|TRUST AGM 2015 PREVIEW
(Wednesday 25th February 2015)
A hectic and eventful 12 months for the 'Wycombe Wanderers Trust' will culminate in its Annual General Meeting to be held on Thursday 26th February 2015 at Adams Park. In the intervening period, the Trust has had to deal with events including: takeover bids, a proposed launch of a share scheme; the elation of seeing the Football Club avoid relegation on the final day of the 2013/14 season; a legal challenge by Bristol Rovers for player transactions before the Trust took control of the Club; the retirement of Don Woodward as Football Club Chairman; the appointment of Beechdean owner Andrew Howard as the new Chairman; the departure of Wasps Rugby Club as ground tenants. All that on top of ongoing cash flow concerns that has seen the Club's finances scrutunised down to the last penny.
The business end of the AGM will see seven new faces fight out for four vacant places on the Trust Board but it will the events of the past year that will gain as much discussion. Rewind to February 2014 and the first installment in an eventful year saw Trust members informed of a takeover bid for the Football Club. However, the situation turned to farce when the so called 'investors' never turned up to address members at a specially arranged meeting. That particular takeover bid chapter was kicked into touch after the close of the 2013/14 season when the Trust revealed they had asked one of three potential bidders to put down a deposit. The money never arrived in the Trust bank account.
Wanderers form on the pitch in the second half of the 2013/14 season may have been as much of a concern as the finances. However, the fairy-tale escape from relegation on the final day of the season at Torquay bought new optimism to the Club. A General Meeting held on 10th June 2014, saw the Trust converted to an Industrial and Provident Society in order to allow the proposed share scheme to be officially implemented. At the same meeting Trust Chairman Trevor Stroud stated: "With further planned cost savings and targeted increases in revenue in 2014/15, the Club has a budget which will almost achieve break even without the need for player sales. This is a very significant turnaround from the position the Trust inherited."
Also at the Trust meeting on 10th June 2014, Andrew Howard was introduced to Wanderers fans for the first time. Howard, the owner of Beechdean Ice Cream and Beechdean Racing, had been appointed to the Football Club Board the previous week as Commercial Director. Within two months he had been elevated to Chairman of the Football Club - replacing the retiring Don Woodward. Howard officially took over the role of Chairman on 1st August 2014 and has overseen Wanderers revival on the pitch as well as working closely with Manager Gareth Ainsworth with off the field matters. Howard's good relationship with Ainsworth was emphasised in December 2014 when the Wycombe boss was rewarded with a new five and half year contract - although it did take a leak via a national newspaper to reveal the length of the contract.
Wanderers finished 2014 at the top of 'League Two' - an inconceivable position from 12 months previous. However, Trust Chairman Trevor Stroud was quick to breed some realism when he said in an email to Trust members on 23rd December 2014: "Despite the optimism that surrounds Adams Park at the moment, our financial situation is still of great concern. The proposed share issue has been fraught with complications, but we now have HMRC approval for the scheme, with one proviso, which we hope to resolve shortly. This will allow us to formally launch the scheme in the New Year, and at the same time we will hold a Membersí Meeting to update you on plans for the future. The success of this share scheme is fundamental to the Club remaining Trust owned, as without this cash input, we will be forced to look for outside investment."
Two months on and the Share Scheme, first proposed to members at a meeting held on 18th February 2014, is still on hold. Trust Board member Gary Heath championed the Share Scheme and was intially set to retire from the Board at the 26th February 2015 AGM. He has since decided to stand again, suggesting the Share Scheme could finally have legs.
Ground tenants Wasps announced their intended departure from Adams Park in October 2014 and played their last game in High Wycombe in December 2014, despite being contracted until the end of the 2014/15 season. The benefit of Wasps playing at Adams Park has been debated infinitum but the financial benefit to the Football Club is now generally regarded as being worth an annual figure of between break even and £250,000. The fall out from Wasps departure, after 12 years in High Wycombe, leaves Wanderers with a high maintenance Desso pitch and undersoil heating. Both were installed in 2002 at an estimated shared cost of £500,000. The Desso pitch in particular is at the end of its useful life and will either need to be reseeded or replaced completely.
The loss of Wasps may have prompted Wanderers to push through the sale of two signficant members of the playing squad. The sale of Paris Cowan-Hall in December 2014 to Millwall and Josh Scowen the following month to Barnsley, brought in a combined cash injection of just over £400,000. The income from Scowen's departure alone was described as making up for the shortfall from the Wasps deal.
Accounts for the 2013/14 season have yet to be filed but it's understood the Football Club will return a loss of around £300K for the season after taking into account player sales. Costs for the 2014/15 season have been reduced by an estimated £500K and the obligatory 'break-even' target is being aimed for once again. The accounts will need to be filed by 31 March 2015 to prevent the threat of another transfer embargo being imposed on the Club. The late filing of accounts in March 2012 saw a transfer embargo that wasn't lifted until July 2012 following the takeover by The Trust.
And so the story is set to revolve again - are we set for another take-over bid? Will the bidders this time be closer to home than those thought to be behind the deal in February 2014? There are more questions than answers but the prediction by those close to the situation is that a power struggle is likely to ensue with the potential for familiar names to begin the process [again] of convincing supporters that their actions are in the best interests of the Football Club and not for personal gain or simply regaining local pride. Ultimately it will be Trust members who will decide if the Club remains as a Communtity asset or returns again to private ownership.
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