- Gloverscast understands representatives of chairman Scott Priestnall and South Somerset District Council (SSDC) are working on completing the deal agreed in November 2020 which will see the council buy Huish Park and the surrounding land.
- Due to local elections taking place in May, SSDC are currently in a period of ‘purdah’ meaning no announcements can be made by the council which may influence the elections – although a deal can still be completed.
- SSDC allocated £2.8m in its February budget to complete the purchase, which will need to be complete before the end of May.
Representatives of South Somerset District Council and Yeovil Town chairman Scott Priestnall are working on completing a deal to buy Huish Park and land surrounding the stadium.
The deal would then see the council rent the land and stadium back to the club.
As the ongoing uncertainty over a takeover by Simul Sports continues, the deal with the council is seen as one which secures the future the club, the only professional football club in the county.
Due to the local elections taking place on May 5 2022, SSDC is currently in a state of purdah. This means that no announcements can be made by the local authority regarding any major decisions. However, proposals can be completed during purdah.
Gloverscast understands that if the deal is not completed by the end of May 2022, the ability to complete the transaction will becoming increasingly difficult. SSDC merges with other councils to become one new unitary council and there is draft legislation which could prevent deals over a certain value being completed without a new approval process. The Glovers Trust can also activate the Asset of Community Value held on the site from May 26 2022.
We have approached Scott Priestnall for comment and, at the time of publication, have not received a response.
What do we know about the deal with SSDC?
- SSDC has budgeted £2.8m to purchase the entire freehold and leasehold property and land interests held by Yeovil Town Football Club in the Huish Park ground. Part of the purchase price would be applied to securing the release of restrictive covenants that affect the title to the property. (This does not include Sport England’s restriction of development on the top training pitches)
- The current 999-year lease from SSDC to YTFC (on land currently owned by SDDC) would be extinguished and a new 30-year lease of the whole property would be simultaneously granted back to the club. The deal includes a one-year rent break.
- The investment will see the council make a 7% profit through renting it back to the club, which is line with the approved target level of commercial returns on investment property assets purchased by the Council.
- The deal splits Huish Park into ‘core’ and ‘non-core’ land with separate leases for both. Presently the stadium is owned by one business Yeovil Football & Athletic Club Ltd whilst everything that surrounds the stadium is owned by another, Yeovil Town Holdings Limited. Chairman Scott Priestnall and fellow director Glenn Collis are both directors of both companies.
SSDC Deal – Who’s said what?
The deal was approved by SSDC’s District Executive Committee on December 3 2020. In the aftermath of the decision, Council Leader Val Keitch said: “The decision to approve this proposal was made today following a detailed and thorough debate which was quite right given its importance.
“We have agreed to make an investment that will not only benefit a football club which has such an important role to play in our community but one which will also benefit our residents.
“It is our responsibility to ensure we offer any support where we can to businesses big and small, which we have done before and throughout this pandemic, and we will continue to do so.”
Speaking at the time, Yeovil Town chairman Scott Priestnall said: “I would like to thank the officers at SSDC for their time and effort in putting together the proposal to buy the stadium and land at Huish Park.
“Being a chairman and owner of a football club is very different to operating other businesses and as a custodian of this fantastic club, I feel it is my duty to not only ensure its survival during these difficult times but also to give it the future the community and the supporters deserve.
“I would finally like to thank local councillors for their time and support today and I look forward to moving forward with SSDC and working with our supporters’ groups to deliver the best possible future for Yeovil Town Football Club.”
On January 2 2021, the Glovers’ Trust activated an Asset of Community Value held on the site, putting a pause to the deal for six months. A statement from the Trust said: “The Board recognises that the proposed sale of Huish Park and the surrounding land to South Somerset District Council (SSDC) is a pivotal moment in the history of Yeovil Town Football Club. With the ACV, the Board has the ability to enable a pause on the deal with SSDC, and consider putting together its own bid.”
The pause was to give the Trust time to raise the cash to make an offer to rival the council’s. It did not manage to do that but, during the moratorium period, it began conversations with Simul Sports, a group led by former Cardiff City commercial director, Julian Jenkins, which has subsequently publicly confirmed it is interested in buying Yeovil Football & Athletic Club Ltd..
Upon the expiry of the six month moratorium period, the Glovers’ Trust released a statement, including the following: “Without the delay, the proposed deal between owners of Huish Park and SSDC would have been rushed through by January 2021, long before any reasonable scrutiny could have been conducted. The delay has also given others the chance to reflect on the scheme and for the cultivation of a belief that a better route can be found to secure the long-term security of our club. The provisional plans shared with us by the SSDC may bring a limited short term financial boost, however there is no legal framework to guarantee that YTFC benefits from the scheme over the longer term. We believe that under this proposal the future of YTFC is in jeopardy.”
When SSDC announced the proposal in November 2020, at the height of the pandemic, it said: “Yeovil Town Football Club is the only professional football club in Somerset. As such, it contributes to the local economy and contributes more widely in terms of community, education and local civic pride. The COVID-19 pandemic has directly caused the loss of virtually all spectator revenue for the club. The club has sought to reduce its cost base. Overall, the remaining costs will cause the club to run out of money within a short period unless it is able to secure a substantial financial injection. The proposal is for the Council to purchase the main property and land asset of the club at Huish Park and lease it back to the club.”
Obviously, the situation that the club finds itself in now is different. Supporters have been able to attend matches all season and from the matches at Huish Park so far, the average attendance is 2355, (down from 2951 in 2019/20). The relationship between the owner and supporters has eroded over the course of the last 12 months with signs of ‘Priestnall Out’ appearing amongst supporters in the stadium and online.
On November 24 2020, a statement on YTFC.net announcing the deal included a plea regarding the ACV from Priestnall saying: “Simply put, we cannot wait six months to complete a deal with SSDC given our current financial position.” 18 months later, with nearly £1m in loans from Sport England held against the club (in fairness, Che$terfield have taken on more than YTFC), the club is still standing, however, rumours swirl about unpaid bills with local businesses.
As before, an aspect of this deal which is concerning, is that taxpayers’ money will be going to an un-ringfenced pot that is entrusted to an owner who has rarely been seen in public at Huish Park this season. If this deal is completed it appears that the immediate future of the land and football club will remain in the hands of Scott Priestnall.
There is a determination from SSDC to get this deal completed before the end of May and a belief that this protects the long term future of football in Yeovil, be that in it’s current form or in the form of a phoenix club.
In an open letter to Scott Priestnall from the Gloverscast team on 4 April (signed by nearly 1,500 people), we asked for answers to questions and following a conversation with Priestnall, we arranged an interview to be conducted on April 28 for an episode of the Gloverscast.