After everything, it was a simple tweet from BBC Cornwall that confirmed the end of Kevin Heaney's ownership of Truro City FC, but even this grand finale wasn’t what many people had expected. After all the talk of winding up orders from creditors, investment groups that didn’t wish their identity to be made public, threats from unpaid players to walk away from the Blue Square Bet South club and talk regarding Heaney's health, this morning the owner of the club and former suitor of Plymouth Argyle was declared bankrupt. Yet whilst this wasn’t, in some respects, that surprising, it did add another twist to a story that has frequently bordered upon becoming impenetrable over the last few months or so.
Heaney had always seemed keen to paint himself as the white knight on a charger, and it’s fair to say that Truro City would probably not be playing football at the level at which the club finds itself today without having benefited from his largesse. For a couple of years, it felt as if The Dream – such as it was – might come true and that a Football League club for Cornwall, playing at a grand new stadium shared with the Cornish Pirates rugby club, might actually come to pass. As Truro City has creaked and groaned over the last year or so, though, this has started to recede somewhat and events at the club have taken a different, more troubling turn. A familiar narrative has started to play out, one of anonymous investors who are rumoured to be sinking money into the club, one of tax bills and disputes over tax bills, one of players going unpaid, and one of everything that is going wrong apparently being the fault of somebody else – a very twenty-first century reaction to a very twenty-first century set of financial problems.
Heaney's bankruptcy, however, could have ramifications for the club. The last published set of accounts for the club showed that it owed him £1.4m and the insolvency practitioner dealing with his affairs may wish to look closely at whether Heaneys creditors can be paid from the football clubs assets. One asset which is of considerably lower value now than it was is the clubs Treyew Road ground, which had been mortgaged through Lloyds and was bought in June by a company called Jojo Investco, a London-based company owned by a solicitor, Alan Bracher, earlier on this summer. It has been suggested that Bracher is the front for the anonymous investors that have been expressing an interest in the club over the last few months, but how their involvement in the club will play out over the course of time is not a question that is easily answered.
Meanwhile, Heaney's resignation from the board of directors of Truro City – being declared bankrupt, of course, means that quite asides from anything else he becomes one of the few football club owners or directors that actually fails the Football Associations Fit & Proper Persons Test – has led to his replacement by former vice-chairman Chris Webb, but it is not Webb that put the money into the club recently in order to allow it to keep trading. The identity of that individual became earlier this week, and it was something of a surprise to find out that it was CGA Holdings, a company owned by William Harrison-Allen, the chairman of Blue Square Bet South rivals Salisbury City, who put this money into the club. Harrison-Allen, who describes Heaney as “a mate”, has claimed that:
CGA Holdings paid the wages last week. I wanted to make sure the players got their money and that was done with Kevin Heaney’s agreement. We are not investing in TCFC. It’s a property deal that will help Kevin Heaney make sure that TCFC keeps going – it will secure the future of TCFC. I can reassure the fans that if this goes through it secures TCFC and its ground for the foreseeable future. Kevin Heaney is a mate of mine. He needs somebody on his side. He is a bit of a colourful character. He has put his heart and soul into getting TCFC where it is.
Whether the games authorities regard the direct involvement of the chairman of one club in the financial affairs of another in the same division, however, is not one that is necessarily easy to answer, and the Football Conferences seemingly perennially put-upon general manager Dennis Strudwick has already confirmed that, “I’m investigating the question of whether there is a conflict of interest” under Section Five of the Football Conference Ltd FA Standardised Membership Rules. For the avoidance of doubt, Section Five relates to holding an interest in two clubs at the same time, and it reads as follows:
Except with the prior written consent of the board no person, company or business institution (including insolvency practitioners) may at any time be interested in more than one club or in a club and any other club playing in a competition sanctioned by the FA.
What sanctions the club might face as a result of any sanctions from either the Football Conference or the Football Association are unknown at present, but “interested” in this context may be defined as anybody that “is involved in any capacity whatsoever in the management or administration of that club”, who “has any power whatsoever to influence the financial, commercial or business affairs or the management or administration of that club” or who “has lent money to or guaranteed the debts or obligations of that club”. Whether Salisbury City – who, of course, have had their own financial difficulties in recent times – Truro City or even both clubs might end up in hot water over this matter is unknown, at present.
If there is one set of supporters that is probably breathing a sigh of relief this morning, then it’s probably those of Plymouth Argyle. Heaney had been the preferred bidder to buy their club when it had been in serious financial difficulty last year, but failed to come up with the money required to complete the take-over of the club, which was subsequently taken over by another businessman, James Brent. Plymouth continue to exist in a slightly emaciated – but now at least stable – state, but one of the great “what if” questions that their supporters may be asking this morning could be that of what might have happened to their club had Heaney managed to secure the take-over of Argyle and subsequently found himself bankrupt. As things stand, however, they can look on at the situation at Truro and think “there but for the grace of God go I.”
The bankruptcy of Kevin Heaney, then, raises at least as many questions as it answers, but Truro supporters will at least perhaps take a moment to wish him well with whatever financial and health difficulties he may be having at the moment. He did, after all, do much to take the club to the level at which it plays now. It should be added, however, that getting a football club to this level is easy by pouring money into it, as we have seen elsewhere in recent years. Keeping it at that level without dragging it into greater and greater debt, however, is a different matter. After the discharge of his bankruptcy, he may well seek to get involved in the game again. If his health problems are serious, however, he may just choose not to. Whatever his decision, the legacy of his involvement in Truro City is that this is a club whose future remains very much up the air even though he will not be there to oversee it himself. It doesn’t feel like a legacy to be particularly proud of.
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