The future of Glentoran Football Club was secured last night at an historic meeting of the club's shareholders at the Oval.
A unanimous vote gave the go-ahead for a change in how the club is run, which in turn allowed a mystery benefactor to place three new members onto the board as a condition of his pumping hundreds of thousands of pounds into the east Belfast club to stave off the threat of administration and therefore the likely scenario of going bust.
In one of the most important meetings that the club has ever taken, dozens of shareholders queued out in the rain to get in and make their vote count and now as a result, the £300,000 debt owed to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs will be wiped out by this anonymous ‘White Knight'.
As well as this, a large sum of cash will also be made available to help ease other debts, with the club believed to owe something in the region of £1million.
The pre-requisite for the release of funding was that three, as yet unknown, prominent business people, will be given roles on the Board of Directors, including that of the chairmanship.
Current chairman Aubry Ralph will stand down, but is expected to remain as vice-chairman.
These three high-flyers in the business world will be given the task of bringing large amounts of money into the club through investment and sponsorship and their part of the new regime will be known as the Coates Trust — named after one of the club's founding fathers.
One board member, Stephen Henderson, described the investment figures that the new Trust will be targeting as what “Irish League clubs can currently only dream about”.
The Glentoran Community Trust will also be given two permanent places on the board, while the remaining five places of a new ten-man board will be run along the same lines as is currently the case.
There were initial fears that the plan would be scuppered but a unanimous vote last night pushed the previously cash-stricken club into what appears to be a very bright future.
Out-going chairman, Ralph was visibly relieved after the meeting and stated that he was happy to step down to ensure Glentoran can move forward into a new era.
“I will remain on the board but I will be moving from chairman to vice-chairman,” he said. “There will be a new chairman come in from the Trust. In the general scheme of things my role won't change dramatically.
“These people are coming on board to generate a significant amount of funding going forward because of the circles that they move in but not to put too fine a point on it they don't know much about running a football club
“My day to day liaison will still be as it is. I will still represent the club at the IFA and some people did express concerns about me standing aside and that's nice because people feel you have offered something but it's not about personalities at all. I would quite happily have walked away if that was what was needed to make this happen.
“I am just pleased that we can breathe a bit easier.”
Stephen Henderson paid tribute to the amount of hard work that went into making sure that the conditions put forward by the benefactor through an intermediary, would be accepted — including Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson and junior minister Robin Newton.
Henderson said: “The benefactor has used an intermediary in this process and the intermediary was introduced to the club by the First Minister Peter Robinson who is a member of Glentoran Community Trust.
“I think it would be remiss of us not to pay very strong praise to the First Minister and the junior Minister Robin Newton and the role that they have played.”
On the decision, Henderson added: “The stark reality was that if that injection of cash hadn't come in and the vote hadn't have been carried tonight then we would have gone to the insolvency courts tomorrow with a very difficult argument to make.
“We are very lucky that someone has stepped forward as an anonymous benefactor, someone with a passion for east Belfast and the fact that Glentoran is the last remaining icon in this part of the city.
“We have won a battle but we haven't won the war. It is well known that the club has significant debts — it is the club's intention to ensure that we pay back every penny that we owe to every creditor of the company.
“Personally I am just delighted because it means that my sons, my daughter in five, 10, 20, 100 years have a club still here and one that they can be proud of.”