FROM THE WOKING NEWS & MAIL
12:00am, Thu 21st Jun 2007
INGRAM: IT?S THE BUILDING OR BUST
Chris ingram: No more cheques
CHRIS Ingram lit the fuse on a 10-month time bomb this week as he issued a stark warning to councillors and the people of Woking by saying: ?Back my development plans or watch the town?s football club tumble into the Ryman League.?
The Cards? owner will place Woking Football Club into administration at the end of the coming season, next April.
That is unless planning permission is granted to build banqueting/conference facilities, flats, or other potential revenue schemes at Kingfield Stadium ? or a new buyer takes control.
Without permission to build ? and in the absence of an alternative backer ? the club will be finished as a full-time professional outfit, with Ingram finally coming to the end of his tether having ploughed in excess of ?3m into the club since saving it from oblivion in 2001.
Councillors meet with Ingram at the end of next month for a crucial preliminary discussion on the club?s proposals, even though no application has yet been submitted.
If formal backing is not given at that time, the writing is on the wall for The Cards who continue to run with annual losses of around ?500,000 ? with Ingram footing the bill in addition to his shareholding commitment.
?It?s serious and the club is at a crossroads,? he exclusively told News and Mail Sport. ?The situation has drifted and I?ve allowed myself to prop it up because of the development plans.
?I saved the club six years ago and in 2004 I gave it three years notice that the tap would go off if the club hadn?t become financially viable.
?That?s something I?ve always wanted, for the club to get away from reliance on one sponsor.
?Because the league has become so competitive just to survive, that hasn?t happened.
?So I have signed up for another season of financial support but if the plans aren?t agreed it can only be hoped a buyer comes forward.
?Otherwise the situation is not remotely sustainable and the club will go into administration on the last day of next season, drop two leagues, and start the following season with a 10-point deduction.?
The same fate as Farnborough Town could therefore befall Woking in 10 months ? albeit on a much larger scale given the amount of full-time employees at Kingfield who would lose their jobs ? but Ingram is no longer prepared to shore up massive debts indefinitely.
?Although I?ve slightly reduced the budget for next season, I?ve spent more money in the past 12 months than ever,? he added. ?Just developing the plans has cost me ?500,000 and it hasn?t ended yet. I think I?ve been more than generous, given what has happened to other clubs. A lot of the money I?ve put in has gone in as loans but if the whole thing folds then that?s irrelevant.?
Ingram, who became club chairman again at the end of last season, wants to stress that a very different owner could be in charge at Kingfield and he admitted his continued goodwill has been tested.
?I have had two potential buyers knock on my door but they turned out to be property developers in disguise,? he said.
?I considered it my responsibility to listen. But having later done all the checks on them it turned out they were asset strippers who could have looked at the club?s recent record, acted as a bully, and kicked everyone out of the ground.
?I wasn?t prepared to let that happen. Of course the council have a charge over Kingfield because of the Leslie Gosden Stand. But if someone wanted to pay off the ?1.7m and develop the site, that sum would be small fry compared to the potential return.
?I?ve taken a huge gamble on the basis we will get the best deal for the club. Now the council and the town have to ask ?do we want a football club with a future and ambition?? Or do they want it to go the same way as Guildford City and many others since.?
With a thriving youth academy and involvement in around 12 initiatives as part of the Woking Football in the Community scheme, Ingram believes Woking FC does a lot of work to the town?s benefit and admits a fault of the club has been not shouting that from the rooftops.
In addition, away from football, Ingram has shown his personal commitment to the borough in other ways.
The Lightbox will open in September with a first class collection of his art and sculpture, loaned free of charge, while he has made a substantial donation towards the running costs.
Chief executive of the council, Ray Morgan, who has just been awarded an OBE in the Queen?s Birthday Honours, commented: ?The council policy has been, since the early 1990s when it invested more than ?1.6m in improved facilities at the club and committed itself to further enhancements should it get to the Football League, to secure the playing of football at Kingfield.
?Officers are currently in discussion with the football club about the development opportunities at the Kingfield site that could secure its financial future.
?The report, which will discuss the future of the site, will be considered by the executive at its meeting on July 26.?
Derek McCrum, councillor for Kingfield and Westfield added: ?I support the success of the football club. And I personally would be devastated if it folded because so many people in the town support it.
First printed in: Woking News and Mail
by Clive Youlton