It’s well documented that Irish League clubs have sailed close to financial icebergs — threatening to sink them without trace — but it’s very rarely you get a horrifying glimpse into the murky waters of how clubs have found themselves in a sea of debt.
Fans who are more than happy to follow their beloved teams in a tough economic climate have every right to wonder where the money — if indeed it exists — is going?
Financial mismanagement at clubs is a hot news topic in the light of Scottish Premier League giants Rangers going into administration but that fight for survival is also raging in the Irish League where clubs are battling crippling debts.
One club who almost went under — and it should not be stated that they are out of the woods yet — is Lisburn Distillery.
And the Belfast Telegraph has gained access to an extraordinary document that lists the club’s long line of creditors who are owed money.
The club’s ground has been sold for £450,000 to Drumbeg-based Drumvale Investments.
McClean and Co. are handling the Creditors’ Voluntary Agreement and going through the process of sorting out the creditors. One quick glimpse at the club’s distrurbing financial crimesheet indicates that it could take some time.
In fact, the CVA process which started in February, 2010 has now been extended by a period of six months to August 24 this year.
Drumbo Park — who operate the greyhound racing — chose to stay on the sidelines and the offer from Drumvale includes a lease of 35 years for the club at a peppercorn rent of £1 a year.
But as the creditors’ claims are addressed and money owed is paid back the long term question for the Whites is where will their future income come from as the club doesn’t own the ground anymore?
They won’t be able to pocket the £40,000 a year cheque that has been forthcoming from Drumbo Park Limited.
The Whites’ list of creditors’ claims is a fascinating, if disturbing insight into the culture of reckless spending that threatens to put clubs out of business.
While the ‘proof of debt’ figure comes to £445, 671 the more worrying figure is the estimated total debt of £609,971.
Where receipts or invoices aren’t kept and debts cannot be proven, claimants will struggle to get their money back but for a club with such a small fan base — only a few hundred come through the turnstiles — their expenditure is startling.
On the list are 28 current or former players or coaching staff — and the players who have been waiting around two years for their money are not happy at the sixth-month extension in the CVA process.
Among the names are current boss John Cunningham who is owed £5,400 — with proof of debt received.
Former Whites assistant boss and current Ballymena United manager Glenn Ferguson is also on the list with debts of £8,960 — £4,660 of which can be proven. ‘Spike’ admits that a lot of money has gone down the drain and he can understand why people will view the club’s financial accounts as “a shambles”.
“When the club entered into the CVA we were told people would get their money back after the ground was sold and we have to hold people to their word,” said the former Northern Ireland international.
“I know what I am owed and I can prove it. Unfortunately a lot of people might not get their money back but it’s clear for everyone to see that clubs must be run properly.
“It’s dawning on players that the days of the big pay cheque are gone, we have a new wage cap and it’s a reality check.
“Clubs must cut their cloth and at Ballymena United I have been reassured that we will not make any financial decisions that put the club at considerable risk. You have to make decisions that won’t put the club in danger.”
Another former Whites player, Peter McCann, is owed a whopping £22,770 according to the leaked document.
One former player said: “It’s a shambles. We have been waiting two years for money. At least the ground has been sold and hopefully debts will be cleared eventually.”
H&M Revenue and Customs are waiting on £85, 893 while the Land & Property Services bill comes in at £72,522.
There is a wide range of companies on the list including Noel Savage Construction Limited (£33, 973), NI Water (£17, 511) and even the Irish Football Association (£3,465).
With an estimated over £100,000 owed to current or former players the bumper wages have contributed to the club’s perilous financial state.
Lagan Valley Steel, owned by the club’s former chairman Tommy Anderson, has £16,000 next to its name though, according to the document, no proof of debt has been received.
Jim McGrory, who resigned as chairman along with several board members in December 2009 with the club facing a winding-up petition, is owed £30,249.
The sorry tale of unpaid tax bills and financial promises that could never be fulfilled makes depressing reading.
One creditor, who didn’t wish to be named, said: “The figures contained in the document are staggering, particularly for a club of Distillery’s size. I think questions have to be asked about how the club was run in the past and how the debt levels got so big.”