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Saturday, June 27, 2020

David Keyte Interview Part Four


 

Below is a transcript of the fourth part of a recent interview former Hereford United chairman David Keyte gave to Matt Healey for YourHerefordshire.

Healey started this part by asking Keyte if he thought media abuse had affected him.

"Well I would be surprised if anybody would fail to be affected by the amount of abuse I was personally getting through social media. As time has gone on, I've got no medical confirmation of this, I suspect looking back I was probably under some sort of depression in the first year or so.

"I listened to Peter Hill's interview where he quite correctly responded by saying that nobody in the boardroom at Hereford United over the years would make any decision that would worsen the football club deliberately.

"And yet when the 'experts' get hold of things, usually after the event, and the criticism comes in, the added social media impact now through keyboards is enomorous. We are in a highly changed world from 20 years ago and there are some people, the young woman from love island who took her own life. Some people just can not cope with the intense criticism that it's possible to get these days and hopefully I've come through with a bit of a thicker skin than that."

Reading your programme notes for a game against Gateshead on Saturday April 12th 2014, the club was in a right mess, we had HMRC bills to pay, there was the courtyard gig that Omid Djallii performed for free,  we had children selling toys on e-bay, and giving away pocket money. How did you feel personally when you had children giving away their possessions to try and keep the club alive?

"Well that was obviously a very difficult time for the club and everybody involved. We were pleased that people from all sources were helping, families, children etc, comedy shows. We had sponsorship of £10K from Heineken. In total those sources raised about 50% of the tax bill, about £35K from memory. And it gave us, the directors, a chance to settle that by paying the balance between us. Very difficult time when you know you are literally in debt to people when the club's finances had reached such a poor state.

"There was this alternative social media agenda that was growing, it became very personalised at that time. We had heard in the boardroom that one of the recently departed directors of the new football club was openly saying in Addison's Bar that his purpose in life is to get Keyte out after a match. It's a small city, a small set-up and most things get back around but on social media it was things like get your hand in your pocket Keyte and it's probably worth me pointing out clearly for people that David Keyte was never the owner of Hereford United football club. The media, particuarily TV and radio - Tim Russon used to refer to it as lazy journalism - would often start things off as owner, chairman and so on, when in actual fact when we went in and bought Graham and Joan's shareholding it was 27% of the club's shareholding. So they, it's not for me to speculate looking backwards, Graham had never held any more shares than that, he was never the owner of Hereford United. My share of that was 17% and Tim had 10%. And even between 2010 and 2013 the club itself initially with Grenville involved and then latterly Dave Preedy and Nic Nenadich coming on board the total shareholding for the board of Hereford United was never more than 30%. And the other 70% was scattered across about 1200 people who over the years had bought a share or two or ten or whatever in Hereford United going right back to the days it helped to build the Len Weston stand in the 70's..

"I think it's fair to say there is some irony when linked across to the new Hereford where supporters are dipping into their pockets daily to try and raise money to get to 50% of the shareholding when over the past 90 years the supporters had, certainly in my time, 70% of the shareholding."

The interview turned to the youth team in which the club had invested heavily.  Was their a frustration that Martin Foyle had not blooded the youngsters (Jarrod Bowen in particular) earlier with the potential of possibly selling one of them in the January 2014 transfer window.

"That's difficult one, it didn't work quite as neatly as that. The youth team and community set-up was originally my idea when we got involved. It was another of our off the field plans to get the football club back in amongst the local community and give some local people a chance. I had been lucky enough to play as a schoolboy under Colin Addison, I've still got my football league registration stub in the drawer in the bedroom. So we had a youth set-up. The likelyhood of success is minimal, perhaps that a touch harsh, but Herefordshire is not the strongest county for sport but we felt it was the right thing to do and we were looking for a new Steve Emery, they have come out from Herefordshire in the past but not in great numbers.

"But we did have a couple of lads from Leominster in Jarrod Bowen and Billy Murphy, I thought Billy was the better prospect which shows just how much I know, but as to those two at the time difficult situation. I can undertstand why Martin didn't rush to put the youngsters in. Somebody once said you don't win anything with kids which I can't do in a Scottish accent for you but when Peter Beadle was asked to come in he had  a bit more of a last throw of the dice mentality to those last few games. He knew the boys well from the youth team and he probably had a closer handle than Martin Foyle to who might be able to bridge the gap and they came in and Jarrod and Billy did very well to go with the other lads and obviously we stayed up on that great day at Aldershot.

