A new deal to clear £1.2m of old debt and secure around £600,000 in new working capital for Accrington Stanley FC has been agreed with fast growing local company What More UK Ltd.
Engineered by What More’s founder Andy Holt and Accrington Stanley officials, the deal was finalised at a meeting of the club’s shareholders. It puts the iconic club on a secure financial footing for the first time in many years, enabling it to plan for the future.
Founded in Accrington in 1999 and now based at a modern manufacturing and distribution facility just down the road at Altham, What More UK is a leading supplier of plastic housewares, storage boxes, gardening, DIY and metal bakeware products.
With more than 650 product lines, most sold under the household ‘Wham’ brand, it supplies retailers throughout the UK, exports to around 65 countries and holds the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade.
Employing more than 220 people, the What More group of companies has an annual turnover of around £55m. Its involvement with Accrington Stanley – a founder of the Football League – began earlier this year when What More became the club’s new stadium sponsor.
That separate pre-season deal, itself worth £200,000 to the club, saw its home ground renamed the Wham Stadium. What More also brought in a key partner company, PlasticBoxShop – which retails Wham brand products online – to become Stanley’s new shirt sponsor as part of the same deal.
It brought What More’s founder and Accrington Stanley fan Andy Holt closer to the club and more acutely aware of its financial situation.
“Football’s a strange business,” he said. “While the top flight clubs deal in hundreds of millions, those in the lower leagues often struggle for financial survival on an almost daily basis, relying on the loyalty of their fans and goodwill of their investors and shareholders.
“Part of me wanted to remain just a fan, but the businessman in me wanted to get involved and do whatever I could to help. My business is based in Hyndburn, with Accrington at its heart, and the borough has nourished its growth over the past 16 years, so I’m happy to put something back.”
Under the new investment deal, which is subject to approval by the Football League, £1.2m. in debt owed by the club will be cleared using capital invested by What More UK and newly issued shares in the club
Andy Holt will personally take over a debt of almost £480,000 owed by the club and exchange half of it for shares worth less than the cash equivalent. Although complex, the end result of the refinancing deal means that Andy Holt and his company together hold more than three-quarters of the total shares in Accrington Stanley, making him the majority shareholder.
At his appointment as a director, he stressed that ownership of the club was not the issue.
“Let’s be clear,” he said. “Whatever individual, company or other entity owns the club is largely irrelevant, because this isn’t a business venture. Has anyone ever made a profit out of Accrington Stanley? In 50 years I will be dust blowing in the wind – hopefully our input will mean the club is not!
“It’s about custodianship of the club, and I am just the latest in a long line of custodians who have kept Accrington Stanley afloat over the years. All that really matters is that the club keeps going now and into the future, and I will be doing my level best on the business side of things to make sure that happens.”
Others at the club have welcomed the new deal, including chairman Peter Marsden, who said: “In my opinion the new relationship with Andy Holt and the What More group of companies is the best thing to happen to the club for many a year and we look forward to working with Andy and embracing new ideas.
“I am confident that this iconic club can be taken to another level, both on and off the pitch, and be a source of pride for everyone involved with the club, for the fans and the wider community. It is the ultimate good news story for football and Accrington Stanley fans, wherever they are around the world, should be delighted.”
Manager John Coleman commented: “There are exciting times ahead whether you are a member of staff, a player or a fan, there really couldn’t be a better time to be at Accrington Stanley!
“The club will finally see itself on an even keel, with the opportunity to progress. Although we won’t see an immediate increase in the budget, the stability that will be brought to club will improve things dramatically.”
Former chairman and long-time investor Ilyas Khan added: “Andy’s investment into the club is designed to ensure that the maximum amount of funds flows into the club and not into repaying debt. His generosity dwarfs anything that anyone else has ever done, certainly far more than I was able to do for the club, and for that I am extremely grateful.”
Looking ahead, Mr Holt said he did have plans for further investment, particularly around improvements to the club’s facilities, but it was too early to go into detail.
“What I won’t do is over-promise and under-deliver for the club, but whatever I do it won’t be half-hearted. I thought long and hard about this deal, but now it’s happened I will give 100% to the club, just like John Coleman and his team are doing on the pitch.”
Andy Holt and What More UK were advised by Farleys Solicitors.
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