Major investment deal looms for cash-strapped Accrington Stanley

By Lancashire Business View

26 Oct 2015

Dynamic and fast growing Lancashire business What More UK is on the brink of a major new investment deal with its local football club, Accrington Stanley.

If it goes ahead the deal will clear around £1.2m in debt for the historic club and provide additional working capital of around £600,000 to make it more sustainable going forward. It will put the club on a firm financial footing for the first time in years.

Shareholders are being urged to attend a general meeting called for this Wednesday, October 28, and taking place at the club's Sports Bar, in Livingstone Road, from 7pm. On the agenda is a proposal which would see What More UK's founder and Accrington Stanley fan Andy Holt take over a debt of almost £480,000 owed by the club, while his company would pump in more than £580,000 to pay off other creditors, with further investment to follow.

If the complex proposal is approved Holt would also be appointed a director of the club, as he and his company would between them hold more than three-quarters of its total shares, giving him a controlling interest. It would enable Holt and his team to apply their considerable business acumen to helping make Accrington Stanley FC a successful business going forward.

So who is Andy Holt?

Born and raised locally, he comes from a humble working class background, but is the man behind one of the region's biggest business success stories of recent years. And while the hard-grafting and plain-speaking businessman prefers to stay in the factory and out of the limelight, his companies are already well known to Stanley fans.

Founded in Huncoat just 16 years ago, What More UK manufactures and distributes a huge range of plastic housewares, storage solutions and other products, most sold under the trusted 'Wham' brand.

Earlier this year it became Accrington Stanley's stadium sponsor in a separate deal worth £200,000 to the club, and which saw its ground renamed the Wham Stadium. Another of Holt's business interests is PlasticBoxShop, the UK's leading online retailer of plastic storage boxes, which became Stanley's new shirt sponsor as part of the same pre-season finance deal.

What More UK is now based at a state-of-the-art 500,000 sq ft manufacturing and distribution facility at Altham, exporting its Wham brand products to more than 60 countries worldwide and with an annual group turnover of around £55m.

Despite his companies' previous commitment to the club, Holt's own Accrington Stanley replica shirt reads 'Just a Fan' on the back, but those sponsorship deals brought him closer to the business that is the bedrock of the football club.

"I knew the club needed help financially, but it wasn't until I saw the books that I realised how much it would take," said Holt.

"I kept telling myself I just wanted to be a fan, but the truth is I couldn't walk on by and not try to help. If this proposal goes through on Wednesday, it will make me the major shareholder. I don't want to run every aspect of the club, but I do want to offer whatever help and support I can on the business side of things.

"My first priority would be to clean up the balance sheet and tackle all the club's old debt and creditors, to get Accrington Stanley back on a sound financial footing. Next I would forge a board of directors to take the club forward, building on that footing to achieve tangible improvements for the club, the town and the fans.

"All lower league clubs have similar problems, with lower revenues and struggling with finance, but what kills them is high debt. Stanley is known as 'the club that wouldn't die' and the fact that it hasn't is a credit to those currently and previously involved in the club, and who have backed it financially.

"People like Eric Whalley, Ilyas Khan, Peter Marsden and the other directors there now have backed the club to the hilt. What attracted me to getting involved was their integrity and commitment to the club, matched on the field by John Coleman and his team. All the staff there are Accrington Stanley to the core and they are people I know I can work with."

Holt added: "Everyone connected with Stanley is rightly proud of its heritage as a founder of the Football League and I want to do whatever I can to help secure its place in the future. My business is based in Hyndburn, which has supported and nourished its growth, so I am happy to put something back into the area through its football team." Speaking of Wednesday's meeting, Holt said: "It's important to everyone at the club to be open and let all the fans - not just the shareholders - know exactly what's going on. We're not doing anything behind closed doors."

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