On the final day of the League 2 season, Aldershot Town’s 2-0 defeat to Rotherham United, who were promoted off the back of their victory, consigned the Hampshire club to relegation from the Football League to the Blue Square Premier. The Shots finished in 92nd on the league ladder, three points from safety and suffered the dreaded drop alongside Edgar Davids’ Barnet. Too many home defeats at the Recreation Ground coupled with a joint division-leading eleven away draws hampered their efforts to accumulate enough points to retain league status for a sixth successive season. But far from ‘looking forward’ to next season in the Blue Square Premier and attempting to bounce straight back to League 2, Aldershot face a summer of struggle which may culminate in their demise, after it was announced they would enter administration on May 2nd.

Aldershot in its current guise rose, as alluded to on their club badge, like a phoenix from the ashes of the defunct Aldershot F.C. who in March 1992 became the first Football League club since Accrington Stanley 30 years earlier to fold during the season. A group of supporters set up a new club within months of the bankruptcy, and this new club, Aldershot Town, began life in the Isthmian Premier League, five levels below that at which Aldershot F.C. had resigned their position. Following a steady rise through the non-league structure, The Shots finally won promotion back to the League ranks in 2008 when managed by former QPR midfielder and manager, Gary Waddock. In their second season back under the stewardship of new boss Kevin Dillon, they finished in an excellent sixth place meaning a chance to climb into League 1 via the play-offs. However, it would coincidentally be Rotherham United who would deny them the opportunity of a Wembley play-off final by winning 3-0 over the two legs. Dillon was replaced by Dean Holdsworth in January 2011 after a poor start to the 2010-11 campaign. Holdsworth, a former member of Wimbledon’s infamous Crazy Gang guided Aldershot to consecutive mid-table finishes in 2011 and 2012, but he too would also end up losing his job on February 20th 2013 with the club languishing in 20th place in League 2, exactly the same position as when he took over two years earlier.

Around the same time as Holdsworth’s sacking and the descent towards relegation, reports emerged of the financial situation the club found itself in. In January 2013, majority shareholder, Kris Machala, announced he was seeking new investment for Aldershot to safeguard the club’s future. A drop in income blamed on poor results and the resultant falling attendances forced Machala into a host of cost cutting exercises including parting company with the assistant manager, chief operating officer, company secretary and marketing manager. Polish-born businessman Machala took a 51% controlling interest in Aldershot in 2011 but has cast himself in the role of reluctant leader claiming he never wanted to be the owner or chairman of the club in the first place. Just a week after replacing Dean Holdsworth in February, Machala stepped down as chairman but remained on the board of directors. He was replaced in the top job by Shahid Azeem, who had previously served the club as a non-executive director for two years. During the handover process an immediate cash injection addressed what chief executive Andrew Mills called, “immediate financial concerns”. Further comments from the club stated, “Unfortunately we had gone as far as we could go with Kris’s (Machala) financial assistance and we had to restructure and refinance for the future.” Speaking of the new man at the helm, the statement added, “Shahid’s (Azeem) priority will be to lead the club through a period of financial restructure, including the attraction of new investment needed to further the strategic aims of the club.”

However, as the season drew to a close, Aldershot’s situation had worsened dramatically both on and off the pitch. On April 25th just 48 hours before their crucial relegation fixture at Rotherham, Machala was ready to hand over his majority shareholding to Azeem providing proof of funds needed to supply yet another vital cash injection could be given. The move was seen as pivotal to the clubs attempt to avoid going into administration. Once relegation was confirmed, Machala released a statement to supporters giving an update on the financial circumstances at The Recreation Ground. “As most people are aware, I have been working to try and secure investment into the club so as to secure the club’s long-term future, regardless of whether the club was going to be in the Football League or the Football Conference,” Machala’s statement said. “The relegation has simply made this requirement more urgent. The latest hope of a cash injection into the club failed last week. However, discussions are now being held with Shahid Azeem to allow him the majority of my shareholding in the club, provided that he can satisfy an immediate cash requirement and guarantee the club’s future. I am currently awaiting proof of funds from Mr Azeem and provided that this is done on Monday (April 29th), we hope to have a way forward for the club.” But by April 30th, several Aldershot players took to their Twitter accounts to announce that they had failed to be paid on time. Later that evening the club released yet another statement declaring that, “The Company is currently seeking restructuring advice and a further statement will be made within the next 24 hours.”

Amid unease and tension which saw Chief Executive, Andrew Mills, resign on May 1st blaming a lack of trust and transparency in owner Machala’s efforts to keep the club solvent, Aldershot Town entered administration just a day later, with Quantuma Restructuring appointed as the administrators responsible for addressing the mess The Shots have got themselves into.

For supporters of The Shots, many of whom took to internet forums to debate the precarious state of their club, the fear of a repeat of the financial meltdown of 1992 is rapidly spreading. Many see Aldershot Town going the same way as Aldershot F.C. as being a blessing in disguise. Those fans resigned to seeing a second extinction of their club within just one generation believe that the current business and ownership models are unsustainable and even if the club avoids collapse this summer, they fully expect the same problems to arise again in the future. One large barrier to Aldershot being able to increase revenue is that they do not own their own stadium. The Recreation Ground or EBB Stadium to use its sponsored name is owned by Rushmoor Borough Council and therefore the club does not have the right to lend money against it as collateral. They almost certainly do not earn much money from the stadium on non-match days either. So with Football League relegation compounding their already tenuous grip on survival, Aldershot Town’s biggest battles ahead won’t come on the pitch starting in August but in the boardroom, bank manager’s office and potentially a courtroom over the summer.

MARK GODFREY

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4 comments

  1. The reality is that the directors think they are running a football club – they are not. It’s a business, which plays football for a few hours a week, but otherwise needs prudent management at all other times – not budgets created on assumptions of large gate receipts and play-off revenue. The spending was out of control, nobody was prepared to admit the income wasn’t matching expectations back in October, and the two people who needed to show leadership at the time of crisis both failed to do so – Andrew Mills at least had the brains to know when to walk away.

    Borrowing money against the stadium is not going to help, unless the fundamentals are addressed. Do you need a 37 strong squad to field 17 players on a Saturday? Do you charge 2,200 people £16 (avg) a seat, or drop the price by £5 and see if you can get 4,000 to come along? There are ways to make a business work (remember, until the ref starts the game, its a business), but dreaming you’re worthy of the income of the League 1, but being in League 2 isn’t one of them.

  2. As a fan of Clapton FC (don’t ask), I attended Aldershot Town’s first fixture in 1992, and the match programme was full of optimistic
    noises about sensible financial management and a long-term future for the club (ie, not 20 years). It seems that ATFC caught
    the dreaded ambition bug and tried to spend their way to unsustainable ‘success’. Had they spent longer in non-League, the Shots might have appreciated the value of gradual progression (ie, Woking, Workington) or succeeding at your own level – Marine are the perfect example
    of this. Assuming they last the summer, Aldershot Town now have the opportunity to re-learn these values and possibly apply them in future.

  3. Entering administration on May 2nd was a black day for the club, but after having 10 points taken away we’ve beat the drop this season (2013/14) and rebuilding of the club is well underway.

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