Hull City’s 1997 annual general meeting was eventually held on Friday 27th March, 1998 – nearly four months late, so what did another twenty minutes matter as shareholders were belatedly allowed access into Willerby’s Grange Park Hotel? The delay in starting the meeting was evidently caused by an earlier press conference which in turn had been delayed because David Lloyd’s overheads had not arrived from London and hastily had do be drawn up locally. They needn’t really have bothered.
On stage, David Lloyd sat behind a long table with our other director Mr Harrison to his right, a tense looking Mark Hateley immediately to his left before Michael Appleton and finally Brian “Calamity” Calam who has been a wonderful asset to the football club….Bradford, that is. However, there was no sign of the mystery personality Radio Blunderside had promised us six days earlier.
Lloyd came to the floor to open the meeting, telling us he would show us exactly the same overheads as he’d shown the press apart from one which was only relevant to Hull Sharks shareholders.
After all, in Lloyd’s precise words: “Why is rugby relevant to football?” You said it sir! We still appear to be in the dark exactly as to whether City and the Sharks yet come under one banner and the answer seems to be at Mr Lloyd’s convenience. Mr Lloyd immediately took a defensive stance. It quickly became apparent he would be telling us nothing new as his slideshow was simply a case of getting his excuses in early, pre-empting questions over why we are in the mess we are in.
He demonstrated he’d spent £3.3 million on the Tigers, £0.9 milion on the Sharks, including £50,000 on ground improvements at Boothferry and double that at the Boulevard. He projected a loss of over £700,000 for City this year and a profit of £125,000 at the Sharks. He listed the nine players signed by City during his reign, conveniently overlooking the fact they were all free transfers. He closed his opening address by declaring: “I remain fully committed to Hull, but clearly can’t keep losing large sums of money”. Was that you I heard Mr Needler?
And that was it. Nothing of his plans and certainly no vision for the future. It baffles me how he “allegedly” threatens to close the clubs down unless the people back his plans when, even with the ideal opportunity this meeting presented, he fails to let us know exactly what those plans are. Every week when we look at the paper or listen to the radio we are getting a different story. Lloyd didn’t take the opportunity to set the record straight so we were going to have to try to batter some answers out of him. That was to prove very hard work.
One of the first questions went to a now much more relaxed looking Mark Hateley, along the lines of would he have come here if he had any idea of how things were going to turn out? He seized on the opportunity to confirm he was operating under different circumstances at the start of the season and had been promised a lot of money. Promises promises!
In response to questions from the floor David Lloyd admitted that if his spending in Hull reached the £5 million mark he would be wanting out. It doesn’t take a genius with the figures quoted above that that figure could be reached in less than a year.
So what of the plans for a “super stadium”? The “state of the art” stadium might have to be at the Boulevard according to our chairman. You may hope that there was some emphasis on the word “might” in his voice, but no, Mr Lloyd was definitely hinting that this would be were our future lies if he ever managed to shift the supermarket. Later in the meetng he actually said he couldn’t promise a new stadium even if Boothferry Park was sold. The obvious thing to do is redevelop Boothferry Park was the cry from the floor, greeted by rapturous applause and “here heres” reminiscent of the House of Commons. However, a non-starter we were told: we need the cash from the sale of Boothferry to fund a new stadium. They cost £1,000 per seat you know.
Most people would subscribe to the ‘run before we can walk’ approach: we would like a team capable of winning games and bringing back the crowds before we even think of selling up and moving to a bright new home. Why have a ‘super’ stadium if you can’t fill it? And how can you have anything super at the Boulevard….a contradiction in terms if ever there was one.
As Mr Lloyd was accused of failing to invest in the side to try and tap at least some of our huge potential support, he made reference to the opening home game of the season and indeed scoffed at the fact that we only got 7,000 (over 1,000 more than the Sharks got for their home opener). Deliberately missing the point, he conveniently forgot that gate was nearly three times last season’s average and that the previous week’s thrashing at Mansfield had hit home that it was still last season’s rubbish on offer. It was only Mark Hateley who paid testimony to the potential crowds bursting for success.