"To answer your question about the value, it's very difficult. The days of lower clubs making money from academys are probably gone. I remember Defoe moving for £100,000, unlikely to happen again now because of the Player Progress Path that came out a few years ago had a fairly rigid valuation formula that includes the number of years at the club. So I suspect that if a Jarrod or Billy had been in the team before Xmas transfer window and got picked up I would think we would have had an offer of £5K maybe £10K and it would all be about the future add-on deals. So in terms of our financial situation it was probably not even if that, it was probably not a immediate answer to the problems we were facing and it would have been somewhere down the track, as we've seen with Jarrod now, where the biggest money would have come through."

 

When did you first hear about the Agombar consortium?

"Over Xmas/New year we played Kidderminster twice and talking about both club's issues in the boardrooms the chairman there at the time said that they had a meeting with a guy called Jed McCrory who had left Swindon Town but they had thought about things and they were quite content at the time, they had just banked £300K for somebody, they were okay at the time and didn't feel they needed to bring anybody else in but he may be of use to you at Hereford from what they had been reading in the press. So I did pick up the phone and spoke to Jed McCrory and met up with McCrory who wanted to stress he had no plans to get involved but, I think he was still in a dispute at Swindon, he knew of a number of people and could probably put names to us and that's how it started and one of the names was the Agombar group.

"The first time I spoke to Tommy Agombar was when we were away on holiday and the phone rang one day and it was Agombar asking if it was possible to meet up. I had to tell him I was away but we were back the following week and we arranged to meet in London which I did. That would have been somewhere in mid to late April 2014 which it's probably worth saying at that point social media yet again actually denies the fact that Agombar had owned Hereford United for twelve months by then and that he was seen in the VP Club by all these people who start to spread inaccurate if not untruthful social media rubbish. But I met him first towards the end of April down in London."

Can you accept supporter criticism that whilst it was all going wrong in Hereford you were, in their eyes, away on holiday in the Caribbean?

"Yes absolutely I can.  Would I have made a different decision, no I don't think I would. For the record on a personel level, my wife Lorraine was on dialysis by then after having kidney failure. It's very difficult to organise dialysis abroad not least the cost of it and I remember we discussed it both at home and in the boardroom thinking I shouldn't really going but people in the club and the boardroom said to go and have your holiday, you need it and we can look after the shop until you are back. So we did go but I was in touch daily on Skype with board members, I think  I may even have had a chat with HUISA whilst I was away. I spoke most days with Luke Graham the captain about any money that was coming in. We were trying to pay different players and Luke administrated that for me really well. So it was no different to me getting a car and driving across to Hereford to the ground and having the same conversations. Sadly at present with the conoravirus it's probably a more regular model moving forward that the world will get used to. 

"Yes I understand Keyte deserting a sinking ship but there are occasions where I put family first and that was one of them. There is a real possibilty that you could be out of the country, away from the office for two weeks and actually the situation was very difficult to influence whether you were in the office or not. So we took the break and the criticism followed."

Did you know about Tommy's past?

"Yes"

Did you think he would have failed the proper persons test? 

"I knew for certain he would fail that. But that wasn't the conversations, discussions we were in. The structure that was being proposed I remember in our own boardroom that I would be prepared to stay on as their chairman and I remember Dave Preedy asked if it could include him staying on doing the socials, the bars and so on and Nic wanted to stay in charge of United In The Community. So that was the sort of proposal we went in at on the basis that it would be very difficult to run this from Essex. You need local people involved in the structure. So that was the line of conversation we had despite this chap's background. I think it's fair to say, I've no evidence of this, there are probably lots of football clubs around the country and beyond where people who are putting the money in  may or may no pass individually the owners test but they still get their involvement in the club. Would Chelsea supporters boycott the club  because Abramovich got involved, Manchester City likewise. There will be many others. Unfortunately as the days went on he couldn't stay in that box, he needed to be the person in front of the microphone and that was never going to be a happy ending I don't think.

"And then when we stepped aside local people stepped out as he increasingly wanted to use his own people. I remember putting Pete Beadle to them and I believe he met with them. But they had got this Ellis chap, ex-world beater and so on. And then when he didn't do the first part of paying down the outstanding wages and things like that not surprisingly they lost the support of the office and other people at the club and were owed money. And so it when on and actually just fed the alternative local agenda who through social media were able to get a groundswell of anti going on and eventually boycotted the matches."

Just to clarify you sold the club to Tommy for a pound and he took on the debts?

"Yes"

Was there any regret that you sold it to Tommy?

"The deal was quite normal, a pound to take on all the debts. The regrets only came about with hindsight when things moved away from the original structural agreement and they then failed to make those early payments and lost face in Hereford. So regret that it didn't run through as planned but actually the original discussions could have worked. He had the money, he appeared to be passionate about his football, I think he is passionate about his football but when you create local angst you start to push water uphill. For the Hereford United that I've supported for 50 years, 90 years of history, you have to have regrets that it didn't come through properly. But I will always say to you I think there was a helping hand from certain local bodies."

