Recorded in the summer of 2020. Matt Healey spoke to the former Hereford United Chairman David Keyte about his tenure at Edgar Street. Keyte was at the helm from 2010-2014.
What made you decide to become chairman of Hereford United back in June 2010?
“Well let me start by saying I’m happy to have a chat to you after all this time. It’s frightening how the time is going.
“I’m happy to answer all your questions but don’t be surprised if it counters an awful lot that the people of Hereford have been reading on social media in these past five or six years, a lot of which I’ve made no comment about before. All I can give you is the true story as we experienced in our four years there.
“The reason I got involved in the first place is that a) it’s my home town, home town football club, supported it since I went with my dad in 1964. Later on I was lucky enough to play as a schoolboy in the reserves about 40 times, Colin Addison was manager, people like Wilf Grant and Bobby Wynn looked after us. So it was almost engrained, if you like.
“When I picked up a newspaper, the Hereford Times, and it said the Bulls were up for sale, by then I had moved on, moved away from Hereford as well, and managed to have a little bit of success in business and thought I might look into that. So I did make an enquiry to Graham and Joan Fennessey, I went across and met them. Hereford being Hereford the first person I dropped into was an old school mate Dave Benjamin, Benjamin the fish, in Church Street and had a chat to him. He said if you’ve got any money you should put it into the rugby club. And then walking from there into the football club I bumped into Richard Prime so you knew straight away that you’re not going to get away with anything on the quiet in Hereford.
“I spoke to Graham and I felt I can’t value it in the same way as they were hoping to receive so I left it and then a short time later I had a call from Joan Fennessey to say that somebody else was interested and that turned out to be a chap called Tim Russon who I didn’t know but we got together and had a chat. We felt that sharing the cost of it we could go in and give it a go. So that’s how it started.”
How did you get on with Tim at the start?
“Tim was very pleasant, very positive TV journalist, talked a lot about football. He felt he could get into the communications, marketing side of it. Looking at research told us that the football club was a bit distant from the community to say the least at that time and maybe Graham was living in that pure football world, not least because it was hand to mouth and if that didn’t work it was looking very difficult.
“We thought we could approach it almost like off the field, take the club to the Hereford community as well as recognising the importance of on the field results. And that’s how we intended to go into it.”
Simon Davey was your first manager, what made him the stand out candidate?
“Graham was very helpful in the chats that we had and in this regard he had a file of about thirty candidates who had applied for the job, I think it would take you back to John Trewick being sacked, March time towards the end of that season in 2010. Of course Graham stepped in to make sure they stayed up. So he had a folder of applicants and he said the best one in there after sifting through it himself was Simon Davey. But you won’t get him because he’s gone to Darlington.
“So we spoke to a few other people in the next week or two. And through a different route, Tim was quite pally with Steve Coterill who had been manager at Cheltenham, Tim was reporting over there, and he was at Notts County. And this chap called Simon Davey had been asking about a couple of players and in the conversation that he basically relayed to Tim was that Davey said he would walk to Hereford for the job. So I managed to make contact with him and established he was actually under contract at Darlington which was seven days notice either way. That was because they had had a big pay-off to a chap called Steve Staunton who had been manager there and it had cost a lot to make the change.
“Simon said he goes to the United States every summer for a six week coaching committment that he had, that they had honoured. Basically we worked something out that he would resign from Darlington while he was away on this coaching course and was available to a new club on his return to the UK. That’s how it worked. And the Darlington chairman at the time, can’t remember his name, gave me allsorts of grief in the press. But he gave seven days notice and was available.”
The Darlington chairman was called Raj Singh so that was kind of your first introduction into how controversial football could be?
“Yes, yes, I guess so. You would be a bit naive to think everything is above board and to the letter of the law.”
Davey’s first game was at Crewe. We win 1-0. The second game we played Gillingham and drew 0-0. So four points out of six games and so not a bad start but then it went wrong. What do you think went wrong in those remaining eight games that he had?
