10th of October he was then asked to give a further £70,000 by which time he realised that the club was in a dire financial state. The overlying reason for all this information being given was to show his long term commitment to the club.
*[Editors note: I was told later that all the board had been asked one by one to be the new chair but all apart from Reynolds had turned the offer down.]
Serrell then said he came to the club via a mutual friend. He then gave a more in depth run through of the top table and asked why there were two boards.
The reasons are that Aggborough Holdings has a 52% majority in terms of the shares that are held in the club but the KHFC board make the decisions. This stops one person having the control of the entire club. In terms of the debts - as of the 29th of October Reynolds had paid all of the staff along with paying off the tax and national insurance. Reynolds then announced that he would be getting an independent review of all of the books which may answer another one of the questions which asked where had all the money from Wembley/Coventry/Big donations gone.
Serrell then said he didn't know but tried to respond to that question with reasons being expensive player contracts, relocation costs, expenses paid to players and a lack of financial control that would've taken up a fair part of that. It was then revealed that if things continue as they are the club will make a £350,000 shortfall. Serrell then announced that there had been a series of donations:
£5,000 from Hire It
£1,000 from Fran Oborski/WFDC
£500 from Dream Beds
Free cleaning fluids from Steve Hodge from ChemiKal on Hoo Farm.
With the savings that Reynolds and the board intend to make the shortfall can be reduced to about £140,000 - £160,000.
Serrell then revealed that on the Friday the wages were paid a review of spending started. The attendance trend was also looked at and the *decline in numbers over the previous seasons.
*[Editors note: This downturn is not just confined to KHFC but other clubs too. This could be put down to the fact that Oxford Utd are no longer in this League.]
He went on to state that if the situation was allowed to continue the club would be in danger of liquidation and administration with new directors and investors needed immediately.
Then was the time for questions - Roger Gittings got the ball rolling by asking had we been living within our means. The answer from life president Colin Youngjohns was simply yes we had and so has every other football club though and we have been bailed out by donations and gifts in the past. Pete Fryar then took to the mic and asked why we hadn't been alerted to any problems previously which was met with the facts that the budget had been decided outside the board and also board members didn't know we had signed a player until it became news on the Official website. It seems that communication between the board and Aggborough Holdings had also broken down.
Match-day caterer Brian Murdoch then asked about transfer fees and money in regards to where it had gone. Reynolds responded with the fact he didn't know the answer to the latter question but seemingly he had only ever been invited to board meetings when Barry wanted money. Reynolds had offered advice in the meeting in late March and a plan to get out of debt which was subsequently ignored. It was also made apparent that the centre of excellence being reinstated was a priority.
Next up was shareholder Colin Lamb who said that when asking at an AGM about money and figures he was told to mind his own business by Norgrove and Baldwin. This was seemingly the airing of a previous grievance and wasn't a question as such.
Ernie Lane of the Harriers Premier Group then told the room that he had proposed to pay the £8,000 shortfall in the wages but this was ignored. He also had two prospective investors who were prepared to put in £50,000 into the club each but were put off by the 'coup' when Reynolds took over. He is still trying to get one of the investors to come and put his money in.
He also accused the board of the vote to force Barry Norgrove to resign was illegal. He also asked what Bob Dignam's status was on the board.
Reynolds responded this time by saying that the latter had resigned, he then stated that there were other offers to buy the club which were unsuitable and the supporters wouldn't have thanked him if they'd have come in. Reynolds also said that he was asked to pay the bills and if he wasn't, the club would've been wound up. He also spoke of going to a meeting where there should've been five prospective investors and there were none. Barry spoke of a wonderful investor but due to the aforementioned reasons it wasn't taken - a letter of intent would've changed this.
Then Brendan Phillips spoke briefly about his interest in buying the club which ended at the Bath City game. He initially came in to help Steve Burr with the club, and Phillips subsequently asked for information such as the cash-flow forecast which wasn't forthcoming and Baldwin said that he was too busy. Phillips then brought another investor to the club at the York City game and was shunned. However now the club has changed hands the person is interested again and will be attending tomorrow nights game.
