Supporters Trust pulls plug on backing for Northampton Town land deal...but club chairman hits back at criticisms

Trust "unconvinced the deal would be in Cobblers best interests" ... Kelvin Thomas: "We will no longer be bullied"

By Kevin Nicholls
Friday, 25th June 2021, 9:41 am
Updated Friday, 25th June 2021, 10:16 am

Northampton Town Supporters Trust has withdrawn its support for a land deal which could see the club's East Stand finally finished.

Cobblers want to build on club leased, council-owned land next to Sixfields stadium and the club and West Northamptonshire Council — which took over negotiations from Northampton Borough Council — are agreed on the stand being finished first.

The supporters trust had previously backed the plan but added it wanted to see see detailed financial plans to show how it would put the club on a sustainable financial footing.

This week the trust's board confirmed it remains "unconvinced the deal would be in the best interests of Northampton Town FC" after getting no replies in the format they wanted to its questions posed to Cobblers chairman Kelvin Thomas.

Mr Thomas issued a response to the trust in which he said he was "pretty unmoved by it" and said the timing of the statement release was "strange".

The trust's statement said: " More than a month has now passed since Kelvin Thomas invited questions from the Supporters Trust board about the Sixfields land deal the club is negotiating with West Northamptonshire Council.

"The Trust has to date received no replies to any of the questions it submitted, having asked for written responses so that they are clear, understood and on the record and could therefore be shared with members and the wider fanbase.

Chairman Kelvin Thomas and Northampton Town Supporters Trust are at odds over plans for Sixfields

"Accordingly, in the absence of full and satisfactory written answers, the Trust is no longer in a position to support the land deal going forward."

In a statement released to the Chronicle & Echo, Cobblers chairman Thomas said: “We saw the statement from the Trust and are pretty unmoved by it to be honest.

“It all seems rather strange timing to everyone at the club that they would pull their support of a proposal they have previously supported just because we haven’t answered questions in a format they demand three days before an open and public event which is designed for people to ask questions.

“Maybe they think their questions are more important than anyone else’s or other fans don’t have the ability to ask sensible or important questions. It makes little sense to us all at the club.

Thomas rescued Cobblers from collapse in 2015

“We have explained our position very clearly to them in letters and subsequent emails. We explained that we didn’t understand some of their questions, some of the questions have been answered previously either in writing or verbally or both, we asked what some of the questions even had to do with the development and we also felt there was an agenda to their overly aggressive tone and approach.

“A quick review of social media and online forums shows that a lot of fans seemed to feel the same way.

“Interestingly their last question asks if we would sell the club for a pound. Do they honesty think we would sell the club to them for a pound? Firstly, the staff would never forgive us and nor would many fans who send us emails or messages on social media regularly saying that the Trust do not represent them or their views

“We have no idea how they think this public grandstanding is in the best interests of the club or the supporters and therefore we will not be responding to it any further.

“We are more than happy to share our recent and then any future communication (if there is ever any), which will allow all fans, trust members or not, to decide who is being more transparent in this matter.

“While the trust mentioned in their most recent statement that we only offered a Zoom meeting with them, what they did not mention was that we also offered for that meeting to be open to all their members and even all fans. We are just not sure how much more transparent the club can be.

“We have been here a long time and since saving the club from going under, we have invested millions of pounds, we have paid bills and staff on time, we have settled some very hefty bills that were incurred from the previous ownership and board of directors, which included a Supporters Trust representative, we have not charged interest on any of the money loaned or taken salaries ourselves and we even topped up everyone’s wages during the pandemic.

“Many of the staff at the club are lifelong fans, they are passionate about the club and its place in the community. We all know what the club means to the town and the people of Northampton.

"Even this summer we have seen people like Graham Carr, Colin Calderwood, Marc Richards and Jon Brady, some of whom have long standing affiliations to the club be appointed to senior positions.

"If there really were underlying issues at the club, they would be well known by now, but the Trust cannot actually pinpoint anything except we haven’t answered their questions in the way they want us to.

“We will no longer be bullied and if the trust do not want to support the club’s plans, then so be it. We will all have to continue our hard work for the club without them.

“However, their constant attempts to politicise the matter is probably the most disappointing and definitely the most damaging to the club.

“Luckily the process we are going through with the council cannot be a political one. The officers are rightly tasked with going through an independent process to ensure that any discussion or future agreement will stand up to internal and external scrutiny.

“In addition, any decisions made by members at a later date will be based on the facts presented and not the opinions of a disaffected group, just like as it should be at local government. We have to trust the politicians that they will see this for what it is.

“We are very confident that we are working in the best interests of the club and all at the Council are working in the best interests of the Council and the taxpayers of West Northamptonshire. We are just not sure what the Trust are working towards.

“We will now concentrate on the important business of preparing for the new season and the open house event. We look forward to talking to a wide range of supporters on Friday (June 25) and thank all supporters for their continued support.”

Offers from the club of a Zoom meeting to discuss the questions were turned down by the trust, which was formed in 1992.

A spokesman added: "We have maintained from the outset that written answers are required in matters of such detail and complexity.

"Our members and supporters generally deserve to be treated with more respect.

"We are disappointed at the refusal to supply written responses to questions concerning Northampton Town FC which are relatively straightforward and easy to understand.

"Moreover, it is difficult to comprehend the difficulty in answering the questions, since in structuring the land proposal to WNC and planning the future of the club, it is assumed that our owners would have already given proper consideration to the matters we have raised.

"It is a shame as the Trust was looking forward to continuing supporting the club’s redevelopment plans on receipt of satisfactory answers to the questions we asked.

"We do not have any detail as to how the deal will benefit the club in terms of future income streams, beyond the revenue earned from the completed East Stand.

"That is the key question and it is one of the many that remains unanswered.

Sixfields' East Stand has stood half-finished since March 2016 as a monument to the failed £10.25million loan from Northampton Borough Council to the club back in 2014.

Work stalled due to the financial crisis that engulfed the club, leading to a criminal investigation which has so far been running nearly six years and cost Northamptonshire Police around £1.5m.

Seats were installed in the lower tier after Thomas and co-owner David Bower took over the club in 2016 but the top tier and executive boxes are still a shell.

The trust statement added: "The owners state that the football club will benefit from the redevelopment but they fail to explain how, other than the club finally having a completed East Stand.

"The club’s Open House on Friday is a welcome development as it will finally give all Cobblers supporters the opportunity to see plans for the completion of the East Stand and ask questions about those plans, something we have asked the club to do for many years.

"But again, this forum is not an appropriate way of addressing the wider questions we have asked for the reasons already outlined.

"The East Stand completion is not a stand-alone project, even though Kelvin Thomas and David Bower gave every indication when they took over the club in 2015 that it would be.

"It is intrinsically linked to the wider land development deal and, as it stands, the Trust remains unconvinced that the deal would be in the best interests of Northampton Town FC going forward."

The opposition Labour group on West Northamptonshire Council expressed its concerns that the Supporters Trust has withdrawn its support for the planned redevelopment.

Labour leader Cllr Gareth Eales said: “I completely understand the supporters trust's desire for transparency, accountability and sustainability in any redevelopment of this land.

"History tells us there can be no such thing as too much transparency, but there can be too little."