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Wrexham AFC - The Non-League Years

The 2008–09 season started deceivingly well, with a 5–0 home victory against Stevenage Borough. However, a run of poor results followed, leaving the club only four points above the relegation zone and only keeping two clean sheets all season. Following a 3–0 home defeat against Rushden and Diamonds, and fans calling for his dismissal, manager Brian Little left Wrexham by mutual consent. Little was replaced by Dean Saunders. Wrexham’s first full season in the Conference Premier ended in a disappointing 10th place.


Off the field, more storm clouds were gathering however, with Wrexham FC chairman Neville Dickens selling his 50% stake in the club to co-owner Geoff Moss. Little did we know about what was to come.

Wrexham Chronicle article on the Council's backing for the robbery of land from Wrexham AFC

Wrexham Chronicle article on the Council’s backing for the robbery of land from Wrexham AFC

Hand out supporting Wrexham Village and the building of the flats at the Racecourse (1)

Hand out supporting Wrexham Village and the building of the flats at the Racecourse (2)


In 2009, in a blaze of publicity, the blueprint for a major £40m investment to transform Wrexham FC’s finances and lead to the rebuilding of the club’s historic Kop was revealed. The key to this, as stated by Club Director Paul Retout- “Wrexham Village will finance the future of Wrexham Football Club as all profits from Wrexham Village is going back into the club – securing the future, with the aim of paying off all current debts and putting working capital into the club.”

With this information, and at the recommendation of the then council’s chief planning officer, Wrexham councillors voted by a majority to give the first phase of the Racecourse development the green light. They also voted to give outline permission for further student apartments and the development of the East Stand/multifunction arena. The overall scheme, split into three separate phases, would see the building of more than 800 flats to accommodate students from nearby Glyndwr University as well as a redevelopment of the Kop stand. Wrexham Supporters Trust lodged a formal objection against the proposals. They felt the unilateral undertaking was worthless and gave no guarantee that the Kop stand would be built or the profits from the proposed development would go back into the football club as promised by the club owners, who were also the developers.


Wrexham Village, a company formed by Geoff Moss and a property developer and builder from Ruthin, Ian Roberts (who became the new Chairman of Wrexham FC, taking over from Geoff Moss who still owned 60% of the Club), then started a multi-staged plan to redevelop the stadium with the first stage development of a block of flats on Racecourse land, which are those seen today as a scar on the Racecourse vista.


Wrexham Village

In July 2009, Wrexham FC announced they were debt free, but the club was now owned by Wrexham Village. Club owner Geoff Moss stated the Club owned its own stadium and training ground. It owned all the land, buildings and equipment, while only having normal trade creditors and trade debtors that are required by any Club or business. It had NO bank overdraft and NO long-term loans. As we’ll see, this wasn’t actually the truth.


However, in November, Club Director Paul Retout stated: “Wrexham Village Ltd owns the football club, and that was always the structure. For consolidation purposes it’s all one project – the Kop development and student accommodation – but we’ve had to split it out for the capital funding. The money from the accommodation will go out towards the club’s debts and there’ll be an income stream as well.”


In December Football Club owners Wrexham Village purchased the Celtic Crusaders Rugby League club franchise. Geoff Moss said his decision to bring Super League rugby club Crusaders from South Wales to the Racecourse would benefit the Blue Square Premier League club and strengthen the case for government funding towards the cost of upgrading the Racecourse. What he failed to mention was the £800,000 loan taken out for the purchase of the franchise which was secured against the freehold of the Racecourse. In essence, Wrexham Village were using monies and property that should have gone to the Football Club to finance the rugby club.


Eventually in September 2011, Crusaders Super League club are wound up. Geoff Moss and Ian Roberts pulled out stating that they were not able to fund the side anymore.


As a sign of the turmoil to soon arrive, in August 2010, Wrexham Supporters Trust announced that they have been offered to acquire the football club for a pound. Or to acquire the football club and ground for £2million. It became very obvious that the Club had overreached itself financially, whether by chance or engineered as an exit strategy by the owners. And to add to the signs of mismanagement, in November, Crusaders Super League club who share the Racecourse with Wrexham FC went into Administration.


Once the initial blocks of the student accommodation were finished, fulfilling Phase 1 of the plan, Wrexham Village went through a time of monetary unsteadiness. The second part of the development plan, which was intended to help the club, never appeared, and in 2011 the club were presented with a Winding Up order by HMRC, because of a neglected tax bill of £200,000. As always in times of trouble, Wrexham fans rallied around the club, and the debt was paid off by a mix of gifts and advances from fans.


The clouds were gathering once again, in January 2011, Wrexham Village announced that it had agreed an option with Van Morton Investments Ltd to allow it to purchase Wrexham FC as soon as possible and at a later stage the stadium and training ground. However, it soon became public knowledge that ‘businessman’ Stephen Vaughan was revealed as part of the consortium poised to take over at Wrexham FC. Vaughan is a convicted criminal and through his ownership of Vaughan Promotions, originally a boxing promotion and management company, he had owned the Barrow and Chester City football clubs, serving as chairman of both. During his time as chairman of the two clubs, both clubs initially saw success on the pitch, but his tenure at both ended due to Vaughan’s involvement in criminal investigations, and both clubs were basically torn apart by his mismanagement. He has subsequently done this again at Bangor City, which has gone from a proud, historic Welsh League club to almost non-existence. Wrexham fans, once they discovered Vaughan’s involvement, took their displeasure to the stands during a home match against Gateshead, and the offer to acquire Wrexham FC was withdrawn.