The room was then told that minutes hadn't been kept for board meetings for the last five years. A worrying fact as there is now no record of what was said or done in such meetings for a considerable amount of time - and the whole of the time that the club has been in this 'mess'.
A question was asked which many had wanted to be answered. "Why was John Baldwin brought to the club". This was answered by Colin Youngjohns who described him as *'brilliant' and a good football accountant. He said Baldwin had advised that we sell the club a short time ago but he subsequently went on holiday which meant the club was unable to do so. Youngjohns in fact couldn't have spoken higher of the departed accountant and Baldwin offered to resign as soon as the chairmanship changed hands - however he was told to wait.
*[Editors note: memories of Norgroves comment that Baldwin was 'cute' came flooding back.]
This was the last question about the past and it was time to move onto the present and the future. Firstly was the question about the facilities.
Jono Smith asked the question about what will we do to increase revenue and mentioned the lack of food in the Harriers Arms as an example. Mark Serrell answered that question with another question by asking what the people wanted. He proceeded to say the Arms taking were good but was 5% down on previous years, which was in line with the attendance drop.
A fan, Jerry Bartlett, who uses the Arms as his local asked about food and getting the traditional Sunday roasts back into the pub. He also mentioned that the staff used to have a lot of restrictions under the 'old' regime and they must be rewarded.
The topic of the club shop was brought up and the contract was revealed to be 'up' at the end of the season. It was also reported that the shop only made £900 last year profit and the shop is run on a commission only basis with the suppliers taking nearly all of the profits after having supplied the fittings and stock free of charge.
Premier Sports TV was also mentioned with the fact that we make £4000 from a home game being screened and only £1000 from an away game. It was mentioned that we spend that getting up there and staying over night.
Attendance boosting measures were next on the somewhat agreed agenda with the next set of questions about that topic. Getting players into schools again to try and encourage youngsters to come to Harriers games were mentioned and Reynolds said he'd look into this.
Then a reduced price for season ticket holders of 'big clubs' in the area idea was mentioned with a scheme of vouchers being used which would allow them into games for a reduced price. Reynolds responded by saying that this would be looked into but it would be unfair on season ticket holders. He did mention however that he is a fan of grading games A and B and this also would be looked into.
Then Ernie Lane put forward the idea of getting the unemployed involved. This had been done before with limited success but would be looked into again.
The use of volunteers was also brought up and Reynolds said that if we went back to using volunteers more often this would cut costs. This was followed by a question to Serrell directly about cutting costs and he answered by saying area's had been identified and waste would be cut.
This provoked a question from myself, Harry Taylor, about whether the club would be going back to part-time as it was during Reynold's first reign as Chairman and a rumour that had been bandied about for years. Reynolds said due to the calibre of players who play semi-professional today that there was no future in reverting to the part time model.
In regards to funding a question was asked about whether Steve Burr would be backed in January and Reynolds said he wouldn't refuse Burr money like the previous regime did with Mark Yates at times in January. It was then revealed that £850,000 was given by Blue Square Bet in sponsorship and Reynolds said to the same effect of 'if you cant make use of that then there's something wrong'.
There followed another question from Ernie Lane, this time about freebies, and Reynolds answered by saying they had been cut down to the bare minimum.
Mark Serrell then summed up:
The club needs the support of its fans and the town more than ever and the reality is that there isn't enough money to get to the end of the season.
Questions were then put to Steve Burr on subjects such as Nick Wright, how often loan signings play, the possible signing of Ryan Connor who has been training with the club and Chris McPhee's training arrangements.
To summarise Wright has suffered a dip in form, the loanee's now are getting games but Burr expects them to make an impact even if they are given five or fifty minutes on the pitch, Connor will not be joining and Chris McPhee who didn't train with the club originally now trains twice a week.
This put the end to an interesting evening and one which will provide many talking points in the next week or so.