By Stephen Booth
Now that the takeover of Huddersfield Town appears to be progressing, the fear of administration has receded into the distance.
It is worth remembering that it is exactly 20 years ago that Town were plunged into the chaos of administration and came within minutes of liquidation. This is the full back story from the Huddersfield Town Supporters’ Association viewpoint.
In late 2002 financial problems that had troubled the club for several years came to a head when the Town announced they could not pay the players.
This continued until March 2003 when the club announced it was likely to fold at the end of the season with debts of around £20 million.
A public meeting at the stadium was well attended and, with the prompting of the late broadcaster Will Venters, The Survival Trust was formed, chaired by Bob Pepper, with the intention of doing whatever was possible to save the club. Bob has been involved with the Trust almost ever since, holding almost every office on the committee.
Over the next few weeks The Survival Trust worked hard to both raise money to help save the club, and also to work with the administrator to ensure every avenue was explored, all the while with the club heading inexorably to relegation to League Two at best, and extinction at worst.
The fundraising was headed up by Stephen Booth, the major fundraising activity being a match between “The Wembley Wizards” and “Town Legends” at the stadium, and the following are his personal recollections of the behind the scenes activities at this match.
The Survival Trust committee worked many hours during that long spring and summer when all looked lost. Thrown together by circumstances, this disparate bunch not only galvanised Town fans to believe we could survive when many people were saying it was pointless even trying with a £20 million debt, but without their work and the financial contributions by fans the club may not have survived.
Undoubtably the major event was the Wembley Wizards game, raising well over a third of the total achieved. Looking back, how we got this game off the ground in three weeks is unbelievable. A committee of six organised it, each with their own areas of responsibility.
My story goes like this: Armed with only a pay-as-you-go phone and a few players’ phone numbers gleaned from the diaries or phones of some of the staff in the office I contacted a few of the players.
Some said: “I’ll make sure so and so comes” or they passed on more phone numbers. A call to Jacko (Peter Jackson) and he made sure Taff (Terry Yorath) was in on it.
I like to claim that it was me that put them back in the managerial hotseat. Certainly they disappeared into the boardroom with Terry Fisher straight after the final whistle and were there all night.
I don’t know if the deal was done that day, perhaps Jacko will tell us one day? What I do know is that the response from former players Iain Dunn, Darren Bullock, Barry Horne, Lee Sinnott and all the others too many to mention was amazing.
All travelled to the game, not one of them claiming expenses and paying for tickets for their families and guests. These guys deserved the kind of financial rewards that today’s players get. What is heartening to see is they are still regularly attending matches at the John Smith’s Stadium all these years later.
I got a call on the Tuesday night before the match. “Hello, it’s Nico Vaesen.” Nico apologised that he couldn’t be there as he had a Premiership fixture the same day (as had Marcus Stewart).
We had a wonderful 90-minute conversation, then two days later the post brought a huge box full of signed goalkeeping kit. That was typical of the reaction of many former players.
It was a shame that the first team squad were not allowed to participate, having been put under a PFA embargo for insurance reasons.
Whilst I accepted that, I had a very depressing phone call with their spokesman, a journeyman with us for a last big payday, who would not let them get involved in any off-the-field activity on the day. He got a payout of over £40K as part of the saving of the club. I wonder how he would have felt if the club had gone under and he had got nothing?”
The game itself was a blur, the only thing I can remember was that I plonked myself wearily in a directors’ box seat near the end of the first half, just in time to see my boyhood hero Frank Worthington miss a penalty.
Frank had rung me a couple of days before. “What do I need to bring?” I told him that we had been given strips by the administrator and if he could sign it when he had finished it we would auction them all later, so just bring his boots and shin pads.
Shin pads, shin pads?” he howled incredulously. “I’ve never worn them in my life and I’m not starting now!” True to form, Frank arrived about 20 minutes after the match started!
I found out later that he’d nipped into the bar for a quick one, got changed, played his cameo and was back in the bar in next to no time. Well done, Frankie. We’ll never see the like of him again. RIP.
The day was a resounding success, indeed the gate of 6,500 was higher than either of the League Two play-off semi-finals played that day. This club HAD to survive with support like that.”
So how did the money help? We decided if there was a genuine chance to save the club we would use the money as wisely as possible, and if not we had applied for a provisional place in the North East Counties League and would use the money to relaunch at that level.
Thankfully, a series of conversations with the administrator led us to believe that the club could be saved and the money was put to use. The great advantage was that the club owned no tangible assets, the stadium being an independent company, KSDL.
The creditors, of which I was one, had a choice; vote FOR saving the club and get nothing or vote AGAINST saving the club and get nothing. In the end the only creditor to vote against was HMRC.
By the end of May the administrator asked us for help. If he could keep the club running through the summer he was confident one of the consortiums would be able to offer a deal he could accept.
His problem was that he did not have money to pay the staff on May 31 and would have to make them all redundant, could we help?
We agreed that we would pay those wages, providing the money was used only for this purpose and didn’t disappear into the black hole.
What an investment that has turned out to be, many of those back office staff still with the club; the recently retired Sue Beaumont along with her ticket office staff, Tracy Nelson in the commercial department and Ann Hough rising to the boardroom to name a few.
We paid those wages throughout the summer, along with other bills which the administrator asked for. There were a few minor items we refused, but over the summer paid over about £80,000 of your money.
We know the outcome now. Ken Davy bought the club, the deal being sealed when the Football League returned our “Golden Share” on the eve of the new season.
Jacko and Taff returned to only five senior players on the books, several more signing contracts subject to the golden share being returned.
What perhaps is interesting is regarding a call I made to Gerry Murphy a few days before the Wembley Wizards game. We had two teams of eleven but I needed some substitutes to help out. Could he provide some from the Academy? Phil Senior, Andy Holdsworth, David Mirfin, Jon Worthington and Jon Stead were among those who played, and all were thrown into the mix the following season and did not disappoint.
Back in those days, none of us could have believed that Town would have had two fantastic years in the Premier League with the memories it holds for all of us.
We have to thank Dean Hoyle for all that after he took the club on from Ken Davy. The immediate future ON the pitch is a little rocky, but hopefully a new page is about to be turned off the pitch, and we can look forward to a brighter future, maybe challenging for the Premier League once more.
Since 2003, sadly, we have lost Will Venters, a man who sparked the whole idea of the Survival Trust. Several of us have suffered health problems or major lifestyle changes over the years, but would we do it again?
Too right we would, but I feel the social media explosion would make the Survival Trust a completely different animal, probably one that would be easier to launch.
Finally, there was a touch of déjà vu in Huddersfield on Easter Saturday 2003. A group of us were collecting with buckets on the market piazza.
A lady of senior years came and put a pound in my bucket, then told me the following tale. Her dad had once told her that in 1919 he had come out of Huddersfield railway station and was asked by someone to give £1 for a share in Huddersfield Town AFC.
He had done so, and had left the white certificate he bought that day to this lady when he passed away, and she still had it. Which leaves me to consider, 1919 was a mistake, 2003 was carelessness. A third time would have been negligence. Thank goodness it didn’t come to pass.
The Survival Trust later merged with The Supporters Club to become the HTSA, the voice of the fans. They have constant dialogue with the club when issues arise and will continue to monitor the governance of the club to ensure we do not return to the dark days of 2003.
There was a substantial sum left after all our efforts which was not required to save the club. Several years ago, the sum was put in a trust with the Town Foundation, with some of it invested in an online museum. It is a growing collection and can be viewed on https://htafc-heritage.com