Grimsby Town Football Club held its 2017 annual general meeting (AGM) at Blundell Park this morning, with majority shareholder John Fenty, Ian Fleming and directors Philip Day and Stephen Marley.
They answered questions on the treatment of Mariners supporters at Stevenage on August 19, 2017, the latest news that Extreme Leisure (the developers of Town’s potential new stadium) has been appointed to rebuild an abandoned ski village in Sheffield, and potential future investors into the football club.
On the treatment of Town supporters at Stevenage, Mr Day revealed that he and Mr Fenty will tell the EFL that the club is not happy with the situation at the next League meeting in February.
He said: “There were young children searched, which is totally against any of the regulations.
“John and I will be attending the next EFL meeting which is in February, and we are going to make our views very well-known to the EFL. And also our view that we are not happy with the way that they dealt with it.
“What they said was they’re not taking any action, but they didn’t say why they’re not taking any action. That leaves it completely open and that is totally unsatisfactory, and that’s why we’re going to take it forward.”
Mr Fenty said: “It was the Mariners Trust who took the complaint to the EFL and they responded to it accordingly. Of course, we’re all unhappy about the situation.
“Should our football club make a statement or not, or should we leave it in the hands of the Mariners Trust, who are eloquent in acting on behalf of the fans?
“We’re responsible for this football club, not the actions of Stevenage.
“We get a lot of glowing reports from away fans of how our stewards have interacted with them.”
The panel was then asked about the news that Extreme Leisure has been appointed by Sheffield City Council to rebuild an abandoned ski village in Sheffield.
Mr Day said: “That is evidence that they have gained the confidence of Sheffield City Council, they’ve entered into that contract and, as far as we’re concerned, they are capable of delivering the project that we want.
“That is the project – a ski village in Sheffield worth £21m, plus 500 to 600 associated housing development.”
#Sheffield Council has appointed the #EXTREME Destinations-led consortium to deliver a 48-acre, sustainable EXTREME branded sports, leisure and entertainment solution at #Parkwood.https://t.co/27BjicFrOB pic.twitter.com/4xk10Hboh7— LeisureLand (@Leisure_Land_) November 30, 2017
Mr Fenty said: “Extreme, we’ve got to give them a chance. They’re really, really keen, they believe they can deliver, they’ve given us a good degree of confidence that they can deliver, so my wish is that we just back off with the criticism, stop over-scrutinising it.
“Let’s assist them to get on with, hopefully, enabling our delivery of a new home.
“We’ve got to be careful how we behave towards people that we need to help us – that’s the council, developers, the likes of Extreme are very important to the delivery of relocation and all of the good things that come with that, adjacent to the complex project that’s being worked up.
“We clearly don’t want to put them off and my plea to everybody is please be patient, wait and see – there’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes, and I know we’ve not been able to say anything really positive recently, there’s some key meetings happening this week. Philip’s engaged in that.
“As a ward councillor for NELC (North East Lincolnshire Council), I’ve now had to stand back because of a declaration of interests and let these meetings with the council happen in my absence.”
Potential investors in the club
Director Stephen Marley also spoke about looking for potential investors in the club, and revealed that the Mariners were almost taken over by American investors in 2015, but negotiations fell through due to the firm’s stance that fans shouldn’t be involved in the ownership of a football club.
He said: “We would look locally, nationally, and internationally. If someone just wanted to come along and invest in the football club because they love Grimsby Town Football Club, whether they want a seat on the board or not, that’s great.
“If the outcome of that was that there was someone who was genuinely interested in acquiring the football club, replacing all of us guys (the current board) with a new regime, that would be great as well. If it was best for Grimsby Town Football Club, then that’s what we would do.
“Philip and I, with our professional connections, the ones who started the ball rolling. Philip wasn’t necessarily involved in the commercial legal field. Naturally with my financial connections – I deal with a lot of financial institutions – I had contacts with people who were regularly involved in the purchase and sales of businesses.
“Locally, we really didn’t get much joy at all. We had a range of replies from certain high net worth individuals, along the lines of ‘Well, I’ve worked many years to accumulate my wealth. Do you really think I’m stupid enough to give it away?’ That was quite a common response.
“Some of the high-profile names that were banded away from time to time, with people saying if John wasn’t here then certain people would come along, they weren’t interested. Some of those people have other interests – they’re not interested in football. The whole of Grimsby doesn’t, unfortunately, revolve around football – I wish it did, but it doesn’t.
“So then we considered looking at businesses and enterprises that had a connection with Grimsby. The food industry, for one – clearly our main club sponsor is heavily involved in the food industry.
“We considered the renewables energy – would they be interested in helping the football club out, and investing? It would be good for your business to be involved with the football club.
