Where do you see Northampton Town FC in five years’ time? What is the plan, on and off the field, for the football club?
The Supporters Trust is asking these questions of owner David Bower and chairman Kelvin Thomas, in the hope that the answers can provide Cobblers fans with clear reassurance as to how the club will be placed on a progressive footing.
For far too long, going back to the ill-fated David Cardoza era but now into the sixth year of the current ownership, the club has played second fiddle to the distracting land development issues that literally surround it.
Meanwhile, club debt owed to the owners has increased to around £6 million. In this period there has been no issue of new shares for cash subscription and no conversion of debt to equity in satisfaction of the debt, or part of it, which has been a feature of owner funding at many other clubs.
These debts are recorded as loans to the club and could be repayable to the owners’ corporate entities on demand. They are not gifts or grants. We would be interested to learn whether these obligations of the company will remain, increase, be paid back or be called in and, if the latter, under what circumstances.
This is a key question as it will confirm, or otherwise, whether the club will remain a going concern for the foreseeable future and it lies at the heart of the Trust’s mission to safeguard the future of a professional football club in Northampton.
The club is now progressing its negotiations with the recently-created West Northamptonshire Council about wider land development at Sixfields and the Trust has publicly stated it will fully support a deal which ensures the development of the stadium and ongoing future revenue benefit to the club.
We want to see a financial plan for the redevelopment of the land that demonstrates in detail how the club will benefit from it, how the club can be placed on a sustainable financial footing and how the debt to the owners will be addressed.
Should there not have been an investment benefit (which was not forthcoming) in the aftermath of the sale of the club in 2017, in what the Trust’s board understands to have been a 100 per cent takeover of Northampton Town Ventures Ltd by the Chinese company 5U Sport - in two stages, 60 per cent in June and 40 per cent in September of that year?
No proceeds of that sale have ever been recorded in the accounts of the club’s holding company, Northampton Town Ventures Ltd by way, for example, of a shares subscription by the Chinese and nothing appears in the accounts of its controlling company at the date of the sale, Fantastical Ltd.
However, since the sale took place, Fantastical Ltd has been replaced by the offshore company registered in the British Virgin Islands, Belle de Jour Ltd, as the majority shareholder of the holding company and the indebtedness of the club to the owners’ corporate vehicles has risen year by year to more than £6 million, according to the latest published accounts.
The results of our recent Football Conversation survey strongly endorsed the need for an urgent review and overhaul of the club's infrastructure. Supporters are tired of looking at the unfinished East Stand which sits there as a monument to failure.
We have always been of the view that equal or greater impetus should be given to improving other areas of the stadium.
Interestingly, football finance expert Kieran Maguire, in his recent podcast with It’s All Cobblers To Me, endorsed that viewpoint and we are encouraged that some thought is now being given to improving training facilities, integrating the Academy more fully into thinking around a club identity and taking a new look at recruitment, which for too long has been the club’s Achilles’ heel.
Maguire even echoed the idea that the athletics track land could be perfect for an income-generating community sports facility.
These and other improvements were suggested by the Trust at a public meeting two years ago and we are pleased that they have now finally been accepted as being potentially viable.
And we are excited by plans brought forward by a group of supporters exploring the creation of a new Hotel End terrace within an expanded North Stand, alongside a fans' village showcasing local producers, brewers and musicians.
We see great benefit in a plan which provides a safe return to terracing for those who want to stand, an improved matchday experience for supporters generally and, not least, a clear opportunity for the club to explore increasing its commercial turnover still further.
This would provide the ability to attract younger fans to the club, especially many who follow and may now feel disenfranchised by the recent behaviour of the Big Six clubs.
There has been a failure over many years to attract new supporters to the club and this during a period when the population of Northampton, which has a very large catchment area, has been growing year by year.
The South Stand would also benefit from an expansion plan, certainly if the club is serious about stopping Cobblers teams yo-yoing between tiers three and four with the aim of consolidating in League One and aspiring to join the Championship.
The away end capacity should in time be increased to accommodate visiting supporters from clubs at the higher levels who take more than 1,000 fans on their travels.
We hope the club will listen and approach any ideas and plans brought forward in a positive manner.
The events of recent weeks, indeed the last Covid-affected year, have proved beyond any doubt that football is nothing without fans. But then again we have known that all along.
For too many club owners though, the fact that fans at this level of the football pyramid contribute the lion’s share of the club’s income - be it through ticket sales, the club shop, catering outlets, iFollow, sponsorship (after all most sponsors are also fans) – is often forgotten.
Owners are the custodians of the club, the fans more or less are there for life. This has recently been explicitly acknowledged by the chairman, who referred to the owners’ fiduciary responsibilities.
In our view, this must always remain a guiding principle. Northampton Town is our football club. It belongs to the fans, to the Northampton community. We want it to succeed and we want it to progress in the right manner, on and off the field.
So where do you see our football club in 2026? Where is the detailed plan? And how can we help play our part?