Summer of 2004
The financial troubles and the demise of the old club are well documented, but little has been published of the behind the scenes efforts of the Trust during the summer of 2004.
When the news broke last season, TUISA (Telford United Independent Supporters Association) once again became the focus of attention of many of the club's fans as the main vehicle by which they could help the club in their time of need. Over the following weeks, a number of people offered thier support to Lee Carter and ultimately became the TUISA Business Committee - a group of people with specific skills that could be used as necessary. Finance, IT and Marketing were all represented within the group.
As the fantastic fund-raising efforts of the fans continued, TUISA's bank account had swelled to over £17,000 in the space of a couple of weeks. It Was clear that the support for Telford United was as passionate as ever and that, if organised properly, the fans could have a significant voice in the running of the club.
In the meantime, all was very quiet from the club. Sustained requests for meetings and dialogue with the directors and the bank were met with little response. At that time we were, of course, just supporters with no legal involvement in, or even understanding of, the goings-on between the club and it's bankers.
The TUISA Business Committee came into contact with Supporters Direct, the umbrella organisation for the football supporters trusts up and down the country. The benefits of becoming a supporters trust were immediately apparent - a legally recognisable body that was fully democratic in its operation.
In an incredibly short space of time, the Trust was formed and registered with the Financial Services Authority as Telford United Supporters Limited. the TUISA Business Committee became the interim Trust board. In one of many long evenings to come, the wording of the entire constitution of the Trust had been decided upon and the final document signed by Andrew Dixon, Mike Dixon, Stuart Massey and Ian Tyrer. The next day it was sent to Cobbitts Solicitors who themselves did a superb job in processing the legal side of things for us.
As the days went on, many meetings were held. We welcomed representatives from the trusts of Chesterfield and Exeter, amongst others, as business plan upon business plan was thrashed out. Often, these meetings went on late into the night and early hours of the morning. Many a discussion was had by those charged with looking at the financial aspects. Could we save the club? Could we keep it running in the Conference? In the end, the financial commitments the club were under could not have been met without a wealthy backer, even with the continually growing funds of the Trust/TUISA. We wouldn't have survived to the end of the following season. Some of the players were earning over £2,000 per week, with still more earning over £1,000, all adding up to a wage bill in excess of many league clubs. Many of the players were willing to take a final payment and terminate their contracts, others weren't. They all walked away with nothing.
As the weeks passed, Simon Shakeshaft appeared on the scene and brought with him a great deal of football experience. Shakey took the leading role in organising the Telford Heroes v. Harchester United game. There was a dilemma. There would be a significant cost to putting the game on and we had no guarantee that the proceeds from the game itself would cover it. In the end, sufficient sponsorship and pre-sales of tickets meant that we were into profit before the gates opened. Thanks to an incredible effort by all those involved, the game turned out to be a hugely successful day.
Sadly, the day finally arrived when the board of directors announced that the club could not survive and that it would be liquidated. The very next day, AFC Telford United was formed by the Trust. It was a curious feeling the next day, waking up with the realisation that we now had to set up and run a football club from scratch. Now the work really started....
The Trust board appointed Simon Shakeshaft, Lee Carter and Dave Topping to the board of the new club, with further directors to be appointed in the future. We had no manager, no team and the assets and ground lease were in the hands of the liquidator. Most of all, we had precious little time to get everything up and running before the start of the new season.
After a couple of weeks of searching, Bernard McNally and Andy McKnight were appointed to manage and coach the team. Meeting the Trust board for the first time, Bernard stressed how he wanted his team to pass the ball around and play it out of defence, and how he wanted to bring young players into the squad that could grow with the club.
A huge amount of work was now being done by the Trust board, sub-committees and members who had volunteered to help. Once again, many people were working through the day and late into the night, sacrificing time with their families and putting themselves under a great deal of stress.
A great deal of work was put in to establishing the community links, re-establishing dialogue with sponsors, establishing the financial basis for the club, setting up the standing order scheme, converting the TUISA membership to the Trust, collecting season ticket pledges, and so on. The list was almost endless, but was still achieved.
In the background, there was constant dialogue with the bankers and liquidator about the assets and the lease. A good relationship was established with the bank and discussions became more and more constructive. In fairness, the situation we all found ourselves in was a result of the financial situation of the previous chairman's group of companies and the bank had been left with little option but to act in the way that they did.
On the playing side, players were being signed and Shakey managed to arrange all the pre-seasson friendlies in the space of a day and a half. No mean feat in itself.
Despite all this, not all went to plan. Even with the huge efforts being put in by the supporters, there were those few whose loyalities to the club disappeared very quickly and whose actions could so easily have prevented us from re-establishing the club in its current guise.
In the end, we won through, thanks to the sheer hard work of everybody involved. It was very, very tight in the end, with the final negotiations over the ground lease and assets being concluded in the nick of time.
There has been a huge number of people who have secured the future of AFC Telford United - far too many to list here. Not only those who hold a position with the club or Trust, of course, but all those who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes on our behalf and, most of all, the supporters of Telford United who either stood up and helped when needed, or dug deep into their pockets and filled the buckets. When AFC Telford United walked out for their first competitive game against North Ferriby United on the 21st August, they should all have been proud of their achievement.