Wembley trip secures Lowestoft's future
Michael Bailey In just under one month's time, Lowestoft Town will be running out at the most famous football stadium in the world, hoping to lay their hands on the FA Vase.
In just under one month's time, Lowestoft Town will be running out at the most famous football stadium in the world, hoping to lay their hands on the FA Vase.
Only Lancashire's Kirkham & Wesham stand in the way of the Blues making the biggest day in the club's history a successful one, but 14 months ago the very existence of the club was in doubt.
A £13,000 tax bill threatened to close the gates at Crown Meadow for good as the winter of 2007 saw the Suffolk club issued with a winding up order.
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The club owed £13,000 to the taxman and, with £92,000 debts also needing to be serviced, the fact the club had been successful on the pitch - including being crowned Ridgeons League Premier Division champions two seasons ago - merely covered up the Blues' perilous financial position.
The club finally brought its issues to a head at an emergency committee meeting held in the January and with players, management and fans in attendance, one modest donation began the club's turnaround in fortunes.
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“We held this meeting and, really, it was a positive meeting more than anything else,” said the club's secretary Terry Lynes. “And as we took a break, one lady said 'I've been keeping £10 in my pocket for a rainy and I guess it's poring now' and she put it in the trophy. Before the end of the night we had £2,000 in it.”
From then, club chairman Gary Bennett took it upon himself to get local businessmen and companies involved in the club - and with them, much needed cash.
Having raised enough money to pay the taxman and ease the pressure on the club, Bennett - whose driving school now act as the club's main sponsor - turned to Geoff Price in May and his business acumen has helped to significantly improve the club's position off the pitch.
By October, they had secured the neighbouring social club and Town, one of the best supported clubs in the country at their level, are now scheduled to be out of debt by the end of the year - even without this year's vase run.
“Every other round of the vase has only really paid for itself,” said Price. “The final is the one chance for us to make some from money from it, which should mean around £60,000-70,000 in ticket revenue at Wembley. It's really securing the future of Lowestoft town football club and its grass roots football.”
The club is using sponsorship and advertising to pay for the costs of their Wembley final on Sunday, May 11, including new suits for the players, so the possible payout, which could top £100,000 including prize money, is being earmarked for the club's future development.
“It was something I have dreamed of and I wanted to get back to what we should be talking about. Not finances, but football. Now, the club is the biggest thing in Lowestoft and all the fans and players, all those at the club, can hold our heads up high. I'm tremendously proud of what everyone involved in the club has achieved.”
If it has anything to with Price and his ambitions for the Trawler Boys, Wembley will only be the start of the club's new dawn. Crown Meadow is set to be upgraded in June to ensure the next time the Blues can be promoted to the Ryman League, their ground will permit it, while the club has hopes to set up a new Player Development Centre at the back its ground to help improve its blossoming youth team set-up.
As Price, Lynes and Lowestoft's contingent took in the impressive surroundings under the new Wembley arch earlier this week during a media day at the stadium, there is no doubt that on-the-pitch activities will be top of the agenda for Blues fans over the coming weeks.
In fact, Lowestoft's vase final is already a well discussed topic across all the region's dividing football lines.
But for the Blues, and the staff present during those darker times in the winter of 2007, the site of Wembley playing host to Lowestoft Town and 15,000 of its fans will be more than enough to tempt a few pinches of disbelief.