A New Era

After 48 hours of rumours and heavy speculation, the sale of Blyth Spartans was finally completed yesterday and announced to the world.

Before we get into it though, I think a thank you to Tony, Kev and the exiting executive committee is needed. Over the 20+ years they’ve been in charge of the club, Croft Park has been transformed into one of the best grounds at this level of football, they’ve overseen FA Cup runs, promotions and been willing to put upwards of £100,000 a season into the football club when times have been bad.

No matter what you think of them, you have to give the board credit for backing the club financially. It’s been easy to bash them over the years and yes, they have made some errors over the years however, they’ve never left the club at risky financially over the past 23 years, and that has to be respected. As does the countless hours of free labour they’ve both put in at the football club.

It’s also worth noting that Tony has wrote off his directors loan to the club, worth well over £700,000. The club is also rumoured to have been sold to new chairman Irfan Liaquat for just £1 and is completely debt free.

With that being said though, I don’t think that many people could really argue that the majority of the decision making over the last 5 years has not been great. Since the departure of Alun Armstrong in May of 2019 we’ve struggled massively on the pitch, despite bringing in some of our best average attendance figures for 40 years.

Many of us have spent countless hours and pounds watching the team home and away in the last 5 years or so, and it’s largely been a rather painful experience. Communication with supporters and other parties has been poor for a while now, and the EC seemed to lack a strong and clear plan to take the club forward.

It seems that over the past 12 months they’d also had enough, and were looking to sell the club to someone with a new vision. Enter Mr Irfan Liaquat.

During the press conference yesterday after an emotional Kev Scott and Tony Platten spoke, new chairman Mr Irfan Liaquat was introduced to the press and said the following.

Community is at heart of this football club. We can’t stress the importance of that and I’ve briefed my team on that. We are the community and they are us.”

“Investment required on and off the pitch. We have enthusiasm and a winning mentality.”

“I’ve built a strong team. We’ve had key, inspiration people help us put this together and everyone is equally excited.

“Steve is sporting director, he will work alongside Jon Shaw to work on the team. His football brain and business brain speak volumes. Know what we need to do”.

“Blyth Spartans is the most famous non-league club in the world. We are surrounded by a fantastic community. We want to get out of this tier as a matter of urgency.”

“We will spend money but we won’t spend it like it’s going out of fashion. We know what we need to do and we will get to work instantly. There are exciting times ahead and you will see exactly what we need to do.”

Liaquat has obviously been met with a huge amount of scepticism online from Blyth supporters, media personalities and supporters of other clubs far and wide. And when you look at companies house and search about on google, you can see why.

The best summary of Liaquat’s business empire was put together on twitter by Martin Calladine, the author of The Ugly Game and No Questions Asked. You can find his full thread of his findings here.

In short, Liaquat has been a director of 9 companies according to companies house. 4 of those have been dissolved. 5 companies are currently active, 2 are facing strike off for non-filing of accounts or confirmation statements. The final company mentioned above is called DOM Asset Management, which is in voluntary liquidation and appears to have debts exceeding £440k.

On top of that, none of the companies mentioned above have really seemed to show much money or even generate a huge amount of money, which has lead to widespread questions about Mr Liaquat’s personal finances and how he plans to fund the club going forward when it comes to developing the ground and improving the playing squad.

As a fanbase we’ve had a fairly safe ride over the last few years. Since Tony and co came in to save the club from the brink of extinction in 2001, we’ve never really gone that daft with money and always tried to live within our means. Even when the crowds have dropped and there has been a shortfall in the budget, the outgoing board have always been there to cover it.

The club have always chose to play it safe and not risk it’s future by overspending, and the idea of moving on from that model is rather frightening in some respects, as the safety net that is Tony Platten is being taken away. Plus the added doubts and speculation surrounding Mr Liaquat’s ability to finance his plans to progress the club doesn’t exactly quell those concerns.

Like I have already said online yesterday though, it’s worth noting that Tony Platten has always said he wouldn’t give the club up to just anyone. It had to be to the right people with the right plan in place to progress the club.

Over the last few months they’ve had a number of interested parties enquire about the club and they managed to sniff out “a few chancers” as Tony put it. I very much doubt he’s sold the club without doing proper due diligence, and he must have seen that Mr Liaquat and the people that are potentially behind him have the finances required to take the football club forward.

Colin Blackett is the only member of the previous committee that remains part of the new set up, and he’s seemingly been involved in the takeover process for quite a while now. As a fan who would never want to see the clubs future risked in a reckless manor, Col seems very excited by the new set up that’s been put in place.

He’ll obviously never let on as to how much money is being put into the club or give away any specific details, but he did say was “Really impressed” by the new owner.

For me, if Tony Platten and and Kev Scott have sanctioned the sale of the club to Irfan Liaquat and the people behind the scenes are impressed by him and ready to work with and his project, as supporters we have to be ready to back the new regime and give them a chance to put their words into action.

As for last nights Q&A and introduction evening, it was certainly presented very well ! I’ve never seen the clubhouse done out like that in my 20 years following Blyth and it was evident the new owner had spent a bit of money doing the place out for the night.

When it came to the Q&A though, I can’t really say a great deal of information was unearthed. Not many of the questions dug that deep into the speculation surrounding Mr Liaquat’s finances – though he did say when asked about his companies house record that 2 of the companies were set up, not used and then struck off. He was also reluctant to really explain or get into where the money was coming from to fund his ambitious.

A lot of the questions were answered with a few buzzwords and things of that nature, which some understandably didn’t really like. Personably though, I kind of got the vibe that new owner was simply wanting to keep things close the chest so to speak – especially when it came to financial matters.

After the Q&A I go to do a bit of mingling though and a few things became apparent. The first being improvements to the squad and the playing budget will apparently be coming rather soon. The new ownership group have already outlined a few plans to improve Croft Park’s facilities, so by the summer we may start to see plenty of improvements in and around the ground.

Now before anyone takes this verbatim, nobody has actually told me this and I’m just making this assumption based Irfan’s LinkedIn page and going off some of the people who were there last night – but I suspect Liaquat is not the only person putting money in here, and we have a few people behind the scenes who are putting money in that wish to remain private. At least for now.

Rest assured though, while we are naturally excited about the prospect of money being spent on the ground and playing squad – I can totally understand why a lot of people are yet to be convinced.

Personally, I would love for everything about the new owner and the club’s new business model going forward to be a lot clearer, especially when it comes to financial side of things. I’ve always felt that being transparent is the only way to do it when it comes to running a football club, as it allows supporters to build trust in an owner and it gives them the motivation to back them and their plans going forward.

Given the concerns many supporters have expressed over the last day or so, as a supporters group we’ll be looking to engage with the new ownership group within the next few weeks to make sure they’re aware of supporters concerns and to make sure that going forward, supporters questions and anxieties are acknowledged and addressed. We’ll also be looking to put forward suggestions and ideas that fans have.

If there are any issues with the new ownership group going forward though, we’ll certainly be highlighting any concerns we have with the club directly while also keeping fellow supporters fully in the loop with any issues we have. The last thing any of us want us to see the club’s future risked, and as fans we need to hold the new ownership accountable.

If anyone has any questions or concerns they’d like to raise with us or questions we can possibly put to the football club, please drop us an email to danrolls94@hotmail.com. Anyone who wants a question put forward shall remain anonymous.

For now though, we’re willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and back the new ownership group and their plans, as I simply do not think Tony Platten or Kev Scott would allow this football club to go to someone who didn’t have the means or connections to back this football financially.

Thanks for taking the time to give this a read. If you want catch me on Saturday for a chin wag, you know where to find is.

Cheers, Dan.