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A Letter To The Chairman
By: Bill Osborne
THE PROPOSAL to reduce the capacity of the new stadium from 20,100 to 14,000 has been seen by many to be a more practical proposition for Grimsby, and a lack of ambition by others. It also raises other questions which the Fishy asks the chairman, Peter Furneaux to answer.
Dear Mr. Chairman,
The changes to the stadium plan, according to your statement, are being considered because the club might not be able to finance the borrowings necessary without a big increase in gates. You point out that Grimsby has a fan base of only 4,500 with a wage bill that is two and a half times the gate income with the club striving to save money elsewhere to offset the deficit.
Under those circumstances, it would seem that the board are taking the right steps to ensure the viability of the project and at the same time ensuring that the club does not go in over its head.
One cannot argue with that case. It would be silly to commence a project of this nature without the necessary funds to assure its completion. More than one football club has been in the position of having a half built stadium and Grimsby fans have waited long enough as it is to see the start of the project, and can do without the worry of wondering if it will ever be completed.
But is that really the case?
When the new stadium was proposed by the then chairman Bill Carr and carried on by yourself as part of the current board, the proposal was presented as a self-funded project without the need for the club to inject funds. The understanding then was that the stadium would be financed with grants from the Football Trust, the sale of Blundell Park, and a capital contribution from the developers. The club's contribution would be made up through sponsorships and fundraising.
It was also mooted at the time that a major sponsor was waiting in the wings and that other interested parties were awaiting the outcome of the planning application with a view to sponsoring part of the project.
That situation may not have changed, but something appears to have. There was certainly no mention of heavy borrowings by the club by either board, although we were made aware that certain payments would have to be made by the club for related matters, such as legal fees.
What has changed? There would almost certainly be an increase in building costs since the planning process began and council applications were lodged but that was a forgone conclusion and should have been part of the contingency financial plan.
I am sure that the majority of fans and supporters applaud your efforts in trying to ensure the financial future of the club. Your statement, at the time of your appointment as chairman, that this was of the highest priority was most assuring bearing in mind that you reported at the same time, that the club had been on the brink of bankruptcy.
It appears however that on this occasion your initial statement is a little less than forthcoming and without more specific details it is difficult to judge whether this is part of the strategic plan to protect the future of the club or, as some fear, a "cop out" with the next announcement canning the project altogether.
The stadium project was hailed as the beginning of a more ambitious future for the club. The proposal to change the plan may not be a major concern, but the reasoning behind it is. It was announced as a separate entity to the club finances. That appears now not to be the case, which poses the question of where the club will find its contribution to the project bearing in mind its current financial plight.
In your statement you said the changes were "because the club might not be able to finance the borrowings necessary without a big increase in gates."
Does that mean that if there is not a big increase in gates at Blundell Park next season, the project will not go ahead and your statement is an early warning?
Or, will the project go ahead, if and when, the minister gives his approval?
I look forward to your assurance that the latter will be the case.
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