“I think to be fair to Simon we have to go back to the fact that Tim Russon and I got involved on the 4th of June. Pre-season training was set for the 1st of July. Graham had moved on and we had four players plus young Tyler Weir. I personally, without a manager, contacted Kenny Lunt and Ryan Green. I caught Ryan just before he was going to top-up his tan in Portugal and they signed so the new manager walked into six players plus Weir and Simon started probably not much more than a week before pre-season.
“So when you read about managers saying you need two or three transfer windows to get to grips with your squad, he did remarkably well to get us up and running for when we went up to Crewe for the first game. I remember we took about 900, I think it was 905 supporters went to Crewe and you had the sense of a new beginning for Hereford United. And better still we managed to pinch a 1-0 win. In terms of introductions to football I asked their chairman could I put out a tannoy thank you to the travelling support and he said I’ve been doing this for about 25 years and I’ve never had that requested before. So that shows how green I was. But the tannoy went out thanking the travelling support. I don’t know if anyone heard it. Then Simon Davey told me that was the first time he had ever won the first game of the season in his whole career.
“But next game we were home to Gillingham and they were favourites to get promoted. I’ve got to say I was disappointed that we didn’t quite get 3,000 in the crowd. May be that was a tell-tale sign looking back but we got a 0-0. It was August, the window was open, there were a few players coming in, chopping and changing, and the first ten games we won one, drawn two and lost seven and we were bottom with five points.
“It was not what we wanted to do, not what we came in to do. And the game at Burton yet another system and O’Neil Thompson played in the middle of the back three and Burton pulled us apart there so we did have conversations in the boardroom. My personal view was that I wanted to continue with Simon, I got on with him. Tim, I’m probably talking out of turn here, but I don’t think Tim and maybe Grenville had quite got on with the chap and I lost the vote 2-1 to dismiss him. But when you look back a young chap called Colin Addison got us into the Football League back in 1972 and his first games were identical. Won one, drew two and lost seven and he got out and out a bloke called Eric Redrobe and took off. So who knows.
“Quite recently Newport County were adrift at the bottom of the Football League and I think it was Mick Flynn who went in and they stayed up. So you can’t tell. Ten games, 42/46 matches it’s a long way to go. But we made that decision, Simon Davey left us after ten games”
With Simon Davey and Andy Fensome’s pay-offs, did you have to give them pay-off for the whole contract, I think they were on two year contracts, or was there an early settlement clause?
“The whole thing about management contracts, player contracts, was a key paragraph, what is the settlement. I’m sure ordinary people looking on the outside, we all think well he’s just signed a five year contract and he’s gone to another club next year. I’m not saying it’s not worth the paper it’s written on but the key paragraph is what is your agreed position for settlement and that might be, as it was, six months pay when you’ve got a two year contract. As I said earlier he’ had signed a contract which said seven days at Darlington so if he been sacked there he would have had seven days pay.
“You hear on TV that Mourinio had signed a five year contract but the world of football doesn’t seem to follow the contractual situation very closely. If they want a move, they move. Players, agents etc, there’s a way of settling things and moving on.”
So there was a settlement with Simon?
“Yes, you’ve got to settle and they pushed as hard as they could and we ended out having to agree a figure and settle for six months.”
So you had to pay Simon and Andy Fensome a six month settlement, the crowds had dropped. Stevenage at the end of September 2010 I think was 1400 and we lost 4-1. So that money is not coming in. You then go to Jamie Pitman who was the physio and he did turn things around briefly?
“Initially we had a game the very next night, I think a League Cup match against Exeter City, so it was a matter of can you just hold the fort tomorrow Jamie. Russell Hoult was in the background with him and we lost that match I think. But we set off and just wanted a bit of stability again. The thinking was, I think we were in October by then, let’s have a look again around Christmas and see how it is going.
“He was a young lad with no experience, Hereford background but we had to see how it goes. We progressed, we were picking up points and the season just unfolded and there was no desparate need to change we felt. And in the context of that is that we got up to about fourth/fifth bottom with a six or seven point cushion. Not comfortable but then later in that season because of lack of experience in the office, lack of experience in the boardroom, we end up getting a three point penalty for quite a bizarre transfer window issue involving Rob Purdie.
