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Friday, 9 November, 2001, 18:13 GMT
Battle for Swindon Town
Swindon's County Ground
A new stadium is seen as Swindon's great hope
On 5 November, the High Court ruled that humble Swindon Town Football Club had no legal directors.

Ousted chairman Danny Donegan immediately began a fight to regain control. He has a fortune to play for.

BBC News Online's Simon Pipe reports.

Swindon Town Football Club may not seem much of a prize.

It had no money to pay its players back in April, and in August it was finally forced to begin paying off an 87,000 rent debt on its home at the County Ground.

But away from the pitch, a property deal worth many millions of pounds is at stake.

The plan to build 3,800 homes, a leisure complex and a 37m stadium was seen as a way to secure the club's future.

But one of Mr Donegan's rivals says the real winner would have been a property company set up by Terry Brady, his predecessor and associate.

The whole thing was a package. I don't want to talk about it.

Danny Donegan, ousted director
Past chairman Cliff Puffett told BBC News Online: "They formed a separate company so they could do a deal with the council to build houses."

Profits from the houses would pay for the new stadium.

But it is not clear who would own it - the club or the property company. Tony Norris, chairman of the Swindon Town Supporters Trust, said: "These guys came in as property developers - they were not Swindon supporters in any shape or form."

In fact, he said fans were impressed by Mr Donegan's loyalty to the team.

Paper trail

Nearly all new stadia in Britain are financed with profits from other property developments.

And it is normal for owners to handle them through a separate company. Often, the paper trail between the two can be difficult to follow.

The difference at Swindon was that Danny Donegan did not own Swindon Town, and as it turned out, he had no legal status as a director.

Willie Carson
Ex-jockey Willie Carson helped the club
Messrs Donegan and Brady were always open with fans about their property ambitions.

Mr Brady had persuaded Swindon Borough Council to name his company, Swindon Town Properties Limited (STPL), as "preferred developer" of a greenfield site known as the Front Garden.

That meant it would deal with no one else.

Councillors agreed on the basis that the property firm and the football club were under the same ownership.

Fan's action

But when Mr Brady left, they began asking who the club directors were. They were kept waiting for an answer.

A search at Companies House in August showed only one name - and it was not Mr Donegan's.

It took High Court action by a single fan, Nick Prescott, to force the issue.

I don't care whether they make a penny or 500m

Tony Norris, supporter
A judge ruled that the club had no bona fide directors because no annual general meeting and election had been held for more than two years.

Mr Donegan had resisted demands to hold one.

He risked being voted out by the rival consortium, led by ex-chairman Mr Puffett and the former champion jockey, Willie Carson.

It was Mr Carson, along with major shareholder Sir Seton Wills, who gave the club 50,000 to pay the players in April.

The club also delayed paying the council 87,000 rent it owned on its home at the County Ground.

Eventually councillors stripped away the preferred-developer status.

Consulting lawyers

Mr Donegan declined to tell BBC News Online exactly how the club would benefit from the stadium deal.

He said: "The whole thing was a package. I don't want to talk about it - that clouds the issue."

He said he was consulting lawyers to see whether he could stand against the Puffett consortium.

He said: "They had already had our preferred-developer status removed, so that is something we would have to fight to get back."

Mr Puffett says he too would seek a partnership with a developer to build a stadium.

Fans, meanwhile, can only watch as the struggle to run the club goes on.

Tony Norris, who set up the supporters' trust in the summer, said: "I don't care whether they make a penny or 500m, as long as I have a football club to support."

See also:

07 Nov 01 | England
Swindon finance fears
06 Nov 01 | England
Swindon chief fights on
06 Nov 01 | England
Pledge to find new stadium
05 Nov 01 | Eng Div 2
Robins set for upheaval
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