Merthyr Tydfil: Footballing Martyrs living on the brink of extinction

A few days before England coasted to victory against Slovakia in World Cup qualification, Cardiff City cruised to a 3-0 mid-season friendly against Merthyr Tydfil. But while the result may have been meaningless, the match itself wasn’t as the British Gas Business club needed every last penny from the game to ensure their survival.

The £4,500 raised from the friendly between the two Welsh clubs will come in useful but will barely make a dent in the £350,000 total debt which threatens the Martyrs’ existence and could see a football club fold in Merthyr for the second time in the last century.

The losses creep up

Merthyr’s financial problems aren’t quite the same as, say, Leigh Genesis, who wildly overspent chasing the footballing dream, or Northwich, who’ve suffered mismanagement after mismanagement. Rather the level of debt, which has always been there, has been allowed to rise unchecked and take the club to the brink. Accounts for the club haven’t been submitted until 2006.

At the start of the season the Martyrs faced a winding up order from HM Revenue and Customs over a unpaid £20,000 tax bill. This was staved off and, after a poor start to the season, Merthyr started challenging at the top of the British Gas Business Premier and, at one stage, looked like one of the favourites for promotion.

But since the scale of the financial crisis at Penydarren Park started to unravel, Merthyr have slumped off the pitch. Since their 2-1 win at home to Yate Town on January 24th, the Martyrs have won just once and have slipped from the playoffs to 11th in the table. A good run at the end of the season could see the Welsh valleys club back in the promotion frame, but this seems unlikely.

At the start of March the electricity and water were cut off from Penydarren Park as, ironically, one of Merthyr’s major creditors is league sponsors British Gas who are owed £25,000. At one point there was a very real fear that the home match against Clevedon on March 9th couldn’t go ahead because there was no power around the ground.

The fixture was saved, along with the inevitable fine and points deduction a cancellation would have brought, after the club installed a temporary generator. Should Merthyr survive to the end of the season, it’s likely that generator will continue to power their subsequent home games.

Boardroom battles

Merthyr’s current woes haven’t been helped by an ongoing boardroom battle between the club’s chairman, Wyn Holloway, and the Supporters’ Trust, Martyrs to the Cause. The Trust had been paying assorted bills for several years but decided at the start of the season that, with no real return and the financial situation not improving, that they wanted more of a return for their cash.

At the start of the season, the Trust offered to increase their shares from 25% to 51%, taking overall control of the club. Holloway rejected this and a standoff emerged. The Trust wanted Methyr to take their cue from the likes of AFC Telford, a fan-owned club formed after the original Telford United went bust. The board, however, had different ideas and what has followed has been a war of words with neither side prepared to deal with the other.

Holloway says he has put around £800,000 into the club over the past ten years but, with the debts mounting, is unable to significantly inject any more funds into the ailing club. The Trust, meanwhile, is reluctant to give the club cash while the current regime is in charge, and all the time the situation at Merthyr gets even more desperate.

At the start of the month the Trust once again repeated their August offer to take control of the club and tackle the sizeable debt, although no progress appears to have been made between the two parties.

In the meantime, the Martyrs have resorted to every measure they can to raise cash for the club. While the traditional bucket-rattling forms part of this, the friendly against Cardiff City was expected to form a significant part of the fundraising effort.

Dave Jones, the Cardiff manager, generously agreed to take a squad to Merthyr during the international break to play a fund-raising game. While the Bluebirds side didn’t include the Welsh stars on international duty, they still brought a strong line-up including club captain Darren Purse, Peter Whittingham, and Stephen McPhail along with a couple of trialists.

Yet the £10,000 target from the match always seemed optimistic, and while over 2,000 turned out to watch the game, the total fell seriously short of what the club had hoped for.

There is talk of a second friendly against Swansea but, for the time being, Methyr, it seems, will continue to live a hand-to-mouth existence, assuming they manage to survive the season. Liquidation could bring a new set of problems, given that the Martyrs are a Welsh club playing in the English pyramid.

And if Merthyr Tydfil FC do fold, it won’t be the first time the town has lost its football club. Merthyr Town FC spent ten years in the Football League between 1920 and 1930 before being voted out in favour of Thames. Four seasons later the club folded. It would be a shame if the current club goes the same way.

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