So, it’s finally happened. The fans have been put out of their misery. Hinckley United no longer exist after they were wound up in the courts with debts of around two hundred thousand pounds. The sad but inevitable end for The Knitters came after the recent attempts to enter administration failed, leaving the judge with no alternative but to put the club down like a stray dog.
What I want to know is, why on earth was this allowed to happen?
The whole sorry mess can pretty much be laid at one man’s door, according to the club’s supporters; Kevin Downes. He co-founded the club after a merger between his Hinckley Town team and Hinckley Athletic. At the time, it made sense to merge, and the aim was to bring a higher quality of football to the town. The club played at Athletic’s Middlefield Lane ground and used Town’s Leicester Road for training.
An historic club, Hinckley United won the Southern League Midland/West Division in only their fourth season, after narrowly missing out the previous two seasons. A sixth place finish in the Southern Premier League Premier Division in 2003-04 meant that they would be a founder club of the newly founded Conference North.
Downes has funded the club for years, including a new stadium at De Montford Park, but since the ground opened, the club have struggled financially. This has been reflected on the pitch, with the team struggling season after season to avoid relegation from Conference North. In fact, in 2012 the club were relegated from Conference North with a record high points total. However, the travails at Kettering Town and Darlington meant that United were handed a reprieve that year.
Last season, though, things disintegrated completely. In October 2013, Dean Thomas – until then the only manager in the club’s history – resigned his position due to poor results and the worsening off field circumstances. They were relegated from Conference North as early as March, and a poor start to the current campaign was compounded by the tragic news that the club was to be liquidated after ten games of the campaign, and their record expunged. Their record has now been wiped from the records like a nasty stain, and a look at the current Southern Premier table now shows one team less.
Now, this of course has a butterfly effect on the rest of the league. United had played ten games, and only won one, which means nine opponents took points off them, only to now lose them. Six teams beat them: Hitchin Town, Truro City, Corby Town, Arlesey Town, St Neot’s Town and Chesham United (in Hinckley’s final game), while Hungerford Town, Banbury United and Weymouth all drew. That means nine clubs will now have points removed from their records at the league’s next monthly meeting. That is bound to have a huge impact at the end of the season, at both ends of the table.
As for my earlier question. How was this allowed to happen? How can a non league club rack up debts of two hundred grand? It’s absolutely disgraceful, it really is. Surely Downes had to know that things were going pear shaped? At the end of the day, the manager is responsible for the results week to week, and as any manager would do, he will ask for a little bit more, another player here or a bit of extra wage budget there. It’s down to the chairman to say NO. If the outgoings exceed the income, then you are going to have a problem, end of.
As a result of such financial negligence, the fans now no longer have a club to support. Just think about that for a second. Imagine not having a club to call your own. To not have a club to go and watch on Saturday or Tuesday. It’s not like a car or television, where you can just get another one if yours breaks. We are talking about an entire community that has had its heart ripped out. You can’t just pick another club and feel the same way about them, it just doesn’t work like that. I feel so, so sorry for the poor souls who now have a Hinckley shaped hole in their lives. I would hate for it to happen to my club, or that of anybody I know. In fact, no football fan should outlive their club.
There has been talk of a phoenix club being formed, and the club’s youth teams are still going. Hopefully, in the not too distant future we might just see a senior club bearing the name of Hinckley. Whether it be AFC, or United, or even back to their original Town suffix, let’s hope football returns to this corner of Leicestershire.
On reflection, I got the opening line to this article wrong. The club has been put out of its misery. As for the fans, it will be a long, long time before their misery ends.