Norman Smurthwaite statement & Co-Op response

Norman Smurthwaite has shared with the Supporters’ Co-Operative the following statement, which he is happy for us to share in full below, followed by our response.

In the absence of anyone being able to or choosing to I thought it appropriate that I clarify the position of both myself and the football club.

I was originally approached in April this year by Lee Thorne to see if I would consider buying the stadium, as an option to save the football club to stay within the Conference North competition. The other two interested parties at the time were Nuneaton Rugby Club and The Nuneaton Borough Co-Op. I was approached again just before the National League AGM that those two options could not or would not be completed within the timescales. I then agreed to and purchased Borough Stadium Limited, with the sole intention of enabling Nuneaton Town, as was, to continue to play their fixtures at that venue. I also agreed with Lee Thorne that I would endeavour to act as a facilitator to try to bring together a new body to acquire Borough Leisure Limited, the holding company of the football club, in order that Lee could extract himself from his involvement. At that time we agreed that all directors’ loans would be cancelled. He also requested and gave me authority to approach and negotiate with the existing unpaid creditors of Nuneaton Town which has been a work a progress since that time.

Lee Thorne was and is the 100% beneficial shareholder of Borough Leisure Limited. Due to undertakings provided by myself to the EFL with regard to purchasing Borough Stadium Limited and the stringent rules laid down by the EFL, National League and the FA regarding dual ownership, I could not and will not be able to have any shareholding in any existing or new business or provide any financial support to such a business. However, it was agreed and understood that I can help and use my experience gained over the past 6 years of owning an EFL member football club as long as I do not breach any rules or regulations laid down by any of the aforementioned bodies.

One of the biggest challenges I encountered in dealing with the above was the non-desire of the obvious key business parties within Nuneaton, with the true interests of the club at heart, who would not engage with Lee Thorne, even with me acting as an intermediary, in order to satisfactorily conclude the transfer of ownership to a new entity.

As time went by Lee decided that things were not progressing quickly enough for him and he ultimately resigned as a director and severed all contacts with the regulatory bodies, creditors and the football club. This resulted in the Club being unable to access the bank account, operate the payroll and other obvious legal requirements of running a limited company which resulted in the National League placing an embargo on Nuneaton Borough FC on the 3rd October 2018.

I have had several meetings and numerous discussions with the National League and latterly with the FA in relation to the challenges the above has presented to the football club. My last meeting with them both was on the 8th October. The rules of both bodies allow certain changes to enable the transferring of the membership of the National League to a new company or body, subject to meeting all the necessary rules and requirements laid down. This enables new parties to now become involved, create a board and produce the necessary financial budgets to take the Club forward. Sadly over the last few days the appetite for this has become splintered amongst several of the people who were to become involved. The amount owed to existing creditors is quite small, which is unusual in this situation and, in fact, the biggest creditor is Borough Stadium as no rent has been paid, but this would be waived in the current circumstances. The current monthly payroll of the players is circa £25,000 per month but with the gates as they are the monthly shortfall of the Club is between £17,000-£19,000 per month. Here lies the major operational issue of Nuneaton Borough in whatever guise going forward.

Having now established a process to save the football club the new board was to be interviewed by the National League next week, pass the appropriate fit and proper tests and be in situ, having met all necessary requirements before the 1st November being the next board meeting of the National League. On leaving the meeting on Monday I was confident that this timescale was achievable but, at the time of writing this statement, I am far from confident that this will now be the case.

For my part, I purchased the stadium to give a lifeline to the football club in an area to which I have a personal affinity. I have had very healthy dialogue with the Chair of Nuneaton Rugby Club and, although a ground share agreement was not taken up by them, we have tried to work as neighbours as best as possible in the circumstances. I am still pursuing the legal process of obtaining the appropriate access within the stadium currently being denied by the rugby club and this will become clear in due course.

As you are no doubt aware there is a skeleton staff employed at the football club who have done an unbelievable and admirable job to try and deal with both the administration of running a football club and the challenges which appear to be raised to deflect that on a daily basis.

Understandably the players are concerned regarding their livelihood but the contractual position is that they remain players registered until Nuneaton Borough FC defaults on its contractual obligations, i.e. not meeting the payroll; 14 days after such a breach they are free to terminate their contract.

I now turn to the fans and the wider Nuneaton community. The next week to ten days is the most critical time I believe this club has ever faced. I feel that the club needs to engage you all in trying to avert the sad closure of the football clubs doors. As I now do not believe that the parties who originally expressed an interest in wishing to create a new board and take the club forward on their own, there are both the operational issues of still creating a new vehicle and trying to find funding to meet the clubs financial obligations. If the town wishes to keep the heritage and the football club alive it now needs your immediate assistance. I will endeavour to help within the constraints the regulatory bodies have imposed upon me and hope that a solution can be found to what are some serious challenges in front of the Club and the town as a whole.

This statement is a reflection of my own personal views and assessments and not that of the EFL, the National League or the FA.

The Supporters’ Co-Operative welcome Mr Smurthwaite’s statement about his involvement with the ground and football club.

What is clear is that the Boro is in critical moment in its history. From what we now know, the club needs people to immediately to come on board in order for the club to keep going. We are encouraged to hear that the football club has no directors’ loans outstanding and the amount owned to creditors is ‘quite small’.

The Boro has a rich history, as highlighted in the From Town to Town history project, and to see it in such in such a position is desperately sad. If the Boro were to fold it would not only be the loss of a football club, but a loss of the community of fans, staff and players that is built around it.

We will endeavour to do all we can to save the Boro, and would urge people interested in helping to achieve this to contact us at info@nbfccoop.co.uk or by speaking to Mark Axon (acting chair) on 07814663158, or contact Mr Smurthwaite directly.

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