Bath City chairman Rigby issues stark warning to supporters and calls for backing over plan to leave Twerton home
Chairman Manda Rigby has warned that Bath City will die unless the club moves away from its home of more than 80 years – and challenged her critics to either back her blueprint or come up with a viable alternative.
The Bath & North East Somerset councillor has come under fire from some quarters since succeeding Geoff Todd in August 2011 and taking on the thankless task of clearing the club’s mounting debts.
After pumping more than £140,000 of her own money into the coffers – as well as spending countless unpaid hours working behind the scenes – she admitted that the “poisonous negativity” of a small percentage of City’s followers had become “wearing” and says their actions are gambling with the club’s very future.
In a heartfelt and personal statement released yesterday, Rigby stressed that the club’s main asset, Mayday Trust Park, has become a huge drain on resources and that it is the intention of her board to either sell it or swap it for land elsewhere.
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She added that the club is in talks with four different landowners over potential sites for a new stadium and has attracted interest from more than 20 organisations with regard to developing its existing base in Twerton.
“Let me dispel a myth and replace it with a fact,” she said. “Twerton Park is a net drain on our resources and will remain so for as long as we are here.
“By cutting expenditure to the bone and beyond and investing in any scheme which stacks up financially, at best we can mitigate the losses but not make it sustainable. Sorry to be blunt but if that was not the case then surely someone over the last 50 loss-making years would have cracked it?
“There is not some magical way that we can make income be greater than expenditure whilst we are at the ground, whatever level we play at. It is a lovely ground, full of history, but it not a good business proposition for any kind of outside investment for renovation.
“It is my view that we have to move. This is doubly urgent as, at the time I joined the board, they had done an incredibly good job in retaining assets where possible and buying the time necessary to get a repayment plan for all the loans which were coming due, but there hadn’t been a plan put forward to meet the club’s liabilities and drive it forward.
“So a change in approach, however painful, had to be attempted throughout the club. The trick will be in getting the best deal, one which will secure the future of Bath City for the foreseeable future.
“Be in no doubt – this is the plan and the clock is ticking.
“We will shortly be talking with all the major shareholders and will make it clear that we need either support on the ground move and/or an alternative investor found, most likely requiring sale of all shareholdings. Otherwise we do not see how the club will be able to pay its debts.”
Rigby’s reign as chairman has coincided with a slide down the non-league pyramid that now sees City lying a point above the relegation zone in Blue Square Bet South. However, she insisted the huge financial losses made in each of the club’s two seasons in the Premier – which raised the level of debt to around £700,000 – meant such a dip in fortune on the field was inevitable, regardless of who took over from Todd at the helm.
She endured verbal abuse, some of it sexist, at a home match last February and has repeatedly had to field questions about her intentions and ability to manage the club on the fans’ internet forum.
Meanwhile, some of the travelling contingent chanted “We want Manda out” during last week’s 4-1 triumph at Weston- super-Mare.
“The vast majority of fans are amazing in their willingness to be patient and understand that what I am trying to do – whilst not what they wanted – is motivated by wanting to keep the club alive,” said Rigby, who added that the criticism she received for looking “jolly” in the club bar after sponsoring a 2-0 home defeat to Forest Green Rovers on her 50th birthday last April was a real low point of her regime.
“Others, I am afraid to say, criticise constantly without ever coming up with an alternative plan to keep the club running and to pay back its historical debt, or a buy-out proposal, or putting in the many hours of work necessary just to keep the club functioning.
“The agendas they pursue are their own and not for the benefit of the club. It can get very wearing to hear that someone who ‘absolutely knows’ the truth about a club issue is spreading lies, when I am not in a position to correct them without showing the club in the wrong light. I hate it.
“It’s also quite wearing for willful misinterpretation to be made of every action or decision, especially by people who don’t attend matches or the monthly joint meetings, so are really not in any position to know the facts.
“I can only reiterate that I have the club’s best interests at heart, the board do and we are completely driven by protecting Bath City.
“It’s a real shame that a vocal very small minority, either out of naivety or motivated by malice, are gambling with the future of the club they purport to love. The three previous chairmen received the same kind of poisonous negativity, accompanied by the same lack of action, from largely the same people.”
A meet the chairman and management staff evening will be arranged soon and Rigby urged those at odds with her views on the future of the club to come forward and make themselves heard.
“If anyone has an alternative financeable plan, now is absolutely the right time to come up with it,” she added.
“I believe in Bath City. I want to make it successful and sustainable. In order to do that, there may be some painful decisions made. If you can come up with a way to settle long-standing debts and give a future to the club, propose it. If not, I’m sorry for the angst caused but moving and building an income-generating replacement with partners and/or getting new investment whilst protecting football interests via covenant is the only way I can see to do this.
“I might prefer facts to be different and know I’m not courting popularity but reality has to be faced – and faced now.”