Stephanie Booth

However, this then opened the door to a number of ‘chancers’ such as Hotelier Stephanie Booth, who gave a farcical performance involving opening a ‘golden envelope’, announced to Wrexham fans at the Forest Green home game that she is the preferred bidder of the club owners. Her interest in the club eventually emerged to only wanting the stadium but not the football club, and eventually her ‘business empire’ collapsed leaving a trail of debt across North Wales. There was also an approach by former player Ashley Ward who headed a consortium financially backed by Colin Poole, a former Shrewsbury Town chief executive, and a disqualified director, the former head of the discredited insurance firm Claims Direct, who had been struck off the solicitor’s roll by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. Colin Poole withdrew his financial backing from the bid “due to the actions of a few misguided individuals”. Some Wrexham fans had turned up at one of Poole’s parties and had peacefully protested about his involvement, leading to his wife stating the ‘Colin, why don’t you bankrupt them’. A comment that eventually came home to roost when Poole himself was declared bankrupt! And yet another controversial ‘businessman’ Stephen Cleeve, who’s recent history at the time included a previous eight-year-ban from being a company director showed his interest in purchasing the club.


With the circus above as a background, Wrexham Supporters Trust met with club owners to discuss the terms of a potential transaction which would result in Wrexham Football Club, Colliers Park, and the Racecourse moving forward in the ownership of its supporters and the community. However, on the pitch, football had to continue. In August 2011, the Conference board demanded that Wrexham FC pay a bond or bank guarantee of £250,000 to satisfy the board that the club can meet its legal and financial obligations for the coming season. However, they are given just over 48 hours to find the money. This was an extremely Draconian move, given that it had not happened before, or indeed has never happened since. However, the fans of Wrexham FC rallied together to raise £100,000 in less than a day to pay off the bond (Geoff Moss would only put in £100k to keep the club HE owned alive) and the club were granted a 24-hour extension on the conference’s deadline to fulfil the board’s requests which included:


• Deposit a bond or bank guarantee of £250,000 into the competition’s accounts.
• Proof of payment to all outstanding football creditors, including staff and players wages.
• Lodge a signed lease, acceptable to the Football Conference, as to where the club intends to play its home fixtures for season 2011/12.
• Submit a detailed business plan and revised budget for the coming season.


Wrexham Supporters Trust could not afford to buy the Racecourse and training ground at Colliers Park, but formed a strategic partnership with Glyndwr University, who signed an agreement to buy both. This deal did not include Wrexham FC or the Crusaders rugby league team who both played there. But the deal will allow both sporting teams to continue using the facilities.


In September 2011 a joint statement between Wrexham Supporters Trust and the club’s owners said a “suitable financial agreement has been reached”. “The directors of Wrexham FC are delighted to announce that agreement has been reached with WST to purchase the football club. During this period Wrexham Supporters Trust will run the football club under a licence agreement pending approval by the football authorities.” And on the 30th of November 2011, Wrexham Supporters Trust signed the deal to become owners of Wrexham Football Club. A truly fans owned club. Our Club Our Future! (a strapline I’m particularly happy with as it was my suggestion!)


Running a football club is a business unlike any other as the WST soon found out, but quickly put together a Club Board to take over the day-to-day business of Wrexham AFC. The Football Club Board consisted of initially six members with the required skills to run the business. I joined the Club Board a few months later (and stayed for nearly 10 years) and have an enormous collection of information about all the Club’s operations for the next decade, one day soon I’ll put it all into a book so the reality of running a professional football club can be perhaps appreciated.


However, from the onset, it was apparent that keeping the Club afloat would be a struggle of epic proportions in a modern era of the high costs of success, and the fact that we would be operating under limiting financial incomes. In fact, if you look at things objectively, the WST took on debts of over £500k, and running costs approaching £750k, as well as having to rebuild a club that had been neglected for many years. We manged to eliminate the debts and put the Club on sustainable footings within three years, and even with limited resources over the years, the advent of the Covid 19 epidemic and the closing of the ground during which we had very little income, when we did eventually allow Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney to move the Club forward, we handed over a debt-free operation.


Following the WST take-over, the Town earned places in both the FA Trophy final and the Conference Premier play-off Final, their first two appearances at Wembley Stadium in the club’s entire history, and within five weeks of one another. In the FA Trophy Final, Wrexham won on penalties after a 1–1 draw with Grimsby Town. However, success escaped us in the play-off Final versus Newport County, with Newport winning 2–0. This set a pattern, as we have lost at 2 subsequent FA Trophy Finals at Wembley,


In 2016, in another step to recovering what was lost under previous regimes, the Wrexham Supporters Trust obtained a 99-year lease on The Racecourse, which then allowed further income streams to be brought in to play, such as holding concerts on the famous turf. However, the main on the field aim, to get promoted back into the Football League continued to be elusive and caused a lot of friction with some of the fan base, whose sole concern was just that, and constantly accused the Club Board of having ‘no ambition’ when in fact it was lack of funds that was the main issue. Anything can be achieved with money!


To get out of the National League costs around £8-10 million on average, we couldn’t afford that, so Wrexham AFC continued to do its best to challenge, but almost inevitably fell short as a continued steam of financially backed teams finished ahead of us. Having that extra cash invariably attracts better players, managers, and staff. We always recognised that Wrexham AFC is the quintessential ‘Sleeping Giant’, but without the inward investment, there was a glass ceiling preventing us moving up.


The solution was obvious, to move on up, we needed to either share the Club with outside investors, or, as most investors would want, surrender control for that investment. There had been numerous previous attempts to get hold of the Club, most of which were either chancers\spoof offers, or were exactly the same type of characters as the asset stripper era, only wanting to take, with very little benefit to the Club. Finally, we were extremely fortunate to find owners who shared our ethics and gave us a chance of success.

Little did we know exactly what the future was, but as we did, at the time, you have to take a step in to the dark and have hope.


Coming Soon – The Future?

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