How did we get here? - By Dai Webb - from issue 49
After many years of turmoil at the club things started to come to a head with Eugene Caparos whose intention was to return Penydarren Park to hosting greyhound racing. I was joined by other fans to raise £25,000 to place a counter bid to the Caparos bid. Although this money would be enough to take ownership of the club there would be no capital for the running of the club.
It was at this time I was introduced to Bob Phillips who certainly had the business acumen and financial means but unfortunately Bob was a major shareholder at Cardiff City FC and football regulations stated that he could not be a director of two clubs however he was part of a group called Just Players, a sporting agency whose legal representative was Bill Snowdon. Bob was reluctant to give up his position at Ninian Park but Bill Snowdon was the legal representative of Wyn Holloway and it was agreed that Wyn & Just Players would bid for the club instead. In order for this bid to be successful we had to withdraw our own bid because the Receiver believed that Holloway was more likely to ensure a successful future for the club. At this point Holloway suggested that we hand over the money that we had raised for our bid but I convened a meeting with the people who had contributed to the bid and it was agreed that the money should be returned to them.
I still believed fans should seek a way to enable themselves to have a say in how the club was to be run and even a way in which the fans could buy shares in their club. An opportunity arose when a meeting was called for the fans to which Mark Evans had invited Richard Lillicrap from the Swansea City Supporters’ Trust to explain the mechanics of what a Trust was all about, how it was run and how it could benefit both the fans and the club’s long term security. We decided to form our Supporters’ Trust, Martyrs to the Cause, which gave us access to both financial and legal advice from Supporters Direct.
The first action was to create a mandate for the Trust, the main premise of Martyrs to the Cause being that of safeguarding the future of semi-professional football being played at Penydarren Park and the aims & objectives to enable us to do just that. It was the responsibility of the Trust to make a provisional fund that should the then current administration fail we would give the supporters a chance to take over the club. However this is not to say that that we wanted the club to fail in fact our aim was to be able to work in partnership with the club to try to achieve success both on and off the pitch. This actually started to be achieved with the club inviting a Trust representative to sit on the Board and involving the Trust in decision making and to be a voice for the supporters in the Boardroom with grievances resolved to ensure a more relaxed relationship between club and supporters. In return the Trust set up fund-raising events for the club plus forwarding ideas of its supporters.
The main area of fund raising came in the form of the Soccalot draw, an idea of Geoff Chinnock, this has over the last decade raised tens of thousands of pounds and with the tireless work of dedicated fans has provided a most valuable footing for the club. Two youth teams were established which Joanne and I feel a great privilege to have been the main sponsors. The youth teams would prove to be an integral part of the ultimate survival of the club providing at crucial times players that were vital for the first team, also gaining the club great success with both FA and FAW Youth Cup runs which culminated with that unforgettable day in Port Talbot when we won the Welsh Youth Cup.
Also thousands of pounds were allocated to the club to pay for things such as players wages, National Insurance, buses, VAT, utilities etc. However we were to discover that the money had not been used for some of the purposes that it was intended for and ultimately it became apparent to us that the future security of the club was once again in jeopardy. Things had now started to become dire at the club and the club started demanding all the money the Trust had with the constant threat that they would close the club, plus it was doubtful that the plans for the Merthyr Village incorporated any provision for a viable football stadium.
The Trust meetings became concerned that it was very likely that the club would be wound up by one creditor or another and that no amount of money we had would save it. I was by this time banned from the club for what I believed was defending the names of not only members but good people who had given many years of great service to the club. Later as the club became more desperate for money the ban was lifted as they realised that the withholding of the money was a Trust policy and not my own. During the period of the ban Trust meetings and Soccalot draws were held in the Cefn Social Club which kindly allow us to use their facilities and it was in this club that several public meetings were held which were very well attended showing that a lot of people cared for the club.
It was at this time I was the Trust Chair while Joanne held the post of Treasurer and at the last Open meeting I can remember a great deal of pressure was placed upon the Trust to release all of its funds to the club. It was clear to both Joanne and I that the handing over the funds would not save the club but at the end of the meeting there was an almost total demand for paying the money over to the club and I looked around to a sea of hostile faces with those who agreed with us staying silent. Previous to the meeting Joanne and I had been advised by both our accountant and solicitor that to give money to an insolvent company was illegal and a maladministration of our Trust funds and against the Trust remit to safeguard football at Penydarren Park, this was relayed to those present at the meeting, any cheques issued at that time would have required both of our signatures which we were not prepared to do. It was at this time, although remaining on the Trust Board, that I stepped down as Chair to put to rest the criticism that I held too much sway on the Trust Board for withholding the money from the club, of course the Chair only had a casting vote.
At the end of the term Joanne and I decided to step down having been part of setting the foundations of the new club, we both felt this would bring new energy to the Board. We both believe that our stance of not signing all of the Trust funds over to the club has been vindicated by the fact that football remains at Penydarren Park. In the end these funds proved to be just enough and together with sterling work from the remainder of the board a new club was formed from the ashes of the old. The Trust Board continue to provide amazing achievements for the club which can be witnessed by the improvements to our ground, they have overcome incredible obstacles to provide us a stable environment from which we have had four great seasons of exciting football with two promotions and two near misses. I hope the people of Merthyr Tydfil realise how lucky they are. With the strong support of Merthyr Borough Council we have become a Community Club and the introduction of the 3G artificial pitch opens up opportunities for all aspects of football to be played at Penydarren Park including women, youth and disabled teams.
I have heard people say that the present situation at the club is only temporary until a new benefactor comes in to run the club but I don’t think there is anyone out there who has both the financial clout and more importantly love for the club. We have seen in the last two years’ play-off matches that if we provide the right scenario people will come in their thousands and I believe that with the people in the Trust this could be achieved but they need support both from people supporting events and buying Soccalot tickets etc and also by volunteering to help in running and supporting the club.
Most of all I implore people to join the Trust which would give the club a strong base from which to move forward. Joanne and I will continue to give financial support to the club as much as we are able.
For those critics of the Trust they should remember that if it were not for the Trust they would not be at Penydarren Park watching the game and a small part would have been ripped out of the heart of Merthyr Tydfil. Penydarren Park is not just a home for football, it is a community where life-long friendships are forged and passionate support for the team is encouraged. Yes the Trust Board will sometimes get things wrong but you should remember they are not employed but voluntarily give up their time so you can enjoy the game.
As members you also have a voice that can put forward suggestions and ideas. The Trust was formed to let the voice of the fans be heard and to safeguard football at Penydarren Park. Both aims continue to be achieved. It’s our Club and with the continued dedication of the Trust Board, hard work of the volunteers who give up their time for the club we will see our club grow in stature and strength for years to come. Come on the Martyrs!!!