Can we have a club for Christmas?

by Gavin Caney

Friday, December 25th, 2009

The lists have been made, the hints have been dropped but again we’re all hoping that we don’t get another pair of socks for Christmas. Some of us want the smallest things – a CD or DVD – while many (usually women) want the finest jewellery that money can buy. Others, like the fans of King’s Lynn FC, just want their club back.

Norfolk’s second biggest club were officially wound up by the High Court over an unpaid tax bill of £67,000 in late November. After 130 proud years The Linnets, often described as a ‘sleeping giant’ of the Non-League game, no longer ceased to exist.  Just over three years ago the club hosted Oldham in front of the Sky camera’s at The Walks in front of a crowd of 5,400. The F.A Cup created a buzz and financial safety. Where did all that money go? How did it end up like this? Many fans will never know.

Fans do know however that they were kept in the dark. After surviving their first season in the Blue Square North, King’s Lynn were demoted due to ground requirements. Having visted countless Non-League holes over the years I can assure you that The Walks is like Wembley compared to many. Yet, promises were made, and not kept. Players left, Keith Webb the manager left and not for the first time in my 22-years on planet earth the future looked bleak for my local Non-League side.

Carl Heggs, a much-travelled striker who has played for West Brom amongst others, rode into town. Based in the Midlands, he built the club from scratch on a significantly smaller budget than usually seen at Lynn. Long gone were the days of ex-pro’s such as Julian Joachim coming for one final pay day. Heggs wanted young and hungry players, many of whom had been released from professional clubs, to re-build their careers, starting at The Walks.

After a dreadful start, Heggs turned Lynn into a fantastic side that scored goals for fun, and were challenging for top spot in the Unibond Premier League. Boxing Day should have seen a local derby with fierce rivals Boston United, had we known how bad the problems were.

Instead of coming out in the press and admitting mistakes had been made, the board relied on ‘verbal agreements’ regarding the payment of said tax bill. With ego’s at stake, those running the club forgot the most important part of it, the supporters. With the highest average attendance in the league you would expect enough money raised through the gates to operate on. Some clubs at Lynn’s level survive on attendances around the 200 mark. Fans continued to pour through the gates believing the club were heading back to where they belong. Little did they know the dream was about to disappear.

The bombshell hit when the current board, led by Ken Bobbins and Michael Chinn, admitted they were struggling to meet the tax bill. It was all too late. No chance for fundraising, help from other clubs, appeals in the Non-League paper, nothing. Lynn died in front of our very eyes in a matter of days.

It shouldn’t have happened, but it has. Clubs have gone to the wall, moved location and been purchased by Americans intent on heaping debt on once proud sides now called global brands. Other clubs will go. People get blamed, mistakes are made, but as we reach the time of festive joy, there is genuine hope for the future.

Lynn’s ground was owned by the West Norfolk Council. This meant it could not be sold and will remain for a future club that is certain to rise from the ashes. A new side can start two rungs lower and has four current options willing to run it.

David Handley, a former member of the board who fell out spectacularly with Chinn, Bobbins and Co’, has pledged £1million to set-up and run a new club. Many have doubts especially after financial promises for countless years. He has however said: “I can understand why people might be wary but I can promise you I wouldn’t make the same mistakes as the previous board. Trust has to be earned and you have to be given the chance to earn that. All I can do is show the council what assets I have got and what my plans are and if they make me their choice then I can prove it to the fans as we go along.”

Fans who are desperate for the club to reform would treat any saviour like a God. Local speedway chief Buster Chapman has thrown his hat into the ring, giving a further soul investor. Yet, it’s the latter two options that are causing a stir in the local area.

A local consortium is one thing, with many members evidently keen to share the financial weight. Local people, more money and a real sense of what the fans want. Yet, the group that is attracting all the interest is the Blue and Gold Trust, made up only of fans.

The brave initiative hopes to see the B&G Trust run the club itself. A club for the fans, run by the fans. It has worked before in certain senses with Ebbsfleet United and FC United. Could it work again? Will fans hearts rule their heads? One thing is for certain, they love the club and will do everything they can to make sure football remains in King’s Lynn.

King’s Lynn is a town that needs a football club. Many, like myself, have grown up following professional clubs, but adopted Lynn as a ‘second’ side, bordering a joint first. Few can doubt the pride felt in your local side doing well. As we enter the festive season of fixtures, spare a thought for those of us who won’t be watching games this Boxing Day. However bad things get, at least you have a club. And maybe, if Santa delivers what we are looking for – we’ll have one again this time next year too.

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