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KELVIN THOMAS TAKES PART IN Q&A WITH NORTHAMPTON CHRONICLE & ECHO

Chairman covers a range of current issues with Sports Editor Jeremy Casey

29 August 2019

Chairman Kelvin Thomas has been speaking to the Sports Editor of the Northampton Chronicle & Echo, Jeremy Casey, about a number of current issues.

The full article can be read here while the Q&A part of the discussion can be seen below:

Has what happened to Bury, and what almost happened to Bolton, surprised you?

"I don't think surprised would be the right word, as I think it is quite well known that Bury as a club have been overspending for quite a while, and there have been issues in terms of payment of players.

"The overriding emotion is one of sadness, sadness for the club, the fans the staff and everybody else involved.

"You hate to see these situations happen, but there are certain realities that come along with any business, any entity, and it seems whatever decisions have been made at Bury have come unstuck.

"From Northampton Town's perspective, it is just very sad to see a club go out of the Football League."

You are chairman at Northampton because of a similar situation which happened under the previous owners four years ago, has there been a feeling of inevitability that the fate that has befallen Bury was going to happen to a club sooner or later?

"Yes and no. I think in reality we came into Northampton in a very similar situation, and what has happened to Bury could have happened at Northampton.

"It may have happened if we hadn't stepped in when we did, and the reality is that football clubs are very difficult businesses to run.

"They are not technically sensible businesses, and it always concerned me when somebody said they were going to take a forensic look at the books (of Bury), because the reality is if you do that you are probably not going to buy a football club.

"You have to understand there are certain things that are different to what you would normally expect.

"You look at our situation and look at Bury's situation, and everybody says 'oh, it was bought for £1, can't you sell it for £1?'

"The fact is we bought Northampton for £1, and by the time we were all enjoying the promotion year, by the end of that season we were probably close to £2 million in, thanks to what we inherited and what we found, what came out of the woodwork, etc.

"But we knew that was going to be the case and it may have been a little bit better than we realised in some areas, and a lot worse in some areas, in terms of the property aspect of the transaction.

"But there is always a speed with these things, especially when a club is about to go under, and you want to try and get the deal done as quickly as possible.

"So at certain times you have to take a bit of a view, we did that, and it seems like at Bury there was too much in the background."

How do you see the EFL's role in all of this? Do you think the EFL should have done more, or can do more?

"I think the problem the EFL have is that they can only operate within the existing rules, and the job now of the EFL is to ensure the rules are amended, changed or improved.

"At the last few EFL meetings this has come up, and I have been quite vocal in saying that my opinion is that clubs should be docked points as soon as wages aren't paid.

"My suggestion is that as soon as wages aren't paid, the clubs have 10 days to pay them in full, and if they don't then they are docked points at that time.

"There would be a set formula as to how many points clubs are docked, etc.

"The thing is, I think people have known about the Bury situation for a long time, this isn't a new situation, and at Northampton we have good knowledge of it thanks to Nicky Adams, who plays for us now.

"Unforutnately, Nicky is owed a lot of money I think, in personal terms from Bury and he may not get that money.

"The alarm bells will always ring when wages don't get paid on time, but there is no punishment for that.

"If clubs knew they would get docked points if they didn't pay their wages on time then I would guess that people would try harder to make sure that wages get paid on time.

"If the wages do get paid, then it means there is money in the football club, and you would hope these problems are less and less, or do not go on for so long that it means the club ends up like Bury has.

"As a football club owner, nobody will ever turn round to you and say 'hey, thanks for paying the bills', or 'thanks for paying the wages on time', because to us and to most people that is an expectation.

"But sometimes it is very challenging to write big cheques out when you have lost a few games or whatever, and we all know that it is what happens on the pitch that people really, really care about.

"But I do think the Football League has a responsibility to ensure that we, as owners, are doing the right things.

"Myself, David and Mike, as board members we know what our responsibilities are. We will ensure for as long as we own the football club that we will keep up with our responsibilities.

"You will not hear people saying they haven't been paid under our watch.

"So I do think there needs to be an earlier intervention, and let's give the Football League the ability to make that earlier intervention."

