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21st March 2008 19:05

Ex-football chairman wants to join Derry's Stags consortium

by Tim Morriss

JAMES Derry has admitted that a businessman with a chequered past in running a football club has asked to become part of his consortium buying Mansfield Town Football Club.
But he told Chad on Friday that former York owner John Batchelor is not part of his group yet - and if he did become involved he would just be part of a team running the club.

The colourful Mr Batchelor is best known to football fans for his ill-fated time in charge of York, which went into administration after nine months under his stewardship in 2002.

It is thought that Mr Batchelor - who admits to coming up with 'wacky ideas' - wants to be involved on the commercial side at Field Mill, attracting sponsorship and extra revenue to the Stags.

Mr Derry edged closer to owning the Stags on Thursday evening when chief executive Stephen Booth told a fans forum that the Derry consortium was 'effectively in control' of the club.

Mr Derry told Chad when asked about the link with John Batchelor: "He is one of several people whom we have been in discussions with and who have been introduced to us.

"He has got some interesting ideas on attracting revenue to a club and has access to national advertising companies, so could be good for the club from that point of view.

"He admits that some of his ideas are wacky . . . but sometimes wacky ideas can work.

"But he would not be in control, as he was at York. If he became involved he would just be part of a team running the club and would not be making any decisions on his own to affect the running of the club.

"He would only ever be a minority shareholder. People say he could be another Keith Haslam, but that could never be the case. He would not have any control.

"He has not yet met the other members of my consortium and if they said no, we would not even consider bringing him in anyway.

"The priority for now is to complete the takeover."

Mr Batchelor would point out to his critics that York was already in deep trouble when he bought the club for £1 - and that its subsequent demise was more due to the actions of the previous chairman, Douglas Craig, rather than his own failure to deliver on promises.

But York fans remember that he diverted sponsorship money into his own company, before loaning some of it back to the football club. And that he failed to buy the ground as he promised when taking over.

He was also known for his gimmicks and publicity stunts in a bid to raise the profile of the football club - including posing as Austin Powers.

He became chairman in April 2002 after the then vilified chairman Douglas Craig separated the football club from its stadium, Bootham Crescent, with suggestions that he wanted to sell the ground for property development.

Mr Batchelor bought York for £1 and promised to buy the ground, too, and offer the fans' new supporters seats on the board in return for their support.

But neither promise turned into reality, even though the fans did get behind the businessman – who was also promoting his British Touring Car Championship motor racing team, Honda Integrity, at the same time.

His ambitious plans seemed to include a link-up between the two in terms of sponsorship through the York Sporting Club, as well as relocating to a new stadium.

And he also threatened to sue the Football League over the collapse of ITV Digital, which hit many lower level clubs hard – gaining national publicity.

In November 2002 the chairman even went onto the pitch at half-time during a match to promise giving the supporters trust 100% of the football club.

That also failed to happen.

Eight months after taking charge, York went into administration with debts of around £500,000.

Mr Batchelor blamed the ITV Digital failure and the collapse in the transfer market for his inability to turn the club's finances around.

He left with fans feeling let down and questioning some of the financial deals at the club.

For instance, property company Persimmon Homes – part of the row surrounding the previous chairman – sponsored York Racing Club, but most of the money never went to the football club.

And some of that was put into the football club as a loan by Mr Batchelor, which he later withdrew.

On leaving Bootham Crescent, he said he had lost money when York went into administration.

He was quoted as saying: "Look, I'm a businessman. That means I have to make a profit from what I do. And that includes football. I know people find that hard to take because they think football is a community asset. It is, but it doesn't stand a chance if it can't make a profit."


I want to help turn Stags around - John Batchelor

Would-be consortium member defends his chequered past in football

THE flamboyant businessman who wants to join the Derry consortium buying Mansfield Town has urged Stags fans 'to give me a chance'.
It emerged on Friday that John Batchelor, owner of York City when it went into administration seven years ago and vilified by some supporters for his role in its demise, wants to become the fourth member of the Stags buyout group.

Immediately, concerned Mansfield fans questioned the move – remembering reports that he 'fiddled for two years while York burned'.

But Mr Batchelor insists that his football background has no relevance to his involvement at Field Mill, which would be 'totally different'.

In an exclusive interview with Chad he said: "My interest would be purely on the commercial side.

"I want to make an investment into the football club and then work on attracting new and different income to Mansfield, including away from matchdays.

"I am quite happy to be as transparent as possible, I am not trying to hide anything. I am an open person and willing to talk to anyone about anything.

"I would like to be given this chance to make a difference and be successful in football.

"I have been successful in many other areas away from football, but what happened at York has dogged me for the last seven years.

"I am quite happy to talk to anyone about York, what happened there and answer questions.

"My business in football is unfinished. My wife thinks I am crazy, my kids think I am crazy. They want to know why I want to go back and put myself in a position to be shot down again.

"But football gets into your blood."

Mr Batchelor says that he is prepared to match the investment of the other consortium members – James Derry, Steve Hymas and Andy Sutton – as they complete the buyout of controversial Mansfield Town owner Keith Haslam.

On Thursday night Stags chief executive Stephen Booth told a fans forum that the Derry consortium was now 'effectively in control' of the Stags, though the deal will not be signed for at least another week.

