THE consortium hoping to provide a cash injection at Newport County led by Acorn managing director Matt Southall have pulled out of talks with the board with both parties blaming each other.
The Argus exclusively reported that Southall, along with a group of local businessmen, were hopeful of providing a significant cash injection to help the Exiles in their bid to become a Football League club.
The talks slowed to a halt during the transition that saw Chris Blight stand down as chairman – replaced by lottery millionaire Les Scadding – but had resumed privately over recent weeks.
The consortium were planning to each guarantee a certain amount of money over three seasons and were to work in conjunction with a ‘Friends of Newport County’ scheme that would see a larger group of local businessmen also contributing funds on an annual basis.
While no exact figures have been disclosed, sources from the consortium estimate the figure they would have been willing to contribute over three years at £750,000, a claim not disputed by the County board.
The impasse between the two groups is over three key issues:
* A different view on how the club should be run and the structure of the boardroom;
* County’s directors’ belief that Southall has failed to provide written documentation of his plans;
* The consortium’s belief that the County board aren’t being completely transparent in showing their accounts.
The Argus spoke yesterday with the key figures on both sides, including Southall and County’s longest standing director Howard Greenhaf.
Southall released a statement to the Argus on Thursday night. It read:
"Clearly I'm extremely disappointed that what has been accepted by many to be a terrific opportunity for the Club to secure much-needed funding and an improved over all management structure, cannot be agreed upon.
"Together with a group of successful and well-respected local business people, what we had proposed would bring fundamental change to how the
club would run, by creating a much improved and more sustainable management structure in order to prepare the Club for life in League Two.
"This was not accepted. The irony is this will be a pre-requisite for the club when it achieves promotion, and we are therefore deflated by the attitude and sometimes negativity shown by the existing Board in this regard.
"I have been helping to fund and run the Club for some 14 years now, and have seen first hand how hard our volunteers work, including me, but also how painful and difficult it has been to maintain a professional, consistent and sustainable operation. "This is not to question those involved, far from it, it's merely the harsh reality of trying to run things in this way. In League Two if we continued in this fashion we would not survive.
"Myself and a number of other investors, including a significant fans' group, were looking to help the Club maximise the opportunity that the inspired move to Rodney Parade has given us. And obviously it has come as a surprise that the Board has been so dismissive, not just of the financial but also the professional support the group would provide.
"The opportunity we would bring would also see many fans and local small businesses being engaged closer with the Club.
"The change of structure has clearly proved to be a sticking point. I fully understand that it is wholesale change in the way the club operates today, and change is sometimes difficult to accept. My fear is that historically when the various pressures have come to rest on the shoulders of a small group of individuals, something breaks. We have learnt this through experience and our model creates an opportunity for this burden to be hopefully be shared.
"The delays have not helped as I first approached the club with the full outline of the proposal on July 1st. "For many reasons we are still waiting for full financial visibility on Sept 12th.
"The final straw for me personally was the fact that the credibility of the Investor Group was questioned, Personal guarantee's demanded and a general feeling that this type of change was simply not palletable to the club.
"Also, personally my integrity questioned on more than one occasion, and it made us realise we needed to withdraw.
"I wish the current Board all the success possible this season, but would simply ask them to prepare wisely for next season if we are fortunate enough to be promoted."
Rob Santwris also issued a statement on behalf of Friends of Newport County.
The statement reads: “I am frustrated and annoyed, not only because Friends of Newport County was a great new platform for the club, but also in the treatment of Matt and others in the group through the process.
“In my eyes, without doubt they deserved more respect for what they were trying to bring to the club which was quite ambitious but also definitely badly needed.
“Although he will not say, Matt has worked very hard on our behalf and was not the instigator of this approach. We needed him to pull it together and were therefore embarrassed when his integrity was questioned.
“A lot of people at the helm of Newport County football club need to take a long hard look at themselves tonight and ask the question, did you act in the best interests of our great football club?”
Greenhaf was notified by email on Wednesday that Southall was withdrawing his interest but feels the club have done all they can to make a deal.
He explained: “We asked, and always have done, for a formal, written proposal that hasn’t been forthcoming.
“They came back and requested information from our end and all the accounts have been disclosed.
“They then requested more information and, on our accountant’s advice, we asked anyone who would have access to agree to sign a non-disclosure contract.
“Matt Southall agreed to that but the others would also all have needed to sign it.
“We don’t think the information we’ve given them would prohibit Matt from making a written proposal. We just want to know who the investors are, what are their plans, and have spent an awful lot of time discussing it without key questions being answered.”
The news is certain to disappoint the County faithful but Greenhaf is hopeful talks can be resurrected.
“We want this, we want it to happen, no-one should question that or believe otherwise, it’s in all of our best interests,” he said.
“Let me make it abundantly clear that from our perspective, we don’t want this to be the end of it, we certainly don’t want to close the door. But at this time, they don’t want to proceed.”
ARGUS COMMENT: Sour note for County
HOW disappointing that a group of local businessmen have decided against providing a substantial cash injection for Newport County .
It would appear there is a difference of opinion between the football club’s board of directors and the potential benefactors over how the club should be run.
It is a sour note in what has so far been a hugely positive season for County following their move to Rodney Parade.
We have no doubt that both groups have the good of the club at heart and both have the same basic aim – to make Newport County a success story on and off the field.
What a shame it is, then, that the respective parties cannot find some common ground in terms of their business philosophies.
The people involved have differing strengths that, we are sure, would provide County with a hugely effective team at the top.
Perhaps some kind of independent mediator could help to resurrect what could be a game-changing deal for Gwent’s premier football club. County have a good manager, a promising team and a fantastic ground. If some of Newport’s best business brains were also working together in the boardroom then the sky would be the limit for the club.
We can only hope that today’s disagreements can be overcome for the good of the football club and its supporters.