Weymouth look to end the months of Terra

There very few teams that would view a two-nil defeat away at York City as a cause for celebration but Weymouth will view this as progress of sorts. A week ago, the crisis club were forced to field a youth team and were hammered 9-0 at home to Rushden and Diamonds.

With the majority of Terras players leaving the club last week after going two months unpaid, manager Alan Lewer (who also hasn’t been paid for three months) put together a side made up of kids and loanees plus a few senior players who hadn’t found new clubs. Looking at the task ahead of them, a small loss to York was no bad thing.

But, just as importantly, it seems the financially stricken club have found a buyer to stave off the threat of administration for the time being. Against the odds, it seems Weymouth have managed to survive.

A near-permanent state of crisis

Since their promotion to the Conference in 2006, Weymouth’s time has been anything but dull. The first half of their first season looked as if could bring back to back promotions but with the Terras sitting nicely in a playoff position then chairman Martyn Harrison announced the cash had run out and the entire first team squad would be placed on the transfer list.

Since then, Weymouth have lurched from owner to owner and financial crisis to crisis. After appearing to stabilise somewhat under Mel Bush’s ownership, the last chairman – Malcolm Curtis – has driven the club to the brink of administration and nearly even liquidation.

In fairness to Curtis, the problems have been stacking up for a long time at the Wessex stadium, where Weymouth have called home since 1987. Because of the way the out-of-town stadium was developed, there is little in the way of additional matchday income that is so vital for clubs at this level. The site and the surrounding area are prime for development and ASDA had been interested but nothing has ever come of the assorted plans. Nonetheless, with the stadium needing work on it, the site is worth something to developers.

When Daily Mail journalist and lifelong Weymouth fan Ian Ridley took over the club in 2003 the club had spent several years yo-yoing between the Southern Premier and Division One and were very much treading water. Ridley installed Steve Claridge as manager and the club began to climb up the table with a talented but expensive squad.

Ridley and Claridge were then forced out by Harrison at the end of the season and, after a wobble that saw the next manager, Steve Johnson, sacked, Garry Hill was installed as manager, Weymouth went full-time, and the Terras fired their way to the Southern League title (albeit with a little help after title rivals Hornchurch collapsed with heavy debts).

But the promotion came with a cost. Harrison had spent heavily chasing promotion and were in debt by several hundreds of thousands of pounds when the arrived in the Conference. Added to this, Harrison had put the club in the hands of his hotel company and when the losses stacked up and the hotel business struggled the house of cards came crashing down.

Since then, Weymouth have gone from promotion hopefuls to cash-strapped also runs. Last season the Terras only avoided relegation on the last day after former Chelsea manager John Hollins masterminded their escape.

But Hollins is gone this season – placed on gardening leave then sacked after Malcom Curtis claimed he approached another club about a vacancy without permission. Since then, the experienced Lewer has guided the cash-strapped Weymouth to a series of great results that have seen them sit comfortably in mid-table for most of the season.

But the on the pitch positivity has been firmly offset by the ongoing crisis on the south coast. The debts have increased to around £300,000 while it’s said around 2,500 Weymouth fans are needed through the gates each home just to break even, which is a large ask for any club at non-league level.

Meanwhile Curtis has transfered ownership of the land surrounding the Wessex Stadium to a third party company – the Wessex Delivery Partnership – which is owned by a construction company. Bills have gone unpaid along with player and staff wages. February has seen the club literally taken to the brink.

A desperate month

The last month has seen more last minute deals one and falling through than the Weymouth fans would have believed. With wages going unpaid, the players served notice to quit the club unless wages were forthcoming. Meanwhile, as the debts stacked up, desperate measures were made to save the club.

At first it looked as though a bid from local businessmen Lee Power and Colin Hill – a pair formerly involved at Rushden – but this collapsed at the 11th hour for a variety of reasons, with the inability to buy back the land around the stadium one of the key reasons.

With no sign of a saviour, the Terras issued a million shares at 50p each in order to raise enough cash to keep the club going until the end of the season. Meanwhile, the Save Our Club website has been running for several months as well where fans from all clubs can donate to keep Weymouth afloat.

Last week came what looked to be the end of the road. With no cash left for insurance payments, and with most of the senior squad on the verge of securing moves to other clubs, Weymouth were forced to field a team made up largely of teenagers with little or no first team experience.

It was literally men against boys as Rushden took apart the Terras 9-0. But for a series of saves from young keeper Joe Prodomo, it could have been more. Mindful of the performance, the fans gave the teenagers a standing ovation as they made their way off the pitch.

But the last seven days have seen somewhat of a turnaround, although any form of positive news could have been described as such. Despite the departure of several key players including Kevin Sandwidth, Chris McPhee, Lee Phillips and Santos Gaia, manager Alan Lewer was able to cobble together a squad of loanees and youngsters to play York, where they didn’t disgrace themselves.

Raising a glass to Beer

And towards the end of the week, news broke that there were three parties interested in taking over the crisis club. One was a bid from a group of former directors led by Ridley, another was a consortium of nine local businessmen. The third comes from Dorset businessman Stephen Beer, an occasional fan and this is the one that has been accepted by chief executive Gary Calder.

Beer is reportedly offering to pay the £300,000 the club needs to clear the debts but what happens from here is anybody’s guess. Little is known about Weymouth’s latest white knight and while fans are welcoming, they’re understandably cautious. This is, after all, a team that has had its fair share of less than perfect owners over recent years.

It’s not actually clear if Beer is planning to take over the club or just provided a cash injection. In either case, both will at least give the Terras some breathing space.

For the time being, it appears administration, and with it a ten point penalty and probably relegation, has been averted. The club should make it to the end of the season, but in what state they’ll be in is unclear.

Weymouth currently sit nine points above the relegation zone and, with a young inexperienced team, it’s likely they’ll be in the bottom four come May. With the team expected to be whipping boys for the division, Weymouth could have an influence on the promotion and relegation battles. Just not in the way they’d have liked to.

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