It’s hard to know where to begin in terms of the changes that have taken place at the football club over the past month and under normal circumstances, the passing of a club legend such as Sam Shrouder would be the most newsworthy topic of any update but there have been significant changes in the ownership structure that simply can’t pass without comment.
Southport Football Club can today confirm that the majority shareholder Ian Kyle has today finalised an agreement to sell his shares in the club to the Big Help Group Limited, subject to National League approval.(Southport FC Press Release – 24th October 2023)
Following League approval The Big Help Group have therefore become the new majority shareholders of the football club, with Peter Mitchell, the group CEO, named as the new Chairman. Ian Kyle therefore departs as a Director, Chairman and “person of significant influence”.
We have seen a number of changes of “ownership” in the past 10 years but this one is quite different. In summary of the previous changes, the departing Charlie Clapham (who was not the majority shareholder) famously refused to sell his shares to Phil Hodgkinson in the summer of 2017, and insisted that he acquire the remaining unissued shares to ensure it financially benefited the football club if he wished to become the majority shareholder. When no offer to do so was forthcoming (Phil Hodgkinson disputes having ever been told of this reason), James Treadwell and Adrian Shandley instead purchased the remaining shares. At the first AGM following this transition Ian Kyle was introduced as a further investor matching James Treadwell’s share purchase, and the cap on shares was lifted. Phil Hodgkinson joined the board in September with a similar initial share purchase. At the end of the year James resigned from his position on the board but retained his shareholding (as had Charlie when he departed a year earlier) leaving Phil Hogkinson as chairman. I’ll allow Phil Hodgkinson’s own words (below) to tell the story of the transition from Phil to Ian, when he departed to take over at Huddersfield Town 12 months later:
“When this (buying Town) came about, I obviously had to try and sell that interest (in Southport) so my fellow director Ian Kyle agreed to buy my shares, but at that moment in time he couldn’t acquire the full shareholding of £2million from me at that time.
“We agreed I would give him a period of time to acquire those shares, which was three years.
“As a result of that, the EFL placed a condition on the deal that if Southport got promoted to the Football League within that three-year period and my shares hadn’t been acquired, then Southport would be prevented from joining the Football League.
“The National League weren’t happy about that, as you would expect, because they didn’t want to have a situation where one of their member clubs was unable to get promotion like all the rest of them.
“So we had to find a solution.
“That delayed the announcement. I had passed fit and proper and gone through all that, it was all done, but the National League were holding up the deal on the basis of this condition.
“Ultimately, I had to give away £2million for £100, which I am still not comfortable about and I am a bit gutted, but it was either that or I couldn’t own the football club I fell in love with 40 years ago, so that’s what I did.”Yorkshire Live (https://www.examinerlive.co.uk/sport/football/news/phil-hodgkinson-gave-away-2million-16591634)
This latest takeover therefore is big news indeed (pun intended) as it is the first time that a departing chairman has sold his shares. The number of shares Ian held was 1,689,700 but the level of money involved in this transaction is a matter not in the public domain as neither party has chosen to disclose it thus far. It is a private sale of shares and therefore they are not under any obligation to do so, but as the deal involves the purchase by a limited company, their accounts for the current financial year will reflect the purchase when they are made available on Companies House next year.
If any part of the transaction involved money going to the football club then that of course will be reflected in the club’s accounts in due course too, but Big Help Group did not purchase them from Southport Football Club, they purchased them from Ian Kyle. For any money to have gone to the football club it will have had to have been in the form of a donation but there has been no hint of that in any press releases so far. It is possible however that we might still see some benefit on the balance sheet. From interviews with members of the board over the course of the past season Ian Kyle had been said to have injected some personal finance during times of poor cash flow. Reports vary as to the level of cash injection depending on who you listen to (or when) so for that reason those reports are unreliable. As no further shares were issued, this injection (or these injections) must either have been in the form of donations or director’s loans. If they were in the form of director’s loans these are likely to have been repaid by Big Help Group to remove a debt from the balance sheet.
As part of the takeover, it has been revealed by the confirmation statements at Companies House that Liam Watson has also transferred his shares to the Big Help Group, but no public comment has been made as to the nature of this transaction. The result is however that it makes the Big Help Group holders of over 75% of the company shares. Ironically, this move has reinstated former chairman James Treadwell into the position of being the second largest shareholder in the club.
Through a series of impressive interviews and an open fans forum Mitchell has confirmed that within the next 12 months the Big Help Group have committed to investing a further £500,000 into the club. He has also installed a new board of directors which includes former Wigan Athletic director Oliver Gottman, and former England international Tammy Burgess (as Sporting Director). Steve Dewsnip has also been promoted to Chief Operating Officer (effectively the Chief Executive of the football club). Manager Jim Bentley has also been given an extension on his contract which ties him to the club until 2026.
The fans forum event is available to watch on youtube and the presentation given by Head of Football Operations Andy Burgess is on the club website.
In terms of research in the past month, the most notable find was the discovery of the article in the Liverpool press in 1935 (I have written about this separately) which uses a first hand account from one of the most notable actors in the history of football in Southport, to confirm the conclusion I reached with my book.
Elsewhere I have continued to assist the Wigan Athletic Heritage Project with their goals to document their history and records, and also facilitating a meeting with their oldest living player, Trevor Hitchen!
As months go, it hasn’t been a quiet one!