Lionel Road – Can it be done?

Wednesday, 27 November 2002 | In Focus

Lionel Road - Can it be done?  
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Lionel Road – Can it be done?

It has to be done and where there is a will there is a way.

What will make it possible?

Essentially two things:

– The land is gifted to the community.
– The club gets its finances under control.

1. Why would the SRA gift the land to the community?

(a) Because a monorail terminus at Lionel Road is essential to the transport scheme backed by the council and the local MPs
(b) Because the value of the land is restricted by a potential compulsory purchase order.
(c) Because the terms of reference of the SRA provides that an alternative transport use should take precedence over disposal of the land.

2. How will the club get its finances under control?

A radical restructuring has been underway for a couple of years it will come to fruition at the end of this season with the renegotiation of terms for the last remaining high earners. Virtually all football league clubs are facing financial issues – many in a worse position than Brentford.

Squad sizes need to be paired back to manageable levels- Liverpool finished the 1983-84 season using only 15 players as league champions and with the league cup and European cup in the trophy case.

We are talking about a squad size of 24 at the club for next season – not a skeleton squad by any means. Wages need to be controlled in line with the clubs gates.

Two seasons back the clubs wage bill was 160% of its total turnover. As a rule of thumb the total wages of the players and coaching staff have to be limited in line with the annual gate receipts.

The club needs to bringing in £1million a year in gate receipts anything less should be considered as unacceptable. TV, sponsorship, commercial and other income set the limit of money available for administrative staff and all the other running costs of the club.

The strict financial discipline necessary to contain costs within these budgets has to be exercised by a diligent board on an ongoing basis. This is achievable here at Griffin Park from next season.

The Chairman recently highlighted the fact that the players wage bill has been reduced over the past two seasons to under £1million and will be reduced further at the end of the season – perhaps down to around £600,000 with an average wage of £500 per week for a squad of 24 players.

Senior pros will earn substantially more than this and first year pros still learning their trade will be on less. Other clubs in the lower divisions will have to take the same measures.

That still leaves the problem of the debts that have been built up over the last four years and the £300,000 per year of interest costs on those debts.

That bill can be cut by a £100,000 per year without any loss of income to Altonwood, if Altonwood restructures the financial backing it has in place – Bees United have asked the Chairman to look carefully at this issue.

The remaining interest costs might be covered for a period of time, albeit at a stretch and with a substantially increased membership, by the supporters groups i.e. Bees United and Lifeline.

These measures will allow the club to remain at Griffin Park without any substantial increase in debt while the Lionel Road site is prepared.

On the Chairman's Programme Notes from the Wigan game: "from the last cash flow provided to the board we run out of funds at the end of January and need a further £370,000 to pay our outgoings for the remainder of the season".

The Chairman is right to remind everyone of the immediate financial difficulties facing the club and I would like to comment on how these difficulties may be resolved.

Bees United will provide the club with £150,000 at the end of the year and a director Eddie Rogers has indicated that he may loan a further £50,000.

Better than expected attendances this season and a decent run in the FA Cup and LDV will help to close the gap further, as will the retirement of Oli Gottskalkson and the loan transfer of Ijah Anderson. Bees United will also continue fundraising efforts throughout the season.

The appointment of three Bees United sponsored directors to the board will also help in bringing a fresh look at the costs of running the club.

The projected cash shortfall includes a £60,000 payment to Kingstonian for an option to ground share at that clubs ground next season. This payment may not now be necessary. If the club can get to the end of the season without taking on further borrowings and secure the Lionel road site, things are beginning to look distinctly rosier.

The Chairman also draws attention to the restrictions in the section 106 agreement on the Griffin Park planning consent and specifically to the requirement of having secured an alternative site before Griffin Park is developed. He says that this will mean we will go out of business because we have no means of securing an alternative site.

Procuring finance for a site, if that becomes necessary, on the basis of a planning consent that provides for this very circumstance is not an insurmountable obstacle for a committed board of directors.