“We were playing a game down at Torquay on a Tuesday night and the transfer deadline ended on the Monday and the standard transfer deadline was 2.30pm. You had to get your fax off to the FA by 2.30pm and what we learnt to our three points cost was that the exception to that is if you are taking on a player currently on loan and transferring his contract into a full contract with the club, the deadline is 12.30pm. I didn’t know that and the office obviously didn’t know that and we got our stuff in in time for 2-30pm but we were in the dock for not sending the paperwork in on time. Rob Purdie had been with us for about three months by then, it was Oldham he came from, and we were just confirming that we had agreed with Oldham he had joined us. We were right back in a relegation threat because of that.”
How did that mistake come out? Was it something the FA pointed out to you afterwards?
“Yes I’m pretty sure it would have been. And in actual fact within a month or two that was taken out of the rules and they came up with a single time deadline on transfer day so it probably gave them the opportunity that it was a bit unrealistic. But it was in the book of rules and it should have been picked up.”
Lennie Lawrence was at the club for six or seven weeks. He seemed to be a positive influence but then he went to Crystal Palace.
“We had taken Jamie Pitman on and we felt, he ultimately agreed although I don’t think he felt he needed it, an older hand in the background to advise would be a good move. Lennie Lawrence was available and he came in, it was probably about December by then, I remember meeting him at Wycombe. We played down there and we sat together in the stand and chatted and we managed to get back Mathieu Manset who scored with about eight minutes to go to get it to 1-1.
You could physically see them relax because job done. As you hear now on the wonderful Hereford FC radio commentary it’s about football management and game management and you should be able to hang on to a 1-1 for the last eight minutes. But we lost 2-1 because we kept flying forward or whatever.
“So that was the meeting with Lennie Lawrence and he came here. He was very good. It was a bad winter, we couldn’t get on the pitch. We went to Ludlow and I remember him saying it was probably the best surface that he had actually coached on at Ludlow. He was enjoying himself. The only thing he could do with was a car so I bought a black BMW from Phil Powell’s car-lot and he loved it. Even though he moved on, he teamed up again with Dougie Freeman. He rang me, he didn’t know how to start, he was very apologetic but he said he had had this offer financially at a level that we were nowhere near and it was 20 minutes from his back door. He said I’ve really got to take it. He hadn’t come in and signed a contract or anything like that, he had come in to help us or help the manager. So we parted company on good terms and he paid me for his black BMW over the next nine months.”
We had a good FA Cup run that season, Sheffield Wednesday in the fourth round. What do you remember from that run?
“It didn’t have the glamour of any big clubs. We played Hythe, we played Lincoln at home and got a draw and we went up there and Stuart Fleetwood and Mathieu Manset were scoring a lot of goals at the turn of the year and we won 4-3 up there. We went to Wycombe and pinched another win there. That was a Tuesday night for some reason. So there was no glamour of a Ronnie Radford run but we had a great trip up to Sheffield Wednesday. We took about 2,500 people up there I think and we pinched the first goal. But it wasn’t to be, we were over-run in the end 4-1.
We managed to stay up that season, we drew with Bradford 1-1 in the penultimate game, Stuart Fleetwood scored with a late free kick. How you do assess your first season as chairman?
“A roller-coaster, whirlwind. We didn’t expect to be going into it having to sack a manager, delighted to have an FA Cup run which is what Hereford United was all about in many ways. The sillyness of the admin thing, three points, put us back into danger and I suppose relief at the end that we had got through it and were still in League Two. The whole financial plan was predicated on a belief that we were a League Two club with the funding football league clubs get compared to non-league. Yes, job done in the end.
“But fairly swiftly in football it’s onto the next season. We made a decision that Jamie Pitman had come through it and we extended the contract for him to carry on. And them we started the second season, we had the identical start in the first ten games, we won one, drawn two and lost seven. The second season was not positive and obviously the conclusion was relegation It was not positive from boardroom through to management in many respects. I must admit that on the same start as Simon Davey had, we ought to have been looking at the management. But for some reason in discussions everything seemed to be okay.
