New Hartlepool United owner Raj Singh has unveiled his plans for the club after the deal to buy the cash-strapped outfit went through.
Singh’s purchase of Pools from former owner John Blackledge, of Sage Investments, was completed on Saturday.
The former Darlington chairman has bought Pools for the upfront fee of just £1, but the deal does involve Blackledge getting staged payments dependent on the club’s success.
Singh, who has appointed former manager Craig Hignett as director of football, admits he is excited about the challenge ahead at Victoria Park.
And he has revealed the reasons why he has bought Pools, despite his difficult experiences at Darlo.
In the first of two interviews with the Mail’s Liam Kennedy, Singh explains what he intends to do now he is in control at Pools.
*What are the details of the deal to buy the club, and the payment of debts to John Blackledge?
Singh said: “I would say, apart from one blip, it has been quite an easy deal to do. In some ways I wish when I was at Darlington someone was there with this kind of deal. It was pretty smooth all told. We have a payment staged for when we hopefully make it back to the league. We also have one for League One. We even have one for the Premier League, which if we get that far I will write the cheque myself. I think it is fair to us and it is fair to him. What I was determined to do was make sure this club is not lumbered with repayments over 15 years. I might be at the club, I might be gone in three years or five years, who knows? The last thing I wanted to do was stage payments that the club might not be able to afford in the future. John Blackledge will get some of his money back but the club has to be in a position to pay the money.”
*Are there any property deals or sweeteners in the takeover?
Singh said: “I need to make this clear from the outset there is no Mill House development sweetener. I have not spoken to anyone at the council. This is purely about football, nothing else. We have a sight in Hartlepool that is in for planning at the moment, but that is totally unrelated. There is nothing else I am looking at. From day one I need everyone to know that I am only interested in the football club.”
*What are your plans for the club moving forward?
Singh said: “My experience - 35 years in business - tell me set a plan, whether that be three years, five year or 10 years, it rarely ever comes to fruition, especially in football. Next year the idea will be to consolidate. If we look good next year there is no reason why we will not help the manager, with the agreement of the board. We won’t throw money at things necessarily. Some things have gone wrong for the club financially this year and we have to change that. We will have to cut our cloth accordingly. We cannot go forward saying that this club will lose £1,000,000 a year. If that’s the case we may as well shut the club up now. There will be hard decisions to be made. There will be redundancies. But the one thing I can promise the fans is that every decision taken will be for the benefit of the club.”
*Financially Hartlepool United, as a model, is a busted flush. How will you change things to run this club sustainably?
Singh said: “I have learned a lot from my Darlington experience. There were so many similarities when I looked at Pools now, to what I was dealing with at Darlington. There was a big stadium mentality, where it was three-course lunches and away directors get treated like royalty. Here we had something similar which put the club on the road to disaster. First and foremost it needs to be run properly. Craig (Hignett) has come on board to look after the football side of things, which I did not have at Darlington. I will be looking to put a proper board together. I want help in making decisions for the good of the football club. I have got ideas on what needs done and have spoken to a few people about the subject. I want proper football people for the football club, no hangers on. The short term vision would be to stabilise the club and consolidate then the idea beyond that would be to get back into the league and go as high as we can.”
*Why, after all your difficulties with Darlington, would you want to step back into football?
Singh said: “One, I am a big football fan. Two, as Jeff Stelling said on the radio, I want to put a perceived wrong, right. I suppose you can compare it to a boxer. Even though he has been well battered he still wants to get back in the ring. I want to put it right and win the fight. Things went wrong with Darlington, that’s well documented. But I come here with a point to prove to the football world in the North East. This is not a business deal. It is not even an investment. It is something I feel passionate about. You look at what can be achieved and it gets me excited. You see what can be done with Burton Albion or Bournemouth. But you have to weigh that up with what happened at Darlington. I am hopeful that long-term we will head in the right direction. I feel like I have unfinished business.”
*Is the ongoing legal action a concern?
Singh said: “I know it put a lot of people off. One local businessman text me recently saying it will take a brave man to take that club on with the litigation. When we looked into it, it is a big claim but it is nothing to worry about. We are more than confident that will get put to bed. We have done as much as we can in terms of due diligence to make sure nothing bites me in the backside in the future. People have been in and checked everything. Any business that has fell on hard times there will be some discrepancies in the books, but as long as you don’t have discrepancies totaling £50,000 or £100,000 then it is OK. We have not seen anything like that. There are no hidden nasties - nothing came as a surprise to us in the company as we have been kept fully informed by Geoff Cunningham and Pam Duxbury every step on the way.”
*Tomorrow, Singh discusses the future of Matthew Bates and Pam Duxbury as well as clarifying what his and Craig Hignett’s role will be at Victoria Park.
Other topics covered include the importance of the Hartlepool United Supporters Trust, concerns with the black hole in the budget and the reaction of Poolies to the takeover. All in Tuesday’s Mail.