There was a sense of frustration on the floor as we were gleaning little from David Lloyd who offerered little other than sob stories, quite genuine though they are, about fighting to balance the books and fending off questions about why he hasn’t invested in the squad. The Bosman thing, too many players and all that….
Lloyd in turn was fed up with a line of questioning that seemed to be going round in circles. “You seem to think I’m some mysterious body that will rape you and take all your money,” he protested. Nobody argued. It niggles me though when he says he can’t profit from the sale of Boothferry, it has to go back to sport in Hull. Sport maybe, but there’s never any mention of Hull City…. or even football.
It doesn’t seem to add up somehow. There’s no money left, the squad is as weak as last year, if we can sell Boothferry Park the best we may realistically be hoping for is redevelopment of the Boulevard….
My chosen question was exactly this: Mr Lloyd, why did you come to Hull? You knew from the outset how much it would cost to buy the club, what the debts were, what the weekly losses were, what the crowds were, how big the squad was, what the contract situation was, how low down the league we were (to put it as nicely as possible!)….. so what’s changed? Mr Lloyd threw his shaking head into his hands and said: “I haven’t got any more money”. Not exactly answering the question was it?
So what about the money promised to Mark Hateley? “I didn’t promise Mark Hateley one penny, I wasn’t even a director at the time.” Quite an astonishing response from a man who has just shelled out £3.3 million in buying his own football club. “It was promised by an ex-chairman and that’s why he isn’t here any more.” The Lloyd-Wilby partnership has never been explained. Wilby seemed to be telling us in good faith at the city Hall that David Lloyd was going to do this and David Lloyd was going to do that, before he breezed in as chairman with his entourage of managing directors, commercial directors, executive directors, marketing managers, etc. Come October they’d all gone soon after the appointment of Lloyd’s henchman from his tennis centre days Michael Appleton. The letter to shareholders at the time of the takeover refered to Wilby as an agent acting on behalf of David Lloyd, so how come Lloyd let it get so far out of control?
It was only when answering a later question that Lloyd divulged that his failure to persuade Kwik Save, and so far Sommerfields, to surrender the supermarket lease has put paid to everything he had been working towards. Of course, the feeling amongst everybody is that it would make good business sense to have all these details sorted before splashing out £3.3 million. What is more, it is very worring that Mr Lloyd came to Hull with just one brittle plan and not a single contingency. An ill-thought-out plan A, no plan B and certainly no plan C.
It appears to me David Lloyd has bitten off far more than he can chew. For many the AGM was our first glimpse of Mr Lloyd and he wasn’t exactly the kind of leader we were hoping for. However, the general concensus which was conveyed to Mr Lloyd several times during the meeting was that we are pleased to have him here as there can be little doubt he has saved us from extinction.
David Lloyd is not the knight in shining armour he was built up to be, but he has millions of pounds of his own money invested in Hull City and he needs the club to be a success as much as we do. If he were to leave the club now he would want his £3 million back and that is not the kind of price people are going to be willing to pay for Hull City.
It has been a bungled takeover from the start but David Lloyd and the supporters of Hull City are stuck with the situation as it stands and we have to try and make it work. To all City fans I would urge them to show support for David Lloyd, although I certainly don’t mean we should go along with everything he says because I would fight any move to the Boulevard to the hilt. He inherited a huge mess at Boothferry Park, bigger than most people realise, and he has to be given time to sort things out. In turn I would urge David Lloyd to get involved with the club more than he has done to date and demonstrate to people that his heart is really in it. Let’s have no more secrets. Most importantly he needs to invest in the team.
The Doncaster game demonstrated how bad things have become. Mark Hateley has consistently been thwarted in his attempts to capture players who have agreed to come. If that continues we will be filling Doncaster Rovers’ shoes next season.
His plans to introduce Think Tanks is excellent in theory, but Lloyd needs to have hands on involvement if he is finally to win the trust of both the of fans and the local business community. If his absence from Boothferry Park for such long periods continues he will simply be seen as Mr Needler in a different guise and the only way will be down.