“On a personal front I wasn’t so close to the club. Just for the record my wife Lorraine had had kidney failure and so my appearances were a little bit in and out. I remember she was in hospital one weekend and I missed Gillingham at home game and we lost 6-1. Yet on the Monday it was described as a game in which they had seven chances and scored six and we had seven chances and scored one. Could have gone either way. But I was a little bit conscious that we ought to be thinking of where are we going. An identical start to the previous season. That probably was the main cause of not working so closely in the boardroom. We managed to extend the board from three people to five around October time and I can remember in October we again decided that the manager needed more experience above him and we appionted Gary Peters.
“I liked Gary Peters. I think he had a passion for football and a work ethic that Jamie Pitman probably didn’t have as a manager. I’ll give you a description where Gary Peters would probably go out and watch two or three matches a week, evening matchs, I can remember him sleeping in the manager’s office on the settee to save driving to North Shropshire where he lived to come back the next day wheras young Jamie had to go and pick his children up at 3pm from school. That experienced head in the football world, he was a Graham Turner like experience.
“We went to Swindon Town one day and Harry Pell scored a header and we got a 3-3 draw late on. When the whistle went I’ve got this image of Gary Peters running down this cynder track like a young kid in front of the 200 or so Hereford supporters and Jamie was just ready to go down the tunnel. And I just thought yes that’s what we need. But I lost that vote 3-2 in the boardroom. The two people who came on board at that point were Dave Preedy who was Hereford United through and through and Nick Nenaditch who had been on the committee of the Vice-Presidents. Difficult for Dave Preedy, it may have been his first or second board meeting and I’m saying I think we should make a change, Dave was godfather to Jamie’s two children. Very difficult for him to not support him. So I lost that 3-2.”Then there was a bit of a dividing of the ways between Gary Peters and Jamie Pitman. Jamie was difficult to advise, give advice to. I did speak to Gary Peters at Christmas. We went to Saxty’s in Widemarsh Street for a drink and a meal with the people in the office and I spoke to Gary and I said how do you think it is going you tell me when the right time is, I’ve got my views, and at the time, and we’ve spoken since and he regrets it, his first job was to look after the manager. He said he’s doing okay.”I would have put Gary Peters in as manager and I think we would have avoided relegation. In his view we didn’t have the players to play football. It dragged on too far with hindsight. We went to Gillingham in February. We went 2-0 up in no time with Barkhuisen scoring, back to 2-2 by half time. We went 4-2 ahead with ten minutes left. Gary was sat up with me. He had a system where he would call the dug-out. I remember him saying there were 17 missed calls where he was just ignored. 4-2 play it out, game management. As we know they came back, Purdie missed a penalty and we were down 5-4. The trip back on the coach that night I didn’t have to push the discussion much further and we met the next day. So with only about twelve matches left I managed to make contact with Richard O’Kelly who had done a great job at Hereford in years gone by and he did come in and help us out.”Despite starting to turn the players, turn the results, it was just last day, too little too late.”
Why didn’t you offer Gary Peters the job after you replaced Pitman?
“In that time period Gary Peters on social media was absolutely castigated. It’s all hoof-ball and Peters must be directing it, who is running it and who is not. Peters stayed on until it was obvious I had to chat to him and say to him we need to settle with you and off you go. Initially I couldn’t get it through before Christmas and by the time the February Gillingham result came through, a week or so later the feeling was that Gary wasn’t the right person for us at that time with all the negativity around the chap.”
Do you think you should have been a bit stronger in that situation and not listened to social media?
“I don’t know whether it was just social media to be perfectly honest. When you sit back on it for six years, a lot of things you can’t undo in life, we can all have regrets and see your mistakes with hindsight.”The one thing I wish really as it turned out was in a boardroom with three people where you are the only one putting any money into the football club I think I was a bit foolish compared to previous business life to actually give people an equal vote.That’s one thing I do look back on and I probably should have pushed it through.”
So with the board of directors you put the money in and other board members hadn’t put anything in?
“Initially, Tim didn’t put any money into the football club and Grenville was on the board, we inherited Grenville if you like and he wasn’t putting money in. There was no investment initially other than myself. And then Dave Preedy and Nick Nenadich came on the board and we had more lines of investment. I suspect Nick probably put £200,000 plus in and Dave and Caroline Preedy either money and or equipment, particuarily when we did up the social club and not least time. They put in a hell of a lot of time. Financially I did during that second season clearly looking back, clearly in my mind the season went by. Probably, I think, because of that reason the boardroom not at one and/or management structure not at one you could say we got what we deserved and got relegated.”
