New owners of Chesterfield football school still discovering historical debts but say they can turn it around

Liam Sutcliffe, whose CFC International Football Academy has become the FBT International Football Academy

Liam Sutcliffe, whose CFC International Football Academy has become the FBT International Football Academy

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The CEO of the Romiro group, whose company took over a Chesterfield football academy, is discovering more about its historical debts on a ‘daily basis’ but says he’s determined to turn the academy around.

It was announced in September that FBT Sports – part of Sir Rodney Walker’s Romiro Group – had acquired a 50 per cent share in CFC International Football Academy.

But more than two months since the news emerged, Romiro CEO Mike Hegarty admits he’s still finding out about debts held by another side of the business, CFC Development School Ltd.

The Derbyshire Times revealed in April that CFC Development School Ltd was £77,000 in debt according to its year end financial report.

A Chesterfield FC sponsor and other parents threatened legal action over money owed from a cancelled football tour to Paris, before receiving refunds, and staff departed over unpaid wages.

At that time the school was linked to Chesterfield Football Club and co-owned by Spireites CEO Chris Turner and Liam Sutcliffe, a football coach.

Turner, who along with Chesterfield FC company secretary Ashley Carson ploughed money into the venture, resigned as a director in August of this year.

A month later FBT confirmed they had acquired shares in the international academy and renamed it the FBT International Football Academy.

Sutcliffe remains the only active director in the firm according to Companies House, but Hegarty expects the record to reflect FBT’s acquisition in the coming days.

He admits the problems suffered by CFC Development School Ltd have only recently come to his attention but FBT want to provide solutions.

“The previous business was something we weren’t completely aware of until the last two or three weeks,” he said.

“It was a separate company and I think there were significant debts in that company.

“It’s an old company but what we’ve been trying to trawl through is how they’ve tried to address those issues.

“It’s something we’re learning about on a daily basis.

“Maybe we should have done a bit more due diligence but we saw the bigger picture.

“I have the greatest respect for Chris Turner and Ashley Carson, they recognised there was an issue and contributed their own money to deal with significant creditors.

“Liam has been left with most of that debt and we’re addressing that with our own accountants.

“What I haven’t found out is if there are any other individuals who haven’t been paid their appropriate dues.

“My understanding from the last week is there are still one or two people who worked for the academy who haven’t been paid.

“While FBT might not have a legal duty to them, there’s a moral obligation. We would be uncomfortable in taking over anything with assets and liabilities and leave individuals with any debt.”

The Derbyshire Times understands that at least one former employee, Adam Taylor, is still owed money by CFC Development School and there is an outstanding County Couty Judgement for a debt of £12,870 owed to an unknown creditor.

Concerns were also raised recently at a Chesterfield FC fan forum that the school had failed to provide evidence that the cancelled trip to Paris was ever booked and paid for in the first place.

Hegarty was unaware of those concerns but promised to investigate and insisted he will meet Taylor to sort out his debt.

“Some issues I’m trying to find out, in terms of the cancelled trip to France,” he said.

“I’ve seen debts on the books for a travel company, which would lead me to believe it was booked.

“That’s a debt in the old company, when I get the accounts we will look through.

“My understanding is that’s where some of the debts have been paid back.

“You can rest assured I will be asking those questions.

“The old company, CFC Development School, it hasn’t gone into administration or liquidation, we didn’t want that to happen.

“We were clear that could have a detrimental affect on the name of Chesterfield Football Club and it’s the last thing we want.

“We wanted to find out who is owed what and why.”

Hegarty says Sutcliffe is now in charge of the footballing side of the international academy and FBT have faith in his ability as a coach.

“Liam is still running the football side and that’s with strong support from people who know him and say he’s a very able football coach,” said Hegarty.

“He might have been bombarded with lots of things perhaps a coach shouldn’t have been.”

While the reputation of the academy hasn’t been helped by the issues uncovered this year, Hegarty believes there’s not only a chance to turn things around but start new academies of a similar kind.

“How it got to that stage I’ve no idea yet but we think we can turn that round, maybe operating slightly differently but we will only do it in the interests of kids who want to try and play at a higher level,” he said.

“It’s a story that has not been a good one for the last two or three years and it’s our real intent to make it significantly different over the next three to four years.

“It’s in our interests to make this right for Chesterfield, because we do think the concept of an international academy is congruent with what we want to do with the brand in the UK.

“We will be announcing in the New Year that we’ve secured the contracts of two or three more professional clubs.

“So we want to do the right thing in each case and support football at grassroots.

“We want to give kids the opportunity to play on a bigger stage.

“The international academy has had a lot of people coming over and playing football and my understanding is that the quality of that team is very good.

“We’ve got to make sure that when students are not finding contracts, they can go back home with added value, coaching qualifications and an academic qualification.”

Hegarty has previous experience in education, so believes he’s the right man to guide the academy and maximise the revenue streams that come from providing schooling as well as football.

“We’re here to support the business model,” he said.

“The revenue streams of the education side perhaps haven’t been as strong as they could have been.

“My previous life was running a college so I ought to know a little bit about that.

“The school was only getting 50 percent of the education revenue so you can see why it had difficulties.

“But there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”