"I apologise to the fans...losing our Football League status will haunt me forever" - former Chesterfield FC chairman Mike Warner has "mixed feelings" on time at Spireites
Former Chesterfield chairman, Mike Warner, has apologised to Spireites fans and said dropping out of the Football League will “haunt me forever.”
Warner, who resigned following the takeover of the club by the community trust last week, had been on the board since 1993 and was named chairman in November 2016 after the resignation of Dave Allen.
He played an instrumental part in saving the club in 2001, paying off a six-figure loan and working with the Chesterfield Football Supporters Society to steady the ship after Darren Brown’s ill-fated tenure.
The Blues are about to start their third season in non-league and Warner told the DT he will never get over the club losing their Football League status.
“I want to apologise to the fans for my last few years in charge,” he said. “It is not a record that I am proud of. It will be a record that will haunt me forever. It was not for the want of trying, through me or my colleagues. Dave (Allen) did what any good owner should do; he gave good budgets to all of the managers. It just seemed the harder we tried the worse it got.
“That (being relegated to the National League) absolutely flattened me. To lose your Football League status is...well, I can’t put it into words...beyond disappointment really.”
When asked why it has gone so wrong in the last few years, he added: “I simply don’t know. You’ve got a disaffected owner...but normally I thought what happens in the boardroom doesn’t reflect on what happens in the changing room. I did speak to a manager who told me that was not the case and it does affect it.
“It was never Dave Allen’s intention to come right up front, he was going to be an investor, he was going to try and get promotion over five years, and then he was going to sell it. So he never ever wanted to be the front man. But he has done two decent things in my view; one provide a good working budget for every manager he’s had, we’ve not failed for lack of money. And eventually he sold the club to the trust which is a good home and probably the one where we should be.”
For the trust to complete the takeover they required the club to be debt free otherwise the councils could not provide their £500,000 loans.
Warner released his debenture and revealed he has also given the trust 30,000 of his shares.
“With my debenture I wiped that off so that it was not an obstacle in the way of doing a deal,” he explained. “The money that I put in initially all of them years ago, I have relinquished that. I have also given the trust 30,000 of my shares as well. I felt it was the decent thing to do. I am part and parcel of where we are today. I didn’t want to start arguing at this time about how much I was owed or thought I was owed. I thought it would be a decent thing to let that money go. I’ve got quite a few shares in the club. I thought it was a decent thing to pass some shares onto the trust.”
Warner admitted that his time at the club was “well overdue” and that he will only be returning to the club as a supporter.
“No, I’ve had my time,” he responded when asked about the possibility of returning in another role. “I’ve had enough goes at it. Somebody else deserves that opportunity. I will come back as a fan. I wish them (the trust) all of the best. It is still the team I support. We all believe we belong in the Football League and I look forward to seeing them trying to get back.”
Does he regret not leaving earlier?
He explained: “Difficult to leave early, difficult to leave a sinking ship. I’ve never knowingly failed in any ventures I have been involved in before so that really does hurt. Why didn’t I leave before? Certainly felt like leaving before because I went from enjoyment to not enjoying it anymore but felt I didn’t want to leave a sinking ship. I was hopeful we would get somebody to buy which eventually we did.”
On the takeover, Warner told the DT that he feels “very hopeful” and that he wishes the new chairman, Mike Goodwin, and the board all the best.
“We have had one sort of stab at this before in 2001 with the Chesterfield Football Supporters Society,” he said. “It’s not exactly the same but it’s along the same lines where the fans own the club. I do think it stands a chance of being a model for all clubs of our sort of size; community-based and able to self sustain. You’ve got a super stadium with terrific facilities. If those facilities can be used properly it should make the club very stable.
"Mike Goodwin is an intelligent guy, loves his football, loves Chesterfield and seems to have assembled an intelligent set of directors around him.
“It will be rocky but if you are pulling the same way as Mike has indicated they will be doing - I’m sure they will - it is amazing what you can get through.
“I think he (Goodwin) has made the perfect start. I have been impressed with him. I don’t think he will suffer fools gladly. I think it stands every chance of being successful and I certainly do hope so.”
One question mark about the trust is whether they have enough experience of running a football club and Warner expects them to address that in the future.
“I’ve not spoken to Mike about it so I don’t know but I am sure he is thinking along those lines,” he said. “I probably agree that they do need that experience and they probably will get it at some stage. I don’t think there is any shortage of people wanting to help Chesterfield, that is the nice thing.”
Warner preferred to be tight-lipped about what he thought on the Liam Cooper money saga, adding it was up to other people to judge.
He said that John Pemberton was a solid managerial appointment and one that he welcomed.
Summing up, Warner said that he had “mixed feelings” about his time at the club.
He will always remember the Wembley appearances but of course relegation to the National League will never leave him.
“I have had some tremendously happy times and I’ve had some tremendous lows,” he added. “When I first became a director somebody asked me why I wanted to become a director and I said because I am a football fan and I wanted a bigger fix of excitement and I’ve certainly had that.
“It has come off the rails in the last three or four years. There has been quite a bit of success along the way. I will never forget Wembley. That captured the whole town’s imagination. The first play-off win was terrific. That all happened in the first six months of my tenure. I remember the chairman then, Norton Lea, saying to me ‘look at him, he’s a lucky bugger he’s only been here six months and he’s been to Wembley and an FA Cup semi final’. I should have listened to him and quit then while I was winning.
“I've met some smashing people along the way,” he continued. “People have been very good to me the last few years when things haven’t been going well. Supporters have been very fair to me really. I am terribly, terribly disappointed with the way that it ended. But that is football, there are ups and lows. You shouldn’t have the sort of low that we’ve got - falling out of the Football League - but hopefully there is a way back now and somebody can salvage something for me.”