Football clubs have a history of keeping financial problems quiet, and many times over the years when wages have not been paid it is all kept secret for weeks or even months. It happened at the Cobblers in the summer of 2015. These issues may be known or rumoured within the game, but supporters are kept in the dark. Is that a symptom of the problem as well, should there be more transparency and honesty as soon as problems arise?

"The fundamental issue is all of these cases is typically when you have to borrow money from outside of the ownership group.

"The reality is we have had losses in our time at Northampton. We have had a season where we made a little bit of money, we inherited a lot of things from the previous ownership, and we have made some investment decisions that haven't always worked out.

"But the difference is, that it is our money.

"We are not beholden to bank, we are not beholden to a taxman, we are not beholden to a mortgage company.

"Sometimes we get criticised for different things, but people forget it is our money that we are using, and we can only look at ourselves. If somebody is going to call a debt in, then we are calling a debt in on ourselves so that doesn't make any sense.

"From a football club perspective, we are quite secure financially and we can afford to find the club going forward.

"These situations (as at Bury and Bolton) come about when you run out of money to pay back the debt that you have.

"So we are in a much stronger position in that way, and that leads into some of the discussion about the east stand and the discussions with the council.

"All we are trying to do is to ensure there is some sustainability at the football club, and to ensure that we get a deal going forward that ensures the future of the club.

"We have always said, and we said it from the start, that out goal is that when we do leave, we try and leave the football club in a better place than when we took over, and in a debt free position.

"We certainly didn't take the club on in a debt-free position, we took it on with £18m worth of debt and plus, plus, plus in terms of other things that came out of the woodwork.

"We have dealt with all of that quietly, there is no external debt that we carry, and we are looking to ensure that continues and the council have a responsibility to ensure the same thing, and that is what we are working together to do.

"We are just trying to get some urgency in that, and trying to push it along, so that we can have a better chance of becoming a sustainable football club, utilising any of the income from any of the land associated to mine and David's ownership to benefit the football club.

"We have made it very clear from the outset that is what we are trying to do, and situations like Bury and Bolton just emphasise the importance of that type of approach."

So is there any movement on the east stand and the adjoining land? Any progress on the talks between the club and Northampton Borough Council?

"As has been noted, we inherited a terribly complicated situation, and we spent two-and-a-half years saying there were problems with the leases, and the council confirmed this at their cabinet meeting last year.

"The council have had some internal procedures to go through to ensure they can sit down and work out a deal with us which we believe we are now through, and we believe we are making progress.

"We are certainly not in conflict with the council and we are working together to ensure the deal is right for the football club.

"There have been some wild things suggested in terms of what should go on the land, but we have to live in the real world and have to try and do a deal that is sustanabie for the football club going forward.

"We have already committed to the council and to other stakeholders, that the funds used will be for the benefit of the football club, and we are very comfortable in our position that we will do the best deal possible for the club.

"Bury and Bolton got themselves into problems with the redevelopments of stands and grounds, and borrowed money against the stadium, etc.

"Northampton has recovered the position and is now back to a good position in terms of being able to do a deal on some land that will benefit the football club, which is the position that was agreed five years ago, with the previous ownership.

"We don't want to put the football club into a position where we find ourselves like a Bury or a Bolton."

You have been at the club for almost four years now, so you understand people's frustration with the time it is taking to get the east stand situation sorted out?

"The truth is, of course I understand, but in the mean time of all this happening, people have to remember we are funding the football club to a decent amount of money every year.

"It is incredibly frustrating for us to be sitting here with people thinking we are not doing anything or we are trying to be clever or whatever, the reality is we are funding the football club.

"And we will continue to do that, so the fact is we want things moved on urgently and we are pushing, prodding and talking to make that happen."

Since the collapse of the 5USport partnership, there has had to be a rethink on investment. Budgets have had to be looked at, and contracts have been cut back in what manager Keith Curle calls 'good housekeeping', but is it still a substantial amount of money that is being invested?

"Absolutely. The accounts are public and people can see the level of investment that has been made in the football club.

