Chesterfield Chairman wants council to write off debt

Chesterfield Chairman Dave Allen
Chesterfield Chairman Dave Allen

Chesterfield Football Club Chairman Dave Allen believes the Borough Council should write off the club’s loan of almost a million pounds because of the ‘unbelieveable’ benefit the new stadium has brought to the town.

Mr Allen, who has been on the board since 2009, also thinks that the council should release the first charge they have over the Proact Stadium, citing his £8.7m investment in the club as the main reason.

The Spireites are now in their third season at the ground following their move from Saltergate in 2010 but recently announced debts of over £7m - something Mr Allen says needs to be halved in the next three years.

And while he has vowed not to put another penny into Chesterfield FC, which he admits is now “a selling club” until the loans are paid off, he wants the council to write off its debt to help the club’s long term future.

“As far as I’m concerned, I think the council should write it off over a five year period,” he said in an exclusive interview with the Derbyshire Times.

“There is no doubt about it, the football ground being here has invigorated the area. Few, if any, shops on Whittington Moor are available for rent or to buy, they’re all full. The development around the area has happened because the football ground is here and if you talk to the hotels and taxi drivers they will say their business has never been better.”

As well as a busy banqueting suite, the Proact has also hosted an England U21 international game and last year’s Elton John concert - something Mr Allen says has brought people into the town and which he wants to repeat this year.

“When we had Elton John here last year you could not get in to a hotel in the area for the weekend and taxi drivers were working 24/7. We’ll be doing two more concerts this summer too which will bring more people in.”

Mr Allen believes the move from Saltergate has already been financially beneficial to the council - another reason he believes the loan should be wiped out.

“The council has had a terrific gain from this football ground,” he said.

“The rates at Saltergate were £18,000 a year. The rates here are £66,000 a year. When you included £75,000 they’ll be making in council tax through housing at Saltergate, they’ve got a plus of £123,000 a year out of us coming down here.

“This club has got debt, you don’t come into an establishment like this without incurring some debt. Nobody gives you the money. It has been put in by myself and the directors through loans.

“But what I find difficult to come to terms with is that because of this loan of £960,000, the council have first charge on this football ground. I’ve got £8.7m in. If anyone is going to have first charge on this football ground, it should be me.”

Mr Allen points at the examples in Hartlepool and York, where he says the value of professional football is better understood.

“A few years ago Hartlepool Council did a survey which showed that the football club their was worth £10m a year to the town. It must be the same here. It’s similar in York. When we played them earlier this season I asked their chairman how on earth they were funding a new £17m stadium. He said the council were paying for it. York council obviously realise the huge benefit that having a football presence will bring - Chesterfield council don’t.

“I know not everybody is a football fan, but do you think Tesco would be here if the football ground wasn’t? Would the hotel and everything else be here? No, it wouldn’t.”

While Spireites fans may be concerned that their Chairman won’t be putting anymore money into the club, and, like with Jordan Bowery in the summer, their best players may have to be moved on to balance the books, the Chairman reassured them that the future of the club is secure.

“When the club were at Saltergate the directors managed the football club well and they didn’t have a lot of debt, but the two grounds are very different. Saltergate was like running a cornershop, the new ground is like running a big supermarket.

“I’m not putting any more money in. I didn’t intend to put this much in. But it’s also still my ambition to get this club into the Championship.”

At the recent AGM, it was revealed that one of the club’s debts concerns the IT bill for the stadium, which is currently £126,235 a year - down from a staggering £260,539 in 2011.

“It’s costing us a ridiculous amount of money, but it’s something we’re addressing,” he admitted.

“It’s just crazy. We don’t benefit to the degree that we pay for it. The directors who installed it made a poor decision. IT should be for the benefit of the club, not the other way around.

“It’s not all doom and gloom - far from it. The club is secure. We just need the council to be a little bit realistic. This club has certainly enhanced their town and they should help out a bit, because they’ve done nothing.”

Meanwhile, Chesterfield council have denied Dave Allen’s claims that the money owed by the football club was intended as a gift - and say they have no intention of wiping out the debt.

Mr Allen said that the £960,000, which the club have been paying interest on since 2001, was never meant to be paid back.

“It was never a loan,” Mr Allen said.

“It was only ever supposed to be a gift. Councillor John Burrows said it was a gift at a meeting at the Winding Wheel in April 2001, in front of 1,000 supporters, for a million pounds.

“The club was in real trouble and the council said they would let the football club have one million to keep the football club going, but the fact that it would be a loan on which interested would be charged was never discussed at the time.”

But Councillor Burrows, Chesterfield Borough Council’s leader and executive member for regeneration, said: “I did say we would provide financial support to the club but it was never offered as a grant. It was offered as a loan that would have to be secured and have an element of interest attached to it.

“I am very happy to share correspondence from that time with the club which proves this was the case.

“It is worth remembering that without this loan and the financial backing of other investors, the club would not have been able to secure its future or move to the new stadium.”

He said the council would not be writing off the debt.

“Chesterfield Football Club approached Chesterfield Borough Council last summer about writing off a 25 year loan of £960,000. The council’s loan is secured on the new ground with first priority over any other loan, and with interest on the loan.

“We made clear to the club in writing in July that the Borough Council had no intention of writing off the loan, so we are very surprised and disappointed by what has apparently been said.