With David Lloyd’s ‘three year plan’ floundering just one year in: no cash for players, no super stadium and a proposed move to the Boulevard, City fans once again find themselves praying for a new saviour.
Despite Lloyd’s claim at the AGM that “no-one would buy or put money into this club”, one man has expressed a desire to do so and after an inital rebuttal Tom Belton recently entered into a dialogue with the Lloyd regime. Questions however must be asked, starting with…
A farmer from the wrong side of the water. Does he really fit the bill as City’s latest saviour? Well, saviours come in all shapes and sizes: skinny fellows with long hair
and sandals; powerful armour-clad heroes on charging horses bearing broadswords; or basin-haired slips-of-lads with Jedi mind-tricks, big woolly mates and X-wing fighters.
Tom Belton has no beard, he isn’t tall, and a Jedi he is not. He’s stocky, well-fed and he smokes. He speaks in relaxed and faintly polished northern tones and he likes a drink. In fact, he’s a farmer albeit a slightly urbanised farmer. He certainly isn’t a tennis champion and he chose to meet Amber Nectar in one of the noisier bars on Hull Marina.
We spend a summer’s evening straining our voices to be heard above the disco fever and the satellite football commentary and he tells us just why on earth he should be interested in polluting his quiet country life in North Lincolnshire with a proud but rusty old football club. It seems a bit strange to think that the Tigers should be on the lookout for another Messiah just over a year since the last one strode out of the mist. Is this going to be an annual event? David Lloyd was supposed to be our Knight in Wimbledon white hurtling up from the home counties to serve up a three-set passage to the Premiership.
That dream has dwindled. This year City are seeking midtable security on a shoestring. Not a very gracious act for this famous old stage, Boothferry Park, to witness. Then it’s off the Boulevard and what? A couple more frees on the transfer market and maybe the play-offs all on a farmer’s field of a pitch in front of sparse crowds because so many refuse to go. If we don’t like it Mr Lloyd will press the ejector button on his dummy and we could well be abandoned without a home and with huge debts.
What a pretty picture of optimism. Belton says he is a regular visitor to Hull and familiar with the impatience and worry which surrounds the football club and its supporters. He heads a consortium of business people who want to sink their considerable sums of money into a football club. Belton has convinced them that Hull City is the best place to sink the said collateral. It seems that he knows people in the know otherwise he wouldn’t have publicised his sudden interest in our club.
I don’t think anyone really thinks our chairman came to Hull with a hidden agenda but it is becoming increasingly clear that his grandiose plans are crumbling around him. The superstadium dream is a more unlikely occurrence than ever now. We know it is the part of the project where Lloyd was to make his dosh – raking it in from the extra leisure facilities and retail outlets which would become part of the 21st century sporting Mecca. Now what? Without the Kwik Save sale, Boothferry Park would be worth a fraction of its true cost and could that meagre amount really fund a home worthy of our Tigers as well as rebuilding the team.
It’s tempting to agree with those who reckon Lloyd has been sold a fast one and, if that’s really the case, why doesn’t he bail out? Cut his losses. Pride is one reason. Is he reluctant to admit to failure? Maybe, but the businessman in him should tell him to get out before he throws away any money on a scheme he has lost interest in and which will probably never bear fruition without investment of the size he isn’t willing, or able, to commit to.
Well, if Lloyd’s selling, Belton’s buying. Or at least so we’re told. We have read with interest in the Hull Daily Mail that Belton met with Bryan Calam at Boothferry Park to chat about the club while the chairman was in the Caribbean sunning himself. Surely if there’s a no sale policy then the prospective buyer wouldn’t even get his foot through the door.
The Lincolnshire farmer seems too good to be true. He’s a former chairman of Scunthorpe United but he can’t hide his enthusiasm about the potential of City. He said: “Hull City has such tremendous potential. There’s a large population area and in my view they should be involved with the football club. When I left Scunthorpe no one individual owned more than 10 per cent of the shares.”
Belton left Scunthorpe in 1994 and now reckons he has the backing of a consortium who have plenty of cash to sink into a club. Scarborough and Doncaster have just been put up for sale. He didn’t fancy them. Lincoln are up for sale. But apparently it’s Hull he wants. “I would want the people of Hull involved in the football club. The club should be at least in the First Division.”
Now this is the kind of thing we heard just over a year ago when Martin Fish and Christopher Needler were selling the club. Then it was Tim Wilby shouting the odds on behalf of Lloyd. But Belton said: “Myself and my consortium and waiting for David Lloyd to tell us how much he wants for Hull City and, indeed, if he wants to sell at all. If he wants to sell we are very interested. If he categorically doesn’t want to sell then that’s that.
“The price isn’t such a big issue. Unless it’s ridiculous. One thing is for sure. I’m not interested in the rugby club in any way. I don’t think the two can be run as one. Fair enough the teams could share the same pitch but I don’t think they can operate as one club.”
All a bit of a mystery really. Belton admits he is the front man for rich backers from the retail business in the North Midlands. He has some money but the attractive part of this deal is the multi-millionaire backers who he claims are with him. If they are into retail this could meant they have a Lloyd-style retail idea in mind.
Maybe they like Lloyd’s idea but have the money to pull it off. If it’s such a great idea why not plough a few million into a new stadium anyway. And if that’s the case perhaps they can buy into the Lloyd scheme, offering money to develop the stadium and the team at the same time without Lloyd having to lose face and back down. It’s Belton’s expertise in running lower league football clubs that has brought him to front the operation, he said, “I’ll be involved financially. I’ll be running the show from the front. my experience makes me the obvious choice. I was involved at Scunthorpe for more than 20 years. I’ve a lot of experience at the lower levels of football and I know what’s needed but this doesn’t mean that’s where I would want Hull City to stay.”
This club needs a football man to help run the show behind the scenes. We saw Lloyd offer such a job to Scarborough’s former chairman John Russell. Russell said Lloyd asked to run the football club without having a financial stake in the club. Perhaps Belton’s gang could strike a similar agreement but with money. Belton, without saying as much, suggests he would prefer the lock stock and barrel scenario.
Belton is also aware of the controversial plans to sell Boothferry Park and the problems Lloyd faced with Somerfield and Kwik Save. He’s non-committal about the ground’s future. He would have to examine all the details and stuff which has bamboozled Lloyd and Co, But he favours redevelopment of Boothferry Park or a new stadium off Clive Sullivan Way.
At least he has the political sense not to say the Boulevard. He knows if he wants to suddenly win the backing of the supporters he has only to offer a viable alternative to going to play our beloved game in a rugby league ground. The saddest thing is we have a football ground just waiting to be developed here at Boothferry Park. There’s plenty of room, no forseeable planning or police problems and a playing surface that’s the envy of the entire Football League.
If you’re serious Tom then get this show on the road. We’ve taken a blind leap of faith once before and it’s heading for disaster so another one now won’t do much harm. Get your money men to quickly arrange a package which can put this club back in the big time with a stadium worthy of its support. Any crazy retail scheme which accompanies such a deal will be okay as long as it doesn’t stand in the way of the revival of the club. Perhaps we trust too easily but that’s a sign of desperation. If you want to make Hull City great again then get the bucks out. Make Lloyd the offer he wants and give us hope again.