Nuneaton Borough: Ownership mystery puts club on the brink

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Nuneaton Borough fan offers £500 as club faces financial crisis

Cold showers. Broken lawnmowers. Power cuts during team-talks.

These are just some of the challenges facing Nuneaton Borough of National League North.

With manager Nicky Eaden warning that players and staff are unlikely to be paid their wages at the end of the month, the Liberty Way club are teetering on the brink of going out of business.

"Basically, the club has run out of money," Eaden told BBC Sport.

"We have been left to our own devices with the promise that someone is going to come in and sort things out and there are going to be new owners."

A supporters' co-operative is keen to get involved and help save the club along with local businesses, while the town's MP has urged the community to show their backing - but the club are turning down donations.

The crux of the problem facing Nuneaton is one of ownership.

Who owns Nuneaton Borough?

Lee Thorn took control of Nuneaton in 2014 but has told the BBC that he has not been involved in the club since June and no longer owns Boro Leisure Limited, the holding company of the club.

Documents lodged at Companies House show Thorn ceased to be a director or a person with significant control on 1 August. No other directors or shareholders are listed.

Norman Smurthwaite, owner and chairman of League Two club Port Vale, bought Nuneaton's ground from Thorn earlier this year.

He is currently acting as "a facilitator" to help find new owners for Boro Leisure Ltd but under English Football League and National League rules regarding dual interest he cannot take ownership of Nuneaton himself.

The EFL says Smurthwaite provided it with a series of undertakings when he received approval from the EFL board to acquire the freehold to Liberty Way.

Port Vale owner Norman Smurthwaite attends a match
Port Vale owner Norman Smurthwaite bought Nuneaton Borough's ground in June this year

"This was to ensure that he was acting purely as a landlord and none of the current regulatory protections were contravened," an EFL spokesman said.

Smurthwaite said he purchased the stadium to provide "a lifeline" to Nuneaton, and that the coming days are "the most critical time" the club has ever faced.

Should Boro leave the National League and drop down to step five of the non-league pyramid - the equivalent of three relegations - theoretically Smurthwaite would be able to take a controlling share in the club.

But he has told the BBC he has never had any intention of owning Nuneaton, and is just trying to help the club survive.

The National League say they are monitoring the situation.

Fan takeover stalling

With ownership unclear, the attempts of fans to rally and keep the club going through the Nuneaton Borough Supporters' Co-operative (NBSC), have been fruitless so far.

"We can raise money through community shares to become owners of the club," Mark Axon, acting chair of the NBSC, told BBC Coventry & Warwickshire.

"But for us to do that we need to complete due diligence and understand the finances of the club, because we don't want our fans to part with hard-earned cash and not understand what they are getting themselves in for.

"We need to know who the owner is so we can agree with them to complete due diligence.

"The main issue is trying to work out the ownership situation so new owners and potential investors can come on board."

As there is effectively no-one claiming ownership, the supporters are at an impasse. If the club go out of business, forming a phoenix club may prove to be their best option, as they did 10 years ago when the former incarnation of Nuneaton Borough were liquidated before reforming as Nuneaton Town.

Marcus Jones, the MP for Nuneaton since 2010, says he is "really concerned" by the current situation the club, who changed their name back to Borough in the summer, are facing.

"If we don't have a club in the town then it rips the heart out of the community," Jones said.

"It is beholden on people - including myself - to get up to Liberty Way and support the team over the next few weeks and hopefully we will buy time for somebody to come in."

What next?

The club are calling on fans to attend Saturday's league game against Bradford (Park Avenue) as they look to stay afloat.

Nuneaton hosted Burton Albion in the Birmingham Senior Cup on Tuesday, and the Championship club allowed Boro to keep all the gate receipts.

That has provided some funds towards paying the players and staff their wages at the end of the month.

But if wages are not paid in full and the squad have not received them a fortnight thereafter, they would then be free to leave the club under what is essentially a breach of contract.

Nicky Eaden during his time coaching at Chesterfield
Nicky Eaden was appointed Nuneaton Borough boss this summer

Boro are 20th, one point from safety, heading into this weekend's match and former Barnsley and Wigan defender Eaden is keen to keep battling on.

"You've got to be hopeful because if you thought there was no hope you'd say 'Listen lads, let's just pack up and go'," the 45-year-old said.

"Football always throws things up.

"Nobody likes to see clubs go under, especially not mid-season. You generally do get someone riding to the rescue so it's not a lost cause by any means."

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