The consortium is investing a minimum £0.5 working capital into the club, buying out Mr Haslam for £1 and renting Field Mill from him over a 10-year lease – with an option to buy the stadium at an agreed price in the next four years.

Mr Batchelor has held talks with Mr Derry over recent days, but will meet the other members of the consortium for the first time at the match against Grimsby on Saturday.


The group has yet to decide who will run the football club as chief executive, but Mr Derry told Chad on Friday: "If John became involved he would just be part of a team running the club, really he would be bringing in money for us, and would not be making any decisions on his own to affect the running of the club.

"He would only ever be a minority shareholder. People say he could be another Keith Haslam, but that could never be the case. He would not have any control."

And Mr Batchelor added that he was ready to work for the club under that arrangement, saying: "I know all about Keith Haslam, but I don't want to run the club. I will be an ideas person. And James can temper my ideas.!"

Like the other directors he would not be salaried, but said he would want a commission on any extra commercial business he brought to the club.

Mr Batchelor (49) explained: "I want to make an investment into the club and in return I would like to be a member of the board. Then I could go out to sponsors and say that I could deliver what I was promising, within reason of course, because I was board member.

"I would want a commission as I am prepared to put all my other business interests aside for the next 12 months and devote my time purely to Mansfield Town.

"But I am quite happy for people to know that, to know how much the deals are worth to the club and how much I would get out of them.

"I have done this sort of thing at a fairly reasonable level in the past, particularly in motor sport."

While at York he said his commercial ideas helped to treble season ticket sales and lead to a record sale of replica shirts.

The businessman continued with his Honda Integrity motor sport team after leaving York in 2002 – a venture he had tried to link-up with the football club through the York Sporting Club, including adding a chequered flag to the York City badge.

His team won the British Touring Car Championships a year later, he negotiated a major sponsorship deal with Varta Batteries and then he concentrated on setting up First Serve Group Ltd, a Nuneaton-based business buying and selling companies.

The colourful character admitted that some of his ideas 'may be wacky' and said that he had learned from his time trying to bring money into York.

"At that time I had to do extreme things and raise our profile because there was a £1.3m hole to fill.

"Yes I changed my name to 'John B&Q' to get sponsorship from them as a rally driver, I still have the Austin Powers car from another idea which you have used on the Chad website story.

"But this time I will have a more measured approach. Afterall, Mansfield is not insolvent!

"But I will still be reasonably unconventional, though there is only so far you can go.


"The rest of the board can temper my ideas. Anything we do has to be acceptable to everyone – the fans, the club, Mansfield people and the Football League.

"I will push boundaries, however, and try the unusual.

"My role is to come up with ideas and back them with investment. I am showing my commitment by wanting to make this investment."

Mr Batchelor, a long-time Burnley fan who lives in Clitheroe, added: "But I don't want or need a load of abuse in my life again. I am trying to be a positive force for Mansfield, rather than create problems.

"I don't want to become the centre of an issue for the consortium, but this is a great opportunity.

"Rumour and speculation from York has dogged my life for the last seven years. People all seem to have an opinion about me without knowing the facts.

"As I have said, I happy to talk about what happened at York to anyone."

Mr Batchelor bought the club for £1, but nine months later it went into administration. He failed to buy the ground, as fans say he promised, and they claim that sponsorship money was paid directly to the owner who then only put a quarter of it back into the club in loans – the rest of it going to his motorsport interests.

To read more about the accusations surrounding Mr Batchelor and York City click here and here

But Mr Batchelor says that the problems started with the previous chairman, who transferred the Bootham Crescent ground into a holding company and then sold shares in that to property developers.

"I did nothing wrong. Yes I made money out of the club, I don't deny it. I suppose I made a profit of about £120,000 over 18 months in total.

"But I did not take a salary and I could have made far more than that on a salary from working elsewhere.

"At the end I twice put in £40,000 to give fans time to do a deal with the administrators.

"Really the collapse of ITV Digital, which happened just after I took over, cut the legs from under us. Suddenly we could hardly make any money from transfers.

"For instance the keeper Alan Fettis, who we might have got upto £1m for, went for £60,000.

"We had players on high wages and even though we trebled season ticket sales, brought in money from the commercial side and went top of the table, I could not find enough money to keep us going and so we went into administration.

"I know I am not flavour of the month in York, but I tried hard to make it work as a business – and football clubs do have to be run as a business."

After he left York, pressure from fans led to the DTI investigating his involvement at Bootham Crescent.

'Web warriors'

Mr Batchelor told Chad: "They turned my life inside out for two years, but I was given a clean bill of health.

"I know the Web warriors will be having a go at me, but I will talk to the fans face to face, any time at any place . . . just as I did at York."

The would-be Stags director has been to Field Mill just once before and says: "That doesn't matter. I will be at the match against Grimsby talking to as many people as possible.

"Perhaps as I am not a Mansfield fan I can bring a degree of objectivity about things, but I do not want to stop any passion for the club, far from it.

"To watch the steady decline of Mansfield Town, its attendances, the League position, has been depressing.

"There is a tremendous area here to draw on and nothing to stop us – if I can become part of it – from getting it right.

"I want to be involved at a decent club with a decent reputation and make it work.

"That is why I contacted Stephen Booth when I saw the club was for sale. He introduced me to James (Derry) and we have got along well so far."


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