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Archived News from February 2008

5th February 2008 12:59

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Jan 2008

English football has nothing to learn from foreign billionaires about financial chicanery. Take Mansfield Town-owner Keith Haslam. Football should be in his blood. His father Harry was a long-serving manager, nearly signing a young Maradona for Sheffield United, they say. Junior's execrable record at Mansfield suggests he was adopted.

Since Haslam bought Mansfield, debt-free for £1 in 1993, the team – bar one promotion and one promotion play-off defeat – have been borderline-rubbish. Relegation to non-league currently beckons. Off-the-field it's been worse.

Mansfield cleared £1.63m debts by selling their Field Mill ground to previous owners Abacus Ltd, renting it back via Haslam's frighteningly-named company Wakeco. Shareholders AGM's...no, not yet. First Mansfield's parent company changed its rules – allowing directors (i.e. Haslam) a salary. Haslam told his first AGM (1996) he wasn't paid. In 1998, 1996's accounts showed he...was.

New stadium promises remained promises, and then became Field Mill redevelopment in 1999 – “retail development” profit forecasts allowing Haslam to buy it back for the original sale price. Promises to Haslam were fulfilled. Interest-free loans from well-known money-lenders…Mansfield Town. Promises of repayment remained promises. And loans totalled £350,000 over five years. In breach of company law by…£345,000. No explanations, not even the readily-available “they paid for the ground.” No-one would have believed that. Though such considerations have never bothered Haslam.

Fans formed 'Team Mansfield', TM, backed by the government-funded 'Supporters Direct,' to buy the club. In an oft-repeated scenario, Haslam said he wanted to sell, refused company information to prospective bidders and claimed there were “no serious offers.” TM fell foul of this twice.

Haslam signed an agreement allowing them 3.3% in 'community shares', neither bought from nor benefiting the owner, chairman and (salaried) chief executive. And with ground redevelopment progressing, Haslam became semi-popular. When club-loans topped £1m, that vanished, except among toadies like Mansfield MP Alan Meale. And youth academy promises remained promises, despite a £487,000 loan to Stags Ltd (prop: K.Haslam) to purchase land for it.

Then ex-manager Keith Curle won a wrongful-dismissal case against Haslam. 'Independent' enquiries, headed by the likes of Meale, upheld Curle's sacking for 'bullying.' Judge Field QC declared these 'a sham.' A “shocked” Haslam declared, in best Blair-speak, Mansfield had “moved on.” It had…to more mismanagement. Ground capacity was reduced by safety officials as redevelopment problems mounted. The 'academy' remained hypothetical, loans outstanding. And, in an entirely unrelated development, Haslam bought a £750,000 house in 2004.

In 2005, progress. Haslam was “embarrassed and ashamed” during his annual loan repayment promise and announced a tangible repayment strategy…when, co-incidentally, the Guardian exposed his shenanigans. He offered repayment from Stags Ltd (prop: K.Haslam) share-dividends, the club in rare profit “helped greatly by” (trans: “entirely from”) Mansfield reaching a Millennium Stadium play-off final. It looked like he was repaying the club from its own money. He was. He also announced a club restructuring, reducing his voting control and promising “a new chairman.”
Haslam didn't deny the loans were “wrong.” “It's a breach, we've not hidden that” (that's OK, then). But in 2004, he'd “written off” (“kept”) £239,237 “for tax reasons.” Non-payment of by him, most assumed. TM launched legal proceedings – all post-2002 loans breached their community shares agreement. Haslam's response was idiotic. “Wanting to sell” again, he challenged TM to “say how much they felt Mansfield was worth” and pulled the old 'you-can't-see-the-books' trick. Bereft of necessary information for a credible bid, they withdrew.

Then Haslam offered to buy TM's shares to place “in a Trust for Stags Supporters Association (SSA) members.” Adding, ignorantly, “No other Trust has bought a club…they only step in in insolvency cases.” “When do we see TM's accounts?” (“before the Club's” replied Nottinghamshire). “They're a bit cloak-and-dagger. Who's on their board?” All out-loud and irony-free.

Haslam praised SSA. They didn't quite reciprocate: “Haslam values our money but we have absolutely no trust or confidence in him…and will not work with Mansfield until he repays the money or leaves.” In trying to 'divide and rule', he united supporters' groups like never before.

The, personal, loans were repaid. And retired-Football Foundation chief Peter Lee became chairman in May 2006. Lee set about “building bridges” with fans – infuriating Haslam, who cancelled board meetings to which Lee invited SSA observers. Lee disappeared, resigning in January 2007. Predictably, Haslam blamed “certain supporters” for “creating more work than Peter anticipated” (without board meetings??). But “certain” supporters were a majority. Meale said: “Detractors should hold their breath, they'll be surprised.” They weren't.

Haslam “received” a 21% pay-rise. Meanwhile, Sydney-based businessmen Steve Dolheguy and Gary Wall made what Lee's successor James Derry called “a well thought-out offer…but miles below our valuation.” The Aussies saw through that: “We're not convinced the club is genuinely for sale” adding, significantly: “Our plans do not match the current agenda…to ask for substantially more than our bid…is a pipedream.” Especially as they were only offered Mansfield's 'trading rights' – Haslam would keep the ground…and a certain Stags Ltd loan.

They were also “surprised their bid was handled by Derry before he declared his interest in taking control.” However, even Derry's “local business consortium's” offer - “similarly-structured” to the Aussies' (shock!) – fell foul of Haslam, co-incidentally before 'Mansfield's' £75,000 television windfall from their FA Cup-run.

“Stags Fans For Change” (SFFC) have organised consistently-supported boycotts of club 'revenue streams' as Haslam has overseen a variety of administrative cock-ups and further ground capacity reductions – a ticketing fiasco for a game against Chesterfield which 'Carry-On' scriptwriters would have rejected as too farcical. Haslam has since made chartered accountant Stephen Booth chief executive amid scarcely-believed claims that he's “taking a back seat”...and no salary.

“Mansfield Town Fans Together” (MTFT) boosted the club's acronym count and offered members £1,000 shares to finance a 'supporters-led' takeover. And since the New Year, the local press have alleged three more bids. The Aussies have joined a(nother) local business consortium and one anonymous bidder has “already tabled an offer.” Haslam's saying nothing. Mansfield are still in the Cup.

Haslam could write the exploitative club-owners handbook. He'd charge Mansfield for the printing.

Entry Filed under: MotorMurph Column
'MotorMurph' is written by Mark Murphy


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