As I understand Tommy was paying £2500 a month to you as part of the agreement on any redevelopement. Is that true?

"Yes, we discussed my wish and hope to get a little back out of the £500,000 plus I had put into the football club and they were open to that discussion. There was no pressure on whatever figure that was agreed and in fact I agreed to something over ten years. In round figures it was £300,000. which was £2,500 per month over ten years. I had the first payment and then things went awry and I had to go to court and get a court order to suggest the contract was valid and the other angle was that if they developed behind the goal at either end that would be an opportunity to of paying me out by some means inside the ten years. But no pressure on getting the money back."

If HUST had come to you and said we'll buy the club, take on the debts, but not pay you personally any money, is that something you would have entertained?

"Well that is a bit hypothetical today six years later. Looking back I believe we treated HUST very fairly. They were a genuine potential third interested party when we met them. They were two other groups talking to us at the time. I recall when we met they had a small group of eight or nine people in the boardroom. I recall discussing, which we had for consistancy with all people, saying there was an immediate £300,000 that the club was in need of and stating again the need to have, they needed to be aware that in the Conference about £300,000 a season at Hereford. And I do remember saying to them that they could probably save, compared with the outside interests, about £100,000 by using local volunteers for various things. But they had no evidence of funding although they did say they had pledges, they had nobody nominated to do due diligence. Their chairman, Chris Williams, had sent his apology in, wasn't even at the meeting and after a couple of hours we agreed that they would go away to seek further advice from the national body for supporters trusts. Martin Watson had made minutes and after the meeting sent me a brief script for me to sanction to go out onto Bulls News which was absolutely fine and that they had a positive constructive meeting but they were to go away and seek advice but sadly they never came back. Discussions about an offer, personal or otherwise, we never got close to. In fact as time has passed by, it's so easy to put pieces together from what you read, possibly make two and two make five, but maybe Chris Williams the chairman had been advised not to attend, perhaps by the people he and his colleagues had already got into bed with, allegedly.

"We know now of course that they had already opened up an alternative company in April 2014 when the rest of us were still battling to stay in the Conference. Admittedly it was called something elser, Hadoland I think. But when you see the registered office of the home address of a former director of Hereford United, finance director, you do wonder quite what other alternative agendas that were already in play at that time. But the chairman of HUST didn't attend the meeting. So sadly we had to accept that local people that could have saved Hereford United choose not to do so. And I would say that HUST's interest, though disorganised shall we say, was genuine."

Hereford United continued for the next six months but there was a boycott going on, crowds of 300/400  supporters. It was a real miserable time.The club was liquidated 19th of December 2014. How did you feel on that day the judge killed off the club?

"Very difficult day. As I've said before in this interview, when you've been going along to Edgar Street since 1964 for about 50 years and you like to class some of your better friends as Addison, Issac people. Very difficult to see those 90 years wiped out. Four of those years were when I was involved and the debate will continue as to whether that caused the demise or whether the next people in didn't handle themselves properly or whether the local people made sure that they didn't because they wanted the club themselves in some form, the debate will go on and on. I had thankfully stepped away from it by the December of that year but like everybody else when you heard it on the radio or whereever it was, disappointing time."

Chris Swan of Redditch was interested in Edgar Street and there was a rumour that you showed him around in early 2015, was that true?

"Yes that was true. I had a call from Chris to say he was interested in knowing a bit more about the situation, the ground was empty, not being used. Hereford United had gone into liquidation and the local outfit were with the council. And I remember saying to Chris that I would gladly meet you and show you around. He said that the council had offered someone to open the door for him but he would have to make his own way around and he wondered if I could go and meet him and point out various things around the ground which I agreed to do. I remembered saying to him you'll find it's a done deal. To my mind the local people we're the only ones the council were going to talk to. He came over and I met him at the ground. But Herefordshire being Herefordshire by the end of the day the grapevine has got it that Keyte was involved with Redditch United trying to set up a new club. So Chris Swan did go and meet the council he told me and he felt that I was right and actually he did get much of an input. That's as far as that all went."

The last question of the four part interview. Do you have any regrets?

"Do you mean apart from the obvious one about keeping £500,000 in my own bank account? Looking back I was probably a bit soft in the boardroom giving everybody an equal vote when the finances suggested that there was a dis-proportionate input and probably I should have pushed through my thoughts more strongly than I actually did and I think the other one would be as my old school-mate Dave Benjamin said to me at the outset that I should probably have done a bit more homework on the local politics as it became clear to me that some names cropped time and again over the last fifteen years of Hereford, they were skirting the edges of the club previously and in Graham's times they were the characters who would criticise Graham Turner and would then critise me as if nobody but themselves could do it properly and eventually they had an agenda that worked. Probably I should have found out a bit more about those local groups prior to jumping in. But that's life and we move on."