Feb 11 2014 by Nick Hilton, Main WIR
THE Tranmere Rovers Supporters Trust won’t give up on ambitions to take the Wirral club into community ownership – even though they have been told by owner Peter Johnson that they currently don’t have enough money to move their bid forward.
Members attending the Trust’s annual meeting at Prenton Park agreed their best option was to sit tight and await developments. They heard that two potential buyers for Tranmere dropped out of the bidding over the past four months after takeover negotiations had reached an advanced stage.
The Trust collected £172,000 from supporters after relaunching a fundraising campaign in October, which ran until the end of 2013.. The figure fell well short of the £500,000 target they had set.
Chairman Ben Harrison admitted the £172,000 figure was “disappointing” and added: “Asking people for money around Christmas time proved to be difficult.
Seven hundred people donated and our canvassing suggested many others were not prepared to make a commitment because they did not feel the club is facing a crisis at the moment.
“Peter Johnson confirmed to us that periods of exclusivity were offered to two other bidders, one in November and one in January, which did not come through. He would not disclose who those bidders were.
“We pushed to get exclusivity for the Trust and Peter Johnson said he wasn’t going to let that happen because we have not got enough money. He told us he does not think the Trust is a viable option to take the club forward.
“We are told there are other people who have made offers, two of them verbal and one written.””
Harrison added that the Trust did not believe a sale of the club was around the corner.
Johnson, the Wirral multimillionaire businessman who has owned a controlling stake in Tranmere since 1987, announced at the start of the current season that he had entered into discussions with several parties, the Trust included. All of them were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements about negotiations. In November Johnson revealed he was prepared to write off around £5m of historical debt, owed to him by the club, in order to facilitate the sale.
The ECHO understands that one of the potential buyers offered a period of exclusivity was Wirral-born property developer Michael Wilde, a former chairman of Southampton FC.
Wilde attended Tranmere’s home game against Crewe Alexandra at the end of January.
Tranmere’s last published accounts, for the 2011/12 season, show the club made operating losses of more than £500,000 on the year, before transfer income was factored in.
The absence of significant transfer income since Dale Jennings and Aaron Cresswell left the club in 2011, coupled with the decline in attendances at Prenton Park this season, suggest the club’s losses may be mounting.
Harrison said: “The club has not been sold and we don’t know who’s going to buy the club. The club has been losing £500,000 year and maybe it is more than that now because we don’t have access to up-to-date figures on the business.
“We have asked for more information that would help us to move our own ideas forward but we just hit a brick wall in our discussions.
“It is a concern, with the losses and the fall in revenue through the gate, that the club is heading in the direction of a perfect storm.”
Harrison reported a success for the Trust in making an application to Wirral Council to have Prenton Park registered as a community asset under the Localism Act of 2011. Harrison said Tranmere had objected to the application, which covers both the ground and the surrounding car park, a total of nine acres.
The council’s granting of the application, which brings Prenton Park into line with Anfield and Old Trafford, which are also registered as assets of community value, makes it more difficult for any owner or future owner to sell the land at Prenton Park.
Should such a sale be proposed, the community would be given six months to raise the funds to make a counter-offer.
Last September Tranmere submitted a planning application to build 50 homes on a section of the car park at Prenton Park. The application was subsequently withdrawn.
A long-standing planning application to build 90 homes on the Ingleborough Road training ground has been approved by Wirral Council but the process is stalled, pending a review by European Commissioners.
Trust members were told that anyone seeking a refund of the money donated to the takeover fund could have one. Those members who spoke at the AGM said they wanted to leave their money in the fund and to await developments on the club’s future.