On Tuesday 10 December 2002, the Evening Post, as the Bristol Post used to be known when it was still a serious newspaper, had a front page to strike terror into the hearts of Bristol Rovers fans: ‘Rovers at the point of no return.’ The club was losing £20,000 a week and was struggling to repay a £2 million loan. Supporters were asked to help the club financially in exchange for shares. Although Rovers survived and has since had a number of different owners, none have run up debts to the level of those by the current owners, the al-Qadi family from Jordan.
The losses for the year ending June 2019 show a trading loss of £4.1 million, which was offset by player sales bringing down the overall figure to a mere £3.4 million. I have looked at the balance sheet on the Companies House website and I can’t pretend I understand much of it, but it does not take a financial expert to work out Rovers were losing circa £80k a week.
Greater minds than mine – which means just about anyone’s mind, to be fair – will be able to make more sense of the current liabilities outstanding but my guess is they are as grim as they appear. And one part sticks out more than any other: ‘The company relies on the support of the al-Qadi family for its day to day funding and funds its working capital through a facility by Diane Sports Ltd, a company owned by the al-Qadi family, that is not repayable from 12 months of these accounts.’ There can be no mistaking what this means. Bristol Rovers is insolvent and is being propped up by a Jordanian family who make their money through investment banking.
Maybe there is less to meet the eye and I am making a mountain out of a molehill, but this sounds pretty worrying. Whilst I have said my love affair with the Rovers is over, I was surprised to find my heart sink when I read this. I am worried for the future of my old club and have discovered, to my great surprise, that I do seem to have some blue and white blood coursing through my veins after all. I actually care.
More than that, I find myself wanting answers. My ignorance of accounting means I can’t follow whether the stadium itself is still regarded as an asset and if it isn’t, who owns it now? I find myself keen to know. What the hell is wrong with me?
It all seems to be bad to be true. My old club losing circa £80k a week with huge and growing debts. The country about to go off an almighty economic cliff as we slide into a deep Covid-19 induced recession, perhaps even another great depression. And football, like everything else in the world, has come to a complete standstill. Yet, I read on and I find this section: ‘Mr H al Qadi has confirmed his intention to maintain support for a period of at least twelve months from the signing of these accounts.’ His intention? That’s almost the answer of a politician. “Are you going to increase tax this year?” “We have no current intention of increasing tax.” “So you won’t be increasing tax this year?” “We have no current intention of increasing tax this year.” I am sure, as an investment banker with a reputation to preserve, Mr H al Qadi is sincere in his intentions. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I? I don’t have access to a crap lawyer never mind the best one money can buy!
There are more important things in life at the moment than football. Football is not a matter of life and death. Covid-19 clearly is. But someday, life will begin again. We’ll be free to go out and we’ll be free to go to the football again. Perhaps, with the discovery that I still have some feelings about Bristol Rovers, I might be there, too. Stranger things have happened, although not many.
One thing is for sure though: I’ll never get active as a supporter. I was one of many who got their fingers burned on numerous occasions in the past. I’d go for a beer, watch the game, go for another beer and go home. But for those who really, really care, who live and breath BRFC, it might just be a good idea to demand answers to the questions that the current set of accounts have raised.
If I was the fanatic I was 18 years ago when Gasheads were told to “invest in the club now – or see it die”, I’d be very worried. Today’s fanatics would do well to be very worried about the state in which the club finds itself today. I’d certainly demand commitments from the owners beyond confirming their “intention to maintain support for a period of at least twelve months.” What about the twelve months after that and the twelve months after that? Is the entire family 100% committed to BRFC? Are there or have there been any efforts to sell the club? What is the attraction to a family of investment bankers to prop up an insolvent football club? Will the ground be sold to pay off some of the debt? All these things and more.
People say owners come and go and fans are here forever. True, unless the club ceases to be. After seeing this set of accounts, isn’t anything possible?
*** A grown up has pointed out to me that the stadium is included as an asset. ***