Richard O’Kelly was the manager when we went down. Did you have a good relationship with him?
“Yes, nice chap. I don’t think anybody could fail to have a good relationship with Richard O’Kelly. He’s doing really well now at Aston Villa. I met him in London once at a function. I didn’t remember but he reminded me that my wife had knitted him a sock in club colours or something. Yes, really nice chap. And clearly a coach who gets the best out of players. Out of the same set of players you could see them improving. I remember going to Crawley Town, we were almost dead and buried, second from last game, they were fourth I think from memory and we ran them ragged. It was just gelling. But we made the changes too late that season in my opinion.”
We were relegated into the Conference. There must be some regrets with some of the contracts that were given out to players who, as I understand, were on the same Football League money when we went into non-league?
“That’s always been a bit of nonsense, a bit of a misinformation through social media that. Football League player contracts are standard forms. And there will be a paragraph for increased wages for promotion, x percent. Decreased wages on relegation, x percent. There is a caviat where players can opt not to sign that bit, i e he forgoes that an increase in wages on promotion but he hangs onto his money on relegation. So every player bar two lost 20% of their wages when we got down in the Conference. I’ve like everybody else saw on social media that Keyte screwed up the contracts and so on, they were all on silly money. That was not the case. Anybody who knew Harry Pell only had to ask him. He was on £800 a week in League Two and went down to £640 in the Conference. The thing that did catch us was that we had, with hindsight, probably committed to many players that next year which was something I was working through with Gary Peters to cover off the worst case senario and maintain a squad that we believed could get us back up straight away. And we had about ten carried forward for another year. Wages went down for the reason I just said but Richard O’Kelly decided not to stay on so we had to recruit another manager and that was Martin Foyle and what happens in football, managers have their own players that they try to attract to their club with players perhaps they don’t like. So Martin set off in his way to get a squad together and a lot of those faces didn’t fit in with the new manager, that was an expense too looking back.”
Gary Peters was still around then, would it have been an easier option to have given him the job or was he not interested.
“From memory he was almost written off through the image that was around the football club of him. It’s was unfair but he still with it and was prepared to stay in the same role for the new manager. In turn Martin said he could work with Gary so he stayed in the role he had come to the club as before.”
What was your relationship like with Martin Foyle?
“Again very well, I can remember him in my back garden talking about players. Very nice chap, nice family. He set off to bring in the players he could find and I think he did that quite successfully. We picked up Marley Watkins from Bath for nothing. Ryan Bowman as well. Sam Clucas was already with us, Clucas we picked up when Glen Hoddle brought his Spanish academy for a friendly at Edgar Street and Gary Peters took a liking to Clucas, very athletic, gets up and down the pitch. When you look across the football line now we had, and I know in Graham Turner’s time over the years, we’ve had players in and out of the football club to get better results. We had a decent squad and we had what you get when you drop out of the football league financially, and I know it’s moved on again, at that time we were getting £725,000 per year through being a League Two club. Basically £60,000 a month before you play a match, before you open the turnstiles. And when you drop into the Conference we moved down to £48,000, £4,000 a month. The exception for one year we got a parachute payment of £215,000. So the pressure is on to make use of that compared to other clubs in that Conference League and get yourself back up which is very difficult to do.