Surely the planning consent has been granted to allow the club to achieve its stated aim of relocating to a new stadium in the borough – and not to provide a means for running up the clubs debts until a move to a new stadium becomes unachievable.

The Chairman has called upon the council to remove the restrictions so that Griffin Park can be sold and the club can groundshare at Kingstonian. A recent straw poll on the Griffin Park Grapevine indicated that the gate would drop by half or more at Kingston as surely would the funding from supporters. There would be very little commercial income expected and while there may be some savings in ground maintenance and rates the club would be paying rent.

The surplus proceeds from the sale of Griffin Park would go into trust for a new stadium but how long would this arrangement last with the club clocking up huge losses at Kingston with no way of borrowing to cover them?

A Capital gains tax bill in a range of £3 to £5m would also fall due for payment after three years if the proceeds had not been reinvested in a new stadium by then – effectively killing any remaining prospect of financing a new stadium. The Lionel Road Project is expected to take five years.

While the Chairman may truly believe that Kingston is the only realistic option for the club- to an objective observer it does not represent a viable option. A move to Kingston would be a fatal blunder.

Bees United have made every effort to work with the Chairman and other parties to safeguard the clubs interests. An 8 point plan for recovery was presented to the board of directors in October.

Bees United have followed through with their part in the recovery of the club in raising funds to maintain the club during this season, negotiating a deal with Martin Lange for his shareholding and the golden share he holds and perhaps most importantly bringing the local council on board in the effort to secure Lionel Road.

The board of directors continue to make efforts to get the club into a breakeven position and, it is hoped, will soon be ably assisted in this task by the Bees United treasurer, legal officer and one other independent director.

I remain optimistic, some say naively so and perhaps they will be proved right, that a mutually beneficial working relationship with the Chairman and the Altonwood group, can be established during the period of transition to a new stadium.

No one seems to be sure if the Chairman wants to oversee the move of the club to a new stadium or simply wants to tidy up his financial affairs and pass the reins over to the supporters trust – It may be that he has not come to a decision on this issue yet.

The Chairman may consider that a move to Kingston is the only hope for the club, but the stark reality is that it is not going to happen – the fans are not going with him and Griffin Park will stay as a sporting ground until an alternative ground is secured.

Bees United stand ready to take over stewardship of the club, and negotiate an exit that releases Altonwood and Ron Noades from the guarantees that these parties have in place, with the proviso that the financial arrangements do not jeopardise the future of the club.

If need be, the Society is prepared to finance an administration to ensure that the club continues to play at Griffin Park.

The society is prepared to take on the task of putting the club on the firm financial footing that will allow the new stadium plans to be developed to fruition. Interest costs may go up for a time as a consequence of a refinancing of the clubs debts. This will however, likely be more than outstripped by increases in the value of Griffin Park over the next three years leaving the club in a greatly improved position at the time of sale. There remains an acute shortage of housing in the area and the demand for new housing is expected to mushroom in the next few years.

Closing Remarks

Lionel Road offers, by far, the best prospect for the club to prosper and secure its future.

Parts of Griffin Park have gradually been sold off over the years until now there is only the pitch and the stands left to sell. The club needs to compete both on the field and commercially to attract the gates that will sustain the club in the future.

Kingston offers nothing but a drawn out decline, it is an act of desperation and a final insult to loyal fans that have supported the club through thick and thin, – the triumph of mediocrity over driving ambition and community spirit.

Lionel Road offers a deliverable solution to the clubs problems, a vision for the future, a means to realising the clubs promise, a modern community stadium to be proud of, along with the holy grail of financial stability – nothing more than what long suffering Brentford fans are entitled to expect.

In closing, I urge you to support this campaign and do all you can possibly do to help Bees United secure this site and get through the next few difficult months to the end of this season and beyond.

There is much to be done until we all meet on the terraces of Lionel Road for the inaugural game, all 23,000 of us.

I started by asking the question 'Can it be done' – The answer is yes it can be done and if the supporters want it enough, it will be done.

Thank you all for listening.

J.Bourke

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