Boxing Day at home with the family was an oddly unsettling experience for Neil Timms. As it was for thousands of others connected with Kings Lynn AFC.
"It was a strange, strange feeling," admitted Timms. "For the best part of 30 years Boxing Day has meant watching the Linnets. I thought about going to another match, but it wouldn't have felt right."
Supporters across the country will understand and sympathise. On 9 December, Kings Lynn Football Club was wound up by the High Court over an unpaid tax bill of close to £70,000. The arguments over how it was allowed to happen and who was to blame have gone on ever since, but the cold fact remains that a club formed in 1879, and which was highly placed in the Unibond Premier League with games in hand, no longer exists.
The contracts of the playing and coaching staff have been terminated, the council-owned stadium and clubhouse are locked up, and the supporters, who would have spent yesterday watching a derby against Boston United, found themselves facing cold turkey in more ways than one.
Four separate parties are now involved in talks with West Norfolk council about taking over the lease of the ground, known as The Walks, and the likelihood is that the club will be re-formed for the start of next season, although it will have to re-enter the League pyramid at least two levels below that of the Unibond Premier. The playing budget, which last season was reported to be over £10,000 per week, will also be much reduced. The council is expected to decide who will be given the chance to take over the lease next month.
Neil Timms, chairman Blue and Gold Supporters Trust
"It's been an incredibly emotional time, and to say we feel devastated and let down by what's happened would be an understatement. We all felt powerless to do anything to save the club, but now we feel this is not the end of Kings Lynn's football club, but the chance for a new beginning. Depending on a benefactor is very dangerous. The only way to be sure a new club will remain viable is for it to be run by the fans, via a trust, and balance books by not spending more than is generated by gate receipts and commercial sponsorship."
Carl Heggs, understood to be among frontrunners for vacancy at Conference side Kidderminster
"It was devastating in so many ways, not least because we were flying, but the truth is that for too long the club had been run with the heart and not the brain. If a player wanted another £100, £200, even £500 a week, they'd pay it. When I first came there were 35-year-olds earning a grand a week. I built a new team, young lads who were getting £100, £150 a week, playing for a future in the game, but the debt had been growing for too long. It's the first Christmas period I've spent at home for 16 years, but my League experience playing for the likes of West Brom, and what I've shown I can do as a manager, means I've had offers from other clubs."
Danny Gay, goalkeeper, considering offers
"I was brought up in Kings Lynn and supported them home and away before I signed for Norwich as a teenager, so coming back here was very much coming home. The players knew about the problems, but you always think it's going to be sorted; being without a club with four months of the season left isn't ideal, but we had a good team, and I think just about all the players are sorted out. The town, the supporters and all the volunteers are the real losers, but I'd still like to see someone with money take over, because Kings Lynn should be playing at a high level. Some of the supporters are on a power trip."
Buster Chapman, owner of Kings Lynn Stars speedway team and the Norfolk Arena
"I'm not a football fanatic, but I've made my life in the town and it needs a football club – but a local club, with local players. It would take a good three years to get it running properly, but we've built one successful sporting organisation by being careful with what we pay, and that would be the model. Whoever takes it on will need good luck, and mustn't be too ambitious, but there are a lot of good people who have been let down, and they and the town deserve better."
Chapman, the former finance director David Handley, and a third unnamed consortium, are now vying with the supporters' trust to take over the lease.