Now when Cheltenham Town got relegated that had moved on to £450,000 for one year and they got back up and now it moved onto, I forgot the figure, for two seasons.So it’s likely that you would see in the Conference now something of a revolving door where most League clubs should be able to get themselves pushing for promotion whilst having that parachute money. But it was us it was quite a drop and I think from memory we had a player budget of about £650,000 which was competitive, not the highest. You think of places like Forest Green supposedly around £1.4M. And we came in mid-division, we were threatening a play-off place but we came in really a distant sixth in the end. We couldn’t do it. That was disappointing. So you lose your £215,000 for the next season and I know Martin is on record as saying we kept moving the budget and to be honest that summer we, and I in particular, had started to think I’m not going to keep doing this just to be abused on social media, it was the general feeling across the boardroom. So we put a budget together that actually assumed we would lose £300,000 in the year ahead unless you had a cup run or a big transfer. And the playing budget was reduced to about £400,000 from memory or £450,000 Obviously Martin had to rip up a few pieces of paper he had got with names on and get a squad together for the budget. But we felt it was sufficient to consolidate in the Conference and I think I would be happy to go on record and say I don’t think the performances were as good as they could have been even on that budget. And I think perhaps Martin lost his way a bit two thirds of the way through the season. You see it all the time in football when it’s going well the manager and the players are praised. When it’s not it’s usually we haven’t got a decent budget or it’s pushed upstairs when it’s not going well. And maybe the new set-up will be reaching the level now when they will see a bit more of that. But I guess that’s football.”
And the crowds dropped off quite significently in the Conference as well looking back at the attendances?
“Well they do, don’t they. You would expect them to. I’ve got to say the Hereford crowd is an odd one to gauge. You can have a great result and there are less people watching the following week. And something can happen and you get a bigger crowd so you can’t tell to the last few hundred. Financially there is a sort of unwritten formula I would say around the Conference that you needed crowds of 2000, you probably needed a cup run to the first, ideally second round of the FA Cup and if you could sell a player somewhere along the way you might break even. Maybe go back to Graham’s time and he knew that. If you have a bad season the pressure is on financially. If you can sell a player or two you can live another day. That’s where Hereford sits in the football world. In my view somewhere between the Conference and League Two Hereford United. The new lot are making their way and maybe they are just reaching that point now where to run it sustainably will get you to a certain point and then the people who put some money in or the manager who gets a squad that just gels from nowhere. Look at the two Cowley brothers when they were at Lincoln City, very similar club to Hereford in my view. Something happened right for them and they went off a great Cup run, they got out of the Conference and up again. Sometimes it just gels and it happens. Other times it’s lots of money that gets you up there.
“As we experienced we put more money into player budgets in the first couple of seasons and probably got less return than you would have hoped. Whereas Graham Turner, being one of the better lower league managers there has ever been I’d say, got more out of a lesser budget. There’s no divine right. The players dressing room not least they can move a manager out if they so wish. There are lots of things that make up the results at 5pm on a Saturday afternoon up and down the country I’m sure.”
You’ve mentioned Graham Turner a few times. Did you ever go to him for any advice?
“No, not really. He was very helpful in those early discussions. He mentioned Simon Davey. I can recall we had a tribunal for Marc Pugh, he had gone to Bournemouth and we were waiting on a settlement and Graham offered to come down to London and come to the hearing with me. I didn’t take him up on it. I went down there and actually met Simon Davey down there who had joined us by then I remember Simon was on hoiliday with his family on the South Coast and we had met him at the FA place in London and I noticed he had a suit on alright but he hadn’t got any socks so I walked around to a shop and bought him a pair of socks before we went into the meeting.
“Graham, I would have to say the further it went on the more you would have to have admiration for the chap. What he did at Hereford was quite incredible. I think he probably had spells where it could have got worse before it got better. He put his hand up to keep the club going. By about 2002 the club was £1.6M in debt. The correlation between the football pitch and the finances at the club were clear. He got a team together with Richard O’Kelly helping and later John Trewick, they finally got promoted back into the Football League, back into the money pot. The finances of the club turned back the other way.
“Graham was football through and through. He had a good understanding and we spoke about the leases at the ground which the club didn’t hold and the Richardsons Developers had the leases. And that was probably one of the early thoughts I had, a supporter from the outside looking in. When you walked past the old social club which I’d been in before as a youngster which was now full of pigeon muck when you opened the door. It was the off-field things which I felt I could improve upon. And the football, fingers crossed , looked after itself. But in truth, we never replaced Graham Turner as a football manager and that can drive your finances. Relegation from the Football League is enormous, I think in many ways on a par with relegation from the Premier League. Huge respect for Graham Turner as a football manager.”
I think Graham (Turner) would put his hand up and say he wasn’t interested in off the field matