Political Economy of Football
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Rushden Find A Saviour

 

26/11/2006

Relegation threatened Conference club Rushden and Diamonds who faced going into administration have found a saviour in the form of former Peterborough vice-chairman Keith Cousins. The Northamptonshire club was formed from a merger of Rushden Town and Irthlingborough Diamonds by Doc Martens' magnate Max Griggs who remains as life president. He provided them with a modern stadium and excellent supporting facilities alongside the River Nene in Irthlingborough. His funds allowed the club to win promotion to the Football League, even playing in what is now League 1 for one season. Critics said that the ground was like a giant Mecanno set planted in the Northamptonshire countryside, that the supporters were 'plastic' and that there were few chimney pots in the surrounding villages, one of the biggest local employers being the Weetabix factory in Burton Latimer. Indeed, as the club's fortunes waned, sustaining attendances has been a problem.

The boot and shoe business of the Griggs family ran into increasing trouble as it faced enhanced global competition and production had to be outsourced to China, leading to the disappearance of local jobs and, it was suggested, some disgruntled former supporters with them. Griggs, who enjoyed a remarkably modest lifestyle in general, tried to sell the club for eighteen months but could not find a bidder. He decided to hand the club and most of its accompanying facilities to a community trust and generously provided them with 750,000 over two years to get them started, although this was only enough to keep the club going for six months. No one could doubt the dedication and enthusiasm of the 'plastic' supporters (I am an inactive member having watched Rushden from time to time when other fixtures were not available). The Trust has successfully reduced the inherited annual operating losses of 1.5m. but is still losing approximately 600k a year. Football trusts, however skilled and well intentioned, still have to confront the laws of the market. If they had not taken over when they did, the club would have folded it at the end of the 2004/5 season. But the chair of the Rushden and Diamonds Society, Paul Hadjuk, admitted, 'I think everyone is aware that running a football club requires more financial backing than the Trust could afford to commit.'

As it faced almost certain closure, the Trust looked for potential investors but its task was not made easy by the conditions placed upon it in the original transfer from The Griggs Group. Keith Cousins should be able to use his business experience to make better use of the excellent conference and other facilities at Nene Park and the surrounding land. But he warned fans, 'Whilst I have invested substantial funds into the club unfortunately I am not a new Max. The club is and will remain in a serious financial position.' The Trust will nominate two directors on to the football club executive committee, but not to the board of what is effectively a new club with the existing club directors resigning. The transfer of the club from the Griggs Group included a clause in the contract protecting football at Nene Park. Fans have been told that 'The clause still exists subject to negotiation ... in its current form it does restrict the club's ability to generate additional funds from the assets. As part of the deal the Trust has done with Keith Cousins, the club is guaranteed the right to play at Nene Park for as long as it is appropriate to do so.' This last phrase is somewhat ambiguous, but the alternative to accepting the offer would have been administration and likely closure, illustrating the financial pressures that exist even at Conference level (with another former league and conference club, Scarborough, also on the brink of folding).

 


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