“The response from those was what we’d expected, ‘We’re quite happy to give you commercial sponsorship, advertising, corporate hospitality with the new facilities at the new stadium,’ the sort of response that you would expect from a commercial enterprise. But they were not interested in investing into the football club.
“We then thought ‘Where do we go from here?’ We’ve come into contact with someone who was a professional football financier, and they had connections with various football clubs around the country – they’d acted for the purchase and sale of football clubs, and acted for football clubs in finding finance.
“The firm concerned principally had contacts in the United States of America, in the Middle East, France, and one or two other European countries.
“In 2015, we were actively talking to someone who was interested in the club. At that time I was quite hopeful and excited about the proposition they were putting to us. We had a deal on the table for the acquisition of Grimsby Town Football Club by an American firm of venture capitalists.
“A deal on a table isn’t necessarily as delivering – there are a lot of difficulties to overcome. This particular firm wanted exposure to football in the UK. We had a deal – there was an agreement as to how much would be paid to gain control of the club – they were quite happy to proceed.
“The major stumbling block that we had at that point was that they did not want any fan involvement whatsoever in the share capital of the company. That was virtually the deal-breaker. We want to actively encourage more people to have shares in the company, and have a say.
“Particularly allied to the stadium development, I and my fellow directors feel that this is an ideal opportunity coming up to increase fan ownership of the club, by way of shares. There are various incentives and initiatives that we feel that we can promote when we’ve got something concrete to actually say, ‘Here it is, we’ll move forward.’
“Fan involvement is an integral part of acquiring this football club. We have 1,250 shareholders – not all of those are sadly with us now, but probably 800 or 900 are active shareholders. It is a vital part of the club – if they want to be involved in this club then they had to embrace the idea that the fans were going to have an involvement as well.
“They agreed and we then moved on to the heads of agreement. I was a little bit concerned when I saw the first draft of the heads of agreement – it had gone back to them wanting 100-per-cent of the share capital. That didn’t give me a very warm and rosy feeling.
“But a few phone calls were exchanged and they said they’d put it back in again. As part and process of that, we also set some key dates and criteria that we felt they had to meet – they failed to do that, so we became a little concerned and called time on that deal.
“There were other leads and contacts that we were considering at the time but, quite frankly, we were a little bit uneasy about them – we didn’t think they had the solidity behind this one.
“The other aspect of this is that it was that connection that brought around Extreme – it was their connection that said ‘We’ve got this lead – they’re not interested in being involved in football, but they’d love to be involved with helping you bring the stadium relocation to fruition,’ so the efforts that we did have actually led to us having Extreme as our development partner.
“But the message that became clear is that there isn’t the appetite, despite what people may think, for people to come along and just invest in the football club. The structure that we have here doesn’t lend the security of people to invest substantial sums of money unless your heart’s in it, and that is the difference with Grimsby Town Football Club – your heart is in it, and not necessarily your head.
“I and John have spoken to two high-profile, high net worth individuals over the past couple of years or so, who we felt would be serious investors in the club, and they turned around and said to us, in no uncertain terms, ‘No chance. There is no way that I am going to put myself in a position of taking the abuse that you do.’
“There are many, many, many reasons why people choose not to invest in football clubs, but there are far many more reasons why not to invest as why to invest.
“The meeting on Tuesday got a little bit out of hand after that, that’s probably life, what I was trying to get over was, perhaps that people ought to reflect when they hurl the abuse, particularly at John, that it has consequences for the football club.
“That doesn’t mean to say that we’re stopping looking for investment – we’re continuing – we try regularly, but my firm belief is that outside of the people whose hearts are in Grimsby Town Football Club, you’re not going to get significant external investment until the stadium project is up and running.
“I’d love to be wrong. If there’s anybody out there who has a few-thousand pounds or a few-hundred thousand pounds burning a hole in their pocket and they want to come along and put money into the football club, great. And if people want to suggest people to speak to, then we’ll do that.”
Mr Fenty finished off by thanking everybody involved with the football club for their continued support.
He said: “I would just like to thank everybody for all of their support, and speak favourably about the Mariners Trust. We clearly are keen on fan engagement, there’s no doubt about that.
“The Mariners Trust got massive support from the board in terms of its evolution and the position it’s in today. We’re really, really pleased with that partnership, it’s going great.
“In terms of scrutiny, this football club is one of few which are PLCs – it gives further scrutiny, way and beyond, any other business.
“We have the PLC status, we have Supporters Liaison Officers, we have the Mariners Trust, the door’s always open. I have numerous communications with fans on a regular basis, I never turn my back on it.
“We are accountable, we do hold ourselves open for access to people, and we do answer openly and honestly.”
Town return back to Sky Bet League Two action a week on Saturday (December 9 at 3pm) as they welcome Forest Green Rovers to Blundell Park for the first ever EFL meeting between the two sides.
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