Hereford United: A club on the brink, but why?
Soccer - npower Football League Two - Hereford United v Torquay United - Edgar Street

You've seen it all before. Virtually every club that drops out of the Football League into the Conference bemoans the cut in funding and the drop in income, yet still, few seem to be prepared to accept it as a possibility.

Hereford United are the latest to suffer. Relegated in May 2011, the club had a good number of players on contracts with Football League level wages. Few had clauses relating to relegation, and new manager Martin Foyle regularly noted through the 11/12 season that two thirds of his budget had gone before he had arrived. Midway through that season, the Bulls hit the buffers. A winding-up petition from HMRC saw the players unpaid in November. They responded by upping their form and getting the Bulls a lucrative FA Cup run and a televised match that ultimately cleared the tax bill.

The club agreed to clear the outstanding tax demand by December 31st. In the January transfer window, having narrowly avoided closure, the Bulls paid a transfer fee for a player. The most public, but not the only, demonstration of the Jeckyll and Hyde manner in which the club has conducted itself financially.

Chairman David Keyte told fans, in November 2013, that he had "never said no to a manager". And he'd had a few. In three and a half years, Martin Foyle is the fifth to take charge of the first team. The first, Simon Davey, lasted ten games of a two year deal. The second, club physio Jamie Pitman, was given a lengthy contract just weeks after taking temporary charge. Gary Peters came in as Pitman's "mentor", signing a three year deal after just weeks (notice a pattern?) after arriving at the club. Richard O'Kelly then arrived - still with Pitman officially the club's manager and with Peters still mentoring - and left within a matter of weeks after failing to save the club from relegation and failing to agree a more permanent deal.

Pitman was sacked, along with his coaches, after relegation. Peters clung on with a contract that didn't, apparently, include a sacking clause. He left a few months later after a settlement was agreed, with current incumbent Martin Foyle firmly in place. Foyle agreed a one year rolling deal but, in January 2013, agreed a new two year deal now believed to keep him at Edgar Street until the summer of 2015.

January 2013 proved to be an expensive month. Apart from paying for a player, signing the manager (and assistant) to new deals, the club also agreed to a five figure sum for drainage work to the pitch. By March they were back in trouble financially, and in April they sought a PFA loan to cover wages. Season tickets for the coming season went on early sale, at heavy discount, and a director admitted on Twitter that the club needed to find £300,000 just to get to August.

When the current season started the season ticket money was already spent, and the club was chasing it's tail from the outset. The budget, reported to have been set on gates of just under 2,000 was crippled, with 1,100 season ticket holders effectively contributing nothing to the season's finances.

Schemes to sell new shares and 'debenture' season tickets were launched but failed to cover the gaps in the budget, while a last-ditch sale of mobile phone masts rights collapsed last week. Keyte acknowledged in December that they expected another Winding-Up petition to come, and it duly did set for January 27th. Earlier in the month, in a 'clarification' of the club finances after some debate amongst fans, Keyte stated that the club had gone into the season with a budget that had a £360,000 shortfall in it. Based on the figures Keyte had given in the clarification, the actual break-even figure was close to 3,300 attendances - a pipe dream at Edgar Street under current circumstances.

The club faces court on Monday with last month's wages partially unpaid at the club and a string of bills mounting. The club admits it now owes HMRC £60,000 and has £80,000 of trade creditors, and still expects to lose over £20,000 per month for the remainder of the season, while it has failed to deny claims that the total debt is at or around an eye watering £1m.

Its hopes rest on fresh investment or, more likely, a total takeover replacing the current board.

We can only wait and see.






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