Football: How Bournemouth turned the corner

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The Independent Online
IN DECEMBER 1996, Bournemouth AFC was: pounds 5m in debt; owned principally by five unpopular directors and heading for extinction. The creditors, including the Inland Revenue, called for the club to be wound up and a month later Bournemouth went into receivership.

In January 1997, Trevor Watkins, a local lifelong fan, decided it was time the supporters made a stand to save their side. With no prior experience of running a business, let alone a football club, he starting a "fighting fund" to raise money to tide the club over. By June 1997, the directors from the previous regime had gone and Watkins had raised pounds 500,000. He was joined at the helm of what would become a fans' co-operative by five like-minded individuals and they set about brokering a deal to keep Bournemouth afloat.

One key element to the deal saw an agreement with creditors that meant pounds 780,000 of debt would be paid back over 10 years. The other key element saw a trust established whereby the supporters owned 51 per cent of the shares. They would never again see the future of their team in the hands of a single individual or company.

With a loan from Lloyds Bank, the deal - costing pounds 2.7m in total - went through. Lloyds now insists the club operates in the black, which makes them a "selling club" by nature. The occasional sale of players like Matthew Holland - to Ipswich for pounds 800,000 during the co-op's first year - is made palatable by thinking of what might have been. Today the directors still pay for their own season tickets, and the fans have a close involvement with day-to-day matters.

The adventure has already borne fruit, as last year's Wembley Auto Windscreens final appearance and this season's play-off placing in the Second Division have shown. On Tuesday night, the local council voted to support the development of a community stadium at Dean Court.

Malcolm Niekirk, the solicitor, who advised supporters on their buy-out, said : "It seemed like a Boy's Own dream when supporters first told me about their plans. but they are still there and I am still listening."

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