Good afternoon, and a belated Happy New Year,
I wanted to take the opportunity to talk as directly as possible to all supporters of Wycombe Wanderers Football Club, including members of the Trust, ahead of what is a pivotal time in the club’s 131-year history.
In just over two weeks’ time we will be asking Legacy Members to vote on whether or not to accept investment into the club from two American businessmen, Bill Luby and Jim Collis, who are seeking a majority stake in Wycombe Wanderers. A reminder that Legacy Members are members of the Trust who have held a season ticket at Adams Park for four or more consecutive years.
As volunteer directors of the Trust, this is new territory for us, and yes – it can keep us awake at night. We have each been elected to serve as custodians of the football club; to protect its heritage and safeguard our future. We take great pride in what we do, and standing on the pitch at Chesterfield in April, I personally was overcome with emotion as I reflected on what we had all – together – achieved. Above all, we are supporters who want the very best for the club, with no ulterior motives.
We’ve been entrusted to make the right decisions, and we are confident that we have found the best people to take the club forward, in Bill and Jim. Trust Members have met them when we introduced them at a meeting back in November, and we have been in constant dialogue with them over the past two months as we finalise the proposed deal which would see them become majority shareholders if they attain ‘yes’ votes from 75% or more of Legacy Members.
During that time, as is only natural, there has been plenty of discussion and speculation from supporters and Trust Members, and a fair amount of information – some accurate, some inaccurate – has been disseminated from various sources. We have never set out to deliberately conceal details from fans, but the discussions are, as I’m sure you can imagine, commercially sensitive and bound by confidentiality clauses on both sides, as is commonplace in business and football is no different, with most transfer dealings masked by undisclosed fees, like them or loathe them!
I am aware of grievances about a perceived lack of communication, and in some cases I can accept that we could have done things differently. The details of the postponement of the next meeting – originally provisionally booked for January 14th, but moved to January 28th – could have been clarified sooner, and for that I apologise.
I wanted to offer some clarity on a few points; I can only imagine there will be hundreds of questions and the opportunity for us to answer them will come at the meeting for Legacy Members on Monday 28th January. But for now, here is a synopsis of the story so far:
– Two years ago we were introduced to a representative of Bill and Jim who enquired whether we would be interested in opening talks relating to potential investment into the football club. We said yes, and – along with expressions of interest from two other parties – have developed these talks into something more substantial
– In September 2018 we held a meeting of all trust members to gauge their attitude, as the club’s current owners, to the possible options for the future of the club, and received an indication that we should proceed with discussions relating to outside investment.
– In the autumn of 2018, following the members’ meeting, the Trust board agreed that its recommended option for the best way forward for the football club is to accept Bill and Jim’s proposal. More on that below.
– We invited Bill and Jim to meet Trust Members at Adams Park in November; an evening that we – and they – felt was met with positivity from a large proportion of those present.
– At the same time, the Trust agreed a non-binding heads of terms with Bill and Jim.
– Faced with a concerning cashflow situation for the club over the winter months, and while negotiations have been continuing on the investment deal, Bill and Jim also agreed to make a loan available to the club, with a charge against Adams Park, which is standard practice to guarantee some security against the person or persons loaning the money. This sum is to be converted into equity if Bill and Jim are successful in the Legacy Member vote, or repaid if not. Without this loan, the club’s cashflow was looking critical and could well have impacted on wages and bills being paid on time.
To return to an earlier point, the Trust’s purpose is to safeguard the club’s future, to ensure there is a Wycombe Wanderers for future generations to enjoy just as we have done, and those before us. There will be a Wycombe Wanderers for the foreseeable future, but the makeup of that club is ultimately dependent on its financial backing. We are making sizeable losses each year in our current setup, and it is not either fair or viable to rely on ‘football fortune’ (cup runs and player sales) as a breakeven model each year.
If Legacy Members vote in favour of the investment by Bill and Jim, I have every confidence that their investment will be spent wisely, to continue the forward progress that has been made on the pitch in recent years, and improve the off-field activity to help us better engage with supporters, sponsors and the local community as a whole. The potential for growth is exciting, and our due diligence to date leads us to have every faith that the values that make us proud of our club will continue to be upheld under new ownership, which would also include supporter representation on the make-up of the board of directors.
In case the vote is unsuccessful, the Trust has identified possible alternative options – though in our view, as it stands, these are less favourable. To be sustainable under Trust ownership would mean descaling the size of the on-field and off-field operations, and it will take the most optimistic of supporters to believe that that situation would not lead to a decline from our current league standing.
The Trust do not want to see the club decline; we have been honoured with Football League status for a quarter of a century, and have what I believe to be the one of the best management staffs and playing squads that we have had the pleasure of watching in that era. The club was in a dark place around the time that the Trust acquired ownership in 2012, and after overcoming some tough challenges in those first two years, enjoyed a steady progression thanks to the achievements of the team on the pitch, and considerable financial support from Trust members and other fans.
What happens next is up to the Legacy Members; we have offered our recommendation and more details of Bill and Jim’s proposal will become clear in the very near future. I am determined that every Member should use his or her vote; we want a 100% turnout to ensure that the future of the club is not decided by apathy of those not bothering to vote, given that not voting is counted as a ‘no’ vote.
From one fan of Wycombe Wanderers to another, we are all on this journey together, and I sincerely believe that welcoming Bill and Jim into the club will lead to a more prosperous and successful future for us all.
Thank you for reading, and during this exciting period, let us not lose focus of what brings us all to Adams Park in the first place – the football. Gareth and the team have this incredible hunger and determination to return to winning ways, to reach our target for survival in League 1 this season, and to continue to give you as much as possible to cheer and be proud of every single week.