Hartlepool United president and TV presenter Jeff Stelling has warned football clubs of the danger of “being bought by people who do not have the club at heart”.
League One side Bury recently lost their EFL status after last-minute rescue talks collapsed, while Bolton narrowly avoided a similar fate after administrators announced the club’s sale.
And after being part of a takeover which saved Hartlepool in 2018, the Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday host said clubs must be aware of the potential pitfalls of apparently attractive ownership bids.
“We were approached by a consortium this summer who wanted to buy us out, and came offering a fortune,” Stelling said. “It transpired that one of them had just spent a few years in prison for fraud... so we said ‘thank you very much, no thanks, on your bike’.
“Those people will go to other clubs and try it on in exactly the same way. I’ve got a friend in the game who has a pretty good idea of who’s kosher and who’s not.
“I know he’s been on the phone to a couple of clubs in the past warning them about the people that they were negotiating with.
“All you can do is offer advice, you can’t stop them because sometimes the situation is so extreme that you’re going under unless you take the offer.”
Stelling was part of Teesside businessman Raj Singh’s takeover of Hartlepool in 2018 after the north-east club were relegated from the Football League and suffered financial difficulties.
Detailing the problems his club experienced, Stelling said: “We were in a financial mess, our books were chaotic,” adding that some players were being paid £75,000 a year and needed to be paid off, the club opting to take “immediate pain for long-term gain”.
However, while clubs need to be vigilant when it comes to new owners, Stelling believes the EFL is in a bind when it comes to ‘fit and proper’ tests.
“It’s easy for people to say that the EFL should have more stringent checks on ownership, but if they’d said no to Steve Dale at Bury the club would have gone under then (when Dale took over, in December 2018),” Stelling said.
“I’m of the view that if you’re a drowning man and someone throws you a rope, you don’t examine his credentials too much before you grab it, and I think the EFL is in a really difficult situation in terms of fair and proper tests.
“Every club is in danger of being bought by people who do not have the club at heart.”
Stelling on Sunday completed the last of his four marathons in four days for Prostate Cancer UK, raising more than £200,000 for the charity in walking the 26-mile distance in Glasgow, Belfast, Cardiff and London.
He was joined by hundreds of others, including those affected by the disease and former footballers, taking in 16 football clubs along the way.
“What better vehicle to use to get your message out than football clubs?” Stelling said of the charity effort. “They (the clubs) have all been fantastically helpful, and it’s great that high-profile managers wear the Prostate Cancer badge on the lapel when they’re being interviewed and the like.
“People used to say, ‘It’s not the sort of thing you’re going to talk about in the bar’. Well, if you’ve got a concern, maybe you should. Maybe your mate might be able to point you in the direction of Prostate Cancer UK or your GP.”
To donate, visit http://www.justgiving.com/campaign/jeffsmarchformen2019. For more information, go to prostatecanceruk.org/jeffsmarch.
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