"As a club owner you are always looked at as somebody who is trying to make money out of a club, but we are just not in that position.

"The land that we are talking about (behind the east stand), we have already committed that the funds will be used within the club and to take care of it.

"We are trying to get that done, but we do need some urgency on it because we want to make sure we are in the position to move on and get the stand built.

"It is the same for us as it is for the fans, but unfortunately for the fans they have been going through it longer than us.

"We have just been fighting against it, and people are critical of us which we understand, we accept and will take on the chin and deal with, but everything we are doing is trying to ensure we do things professionally.

"I think people will always look at Northampton and say it is a well-run football club, and it is a well-run football club so we can't take any criticism for that.

"We are excited about things because we do think in the next few months we will see some progress, and we are excited about the future, but we need some help along the way from the council.

"And it's not even help, because we think what we are offering benefits the council as well, because of course the council lost out in this process as well.

"So we are comfortable with our discussions with the council officers, and we hope to push those along."

You, David and Mike have made no secret of the fact you are looking for external investment into the club, and also that Northampton Town is up for sale if the right bidder comes along, but do the three of you still see your future at the Cobblers?

"We have always been open and honest about the fact we would invite investment, etc. .

"The reality is, we get expressions of interests or offers on the football club probably on a weekly basis.

"We are very strong on that we would expect to see proof of funds, and we would expect to see experience, and the reason why people want to buy the club and how and why they can take it forward before we have a further conversation.

"There are a lot of people interested, but there are also a lot of people that either don't have the ability, the money or the nerve to do it.

"We have had some expressions of interest and even had offers and we have been very close to agreement on some, but you have to have to the nerve to do it, and some people have just flaked out or haven't put an offer forward when they said they would, etc.

"The important thing is, and we have always said we will ensure when we sell the football club to the next persion it will be to someone we will make sure will be a good custodian of the club.

"We had very good initial success, and since then we may not have had the success on the pitch we would have liked, but I think it's fair to say as owners we have put the investment in to try and get success.

"It hasn't worked out all the time but that is part and parcel of owning a football club.

"We are comfortable in that if somebody else came along and said they could do this, that and the other, and had the money to do it, then we would welcome that conversation, but it can't just be anybody.

"I have always said, football clubs are very easy to run - until you have a football club.

"Everybody talks a fantastic game, but it is never that easy.

"Football clubs are about expectation, and sometimes it is very difficult for those expectations to be matched on and off the pitch."

There have been suggestions that there are a batch of other clubs suffering financial difficulties as well as Bury and Bolton. There have been reports of non payment of wages at Macclesfield, and there have been reports this is just the tip of the iceberg. Do you believe Bury supporters won't be the last to go through the trauma of what has happened to their club?

"I don't know about that. You do obviously hear rumours about other clubs, and clubs not being able to pay wages, but again, that is where I go back to my suggestion that it should be highlighted as soon as you don't pay wages, or even VAT returns, or you don't pay the tax bill.

"There should be certain milestones you have to show the Football League on a regular basis.

"It is easy to blame the fit and proper person's test, but it is very difficult for the EFL to legislate for decisions that are made along the road.

"You can only check so much, but I think if there are more checks along the way it would help to see if the club is performing financially.

"And it's not just about off the pitch, it's about on the pitch as well and Bury is a very good example of this.

"Obviously this is a very sad time for Bury, but you can't forget about the club last year who didn't get promoted because Bury did.

"The financial impact on them, and I think it was Mansfield Town, can't be ignored.

"So there has been a financial impact on another club due to Bury going up, and not paying their players. That is the reality of it.

"Were we operating on a level playing field in league two last season? No, we weren't.

"So there are consequences, and if we could get some rules in place that would allow the Football League to ensure that clubs aren't getting into problems, that would be good.

"In then end, the Football League can only change the rules or implement rules that are in place, the Football League is not there to run our football clubs.

"But I just feel there needs to be a mechanism for them to be able to check and make sure clubs are taking care of their financial requirements, and if they're not give them the chance to change things quicker.

"Player wages are the biggest cost of any football club, and we know that Bury were paying significantly more than they could afford."


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