On Thursday 3rd September, three Shots Trust Board Members (Alan Hilliar, Laura Smart and Nick Bond) attended and made a presentation to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee at Rushmoor Borough Council (RBC). The aim of the presentation was to lodge our concerns over the delay in signing the extension of the Club’s lease which, as you know, was announced as “imminent’ in November 2019.
Alan stressed our commitment to the Club and our desire to work closely with them for the best interests of football in Aldershot. To that end, we have raised over £60k for the Club in the last 5 years, and purchased 15,000 shares.
However, Laura pointed out that we are concerned about the Club’s current financial fragility, which will have deteriorated further during the lockdown. Net assets stand at a negative £597k. Creditors due for repayment within 12 months stand at £1.2 million. Losses last year were £650k; the year before, £500k. All of this indebtedness is underwritten by loans, primarily from the Club Directors, who have now put over £1 million into the Club. Publicly available information around Club indebtedness supports our concern.
The Board has stated openly that they see the extended lease as a lifeline which, through the redevelopment, will put at least £3 million on their balance sheet. Laura stressed to the Council our clear concern that the Directors may now see the net benefits from the redevelopment primarily as a way of paying back their loans. If that is so, then the future of the club could become increasingly uncertain.
Ideally, we want the Club to regenerate in tandem with the planned regeneration of Aldershot itself. A successful Club would boost local businesses and promote much needed local morale.
Laura put three key questions to the Council:
What’s holding up the lease?
The Club announced to the fans last November that the signing of the lease was imminent and would be finalised “within days”. We asked the Council to tell us exactly what is causing the delay.
Perhaps more importantly: to whom will the lease be assigned?
In December, the Cabinet stipulated that the leaseholder should be Aldershot Town Football Club Limited, which would be responsible for the proposed redevelopment of the ground and accountable to the Council, the shareholders, and the community for the overall redevelopment.
Since then, it has been persistently rumoured that the lease is to be assigned to Natta or perhaps to one / several Club directors. We asked the Council to assure us that the terms of the lease stipulates that football will continue to be played at the Ebb Stadium or its successor, in Aldershot, for the duration of the lease.
Finally, Is the Club viable in the long term in its present form?
The Shots Trust has for some time had severe doubts about the Club’s long-term financial viability under its current leadership. We asked the Council to consider whether they were confident that granting the extension to this Board of Directors is the right decision?
Nick then put forward a few points from the perspective of a lifelong fan and supporter of Aldershot Football Club. He pointed out that, from his first visit in 1967, he has had to witness the slow decline of the team compared to the Club’s former regular competitors, clubs such as:
- Bournemouth: now regulars now in the Premier League;
- Reading: ATFC’s real local rivals, with many seasons in the Premier League and Championship, and a superb stadium with an attached upmarket hotel;
- Swindon Town: have had one season in the Premier League, and are still a league club;
- Bradford City: again, several seasons in the Premier League although now demoted, but they had their time in the Sun!
- Oxford United: have played in Division One, won the League Cup at Wembley and have also built an out of town ground.
Nick also mentioned other, significant disappointments, such as:
- ATFC is one of the few recognised Football Clubs never to have played at Wembley!
- In December 2018, ATFC fielded a team of youth players in the prestigious FA Trophy (final played at Wembley), against a side (Bedford Town) which was 4 leagues below Shots, because we couldn’t field a first team. To add insult to injury, we lost 7-0.
- ATFC’s recent short-sighted decision to stop the free entry to under 11’s with a paying adult. The likely result is to lose more adult support, penalising the loyal fanbase.
Nick emphasised to the Council our belief that ATFC needs an injection of positivity. A culture of intention and vibrancy must be created, or the Club about which we are so passionate will not survive. Current gates of around 1,500 could, with a successful team, soar to 5,000 or more. This is the future the Trust and all Shots fans want, a club we can be proud of, both on and off the pitch, boosting local business and creating a feeling of vibrancy sweeping through the town.
In concluding our presentation, Alan made two final points:
- Given that there has already been one credible bid made by a former director to buy out the existing shareholders, we highlighted that there is a genuine and viable alternative.The Club could be taken over by a Community Interest Company (CIC), funded jointly by private individuals and by contributions from the community. There are already successful local football clubs which operate within a CIC.If the worst should happen, and the Club fails, another buyout and CIC could be put together very quickly.
- We believe that the current framework for the redevelopment of the ground poses significant risks for the Council.The Club’s financial position is arguably too precarious to take on a project of this magnitude and, should it fold before completing the redevelopment, the lease could be sold to a redevelopment company with no interest whatever in developing the modern stadium and playing facilities that loyal fans and supporters expect.
The Council as landowner does not have to yield control of the redevelopment proposal to the Club which has limited experience of a large redevelopment programme of this nature. It is far too important to the overall regeneration of Aldershot: instead, the Council could drive through the redevelopment brief for the ground, in the same way as it has for Union Street East. The logic of creating a community focused redevelopment brief for a major town centre development is the same.
Alan concluded our presentation at this point. Our points and questions will now be put to Martin Tennant, the Council officer who leads on the redevelopment/regeneration of Aldershot.
We will update members as soon as we hear anything further from the Council’s deliberations.