Following the events of 28th February, it is necessary to clarify what Trust Oldham knew of these issues and our communications with the football club in relation to these matters.
It is common knowledge that Brassbank has claimed a significant unpaid debt against the football club. It is also common knowledge that legal action in relation to this could have been pursued at any point. The legal action taken by the club in relation to the construction and ownership of the North Stand provides a backdrop to this issue.
To the best of our knowledge the football club did not have prior notice of the legal proceedings pursued by Brassbank on 28th February. As above, the club and Trust has been aware for some time that this action may be forthcoming. It was a matter of if and when.
HMRC and reported unpaid salaries
On 28th February a further winding up petition was served on the club by HMRC and there have been further reports of late payments of player and staff salaries at the same time.
On behalf of Trust Oldham, Darren Ratcliffe attends all club board meetings, usually held bi-monthly with a varied agenda, including financial matters. As of 28th February, Trust Oldham had not been made aware of prevailing cash flow issues to the extent that there was any threat of late salary payments to staff and players. It was also not aware of any further significant aged debt (other than that claimed by Brassbank) and the risk of an associated winding up petition in relation to any such debt.
We are extremely disappointed that these issues have presented themselves in this manner. It is equally worrying that the Trust is not being advised of such critical matters, which fundamentally prevents the Trust from doing its job. The existence and scale of unpaid debts and whether funds are in place for regular financial commitments are important indicators used by the Trust to form a view on the evolving financial health of the club. That matters are seemingly allowed to regularly escalate to this stage is alarming and would appear to indicate critical financial issues.
In principle we do not take issue with the club for the fact that it faces financial difficulties, particularly insofar as some of these may be beyond its control. What we do take issue with is not being provided with the information we need to understand the financial state of the club. If a winding up petition is pending or regular financial commitments will not be met, Trust Oldham has a right to know. In being denied access to this information we are being prevented from having the opportunity to intervene in the interests of safeguarding the club as the key function of Trust Oldham. This shows contempt for Trust Oldham, its purpose and objectives and for the fans of Oldham Athletic. Giving the Trust a role in trying to take recovery action after the event is not an adequate substitute.
Trust Oldham will meet on 10th March at which the Trust representative to the club board will be requested to provide details on his engagements with the club over the last month and why this was able to occur without the Trust’s knowledge. The Trust has sought to work collaboratively with the club since our fan meeting of March 2019 and a review of whether current working arrangements are proving effective is ongoing. The Trust must look at itself as part of this. It is fundamentally the Trust’s job to ensure it is making the most of the opportunities which its legal rights and ownership in the club provide. Blaming the club for constraining it isn’t enough.
Push the Boundary
We note the calls from supporters and Push the Boundary for the Trust to ‘step up’ and would welcome the opportunity to have productive discussions with that group. We fundamentally want the same thing and can have complementary roles. The Trust operates within a different framework to Push the Boundary which is reflected in our operating models. A vital point of distinction in our respective remits is that the Trust focuses its effort on seeking to use its legal rights to influence the effective management of the club from within. That’s where most energy is expended.
These rights have the potential to be a powerful tool in safeguarding the existence of the club and influencing its long term development in a wide number of areas. The focus and activities of Push the Boundary need not conflict with this role. On the contrary, the scrutiny provided by a coordinated and credible third party organisation has a role to play in holding the Trust to account and ensuring this and other responsibilities are fulfilled more effectively. We ask the club to be open to this scrutiny of course and so the Trust must be willing to accept the same when carried out in a professional and productive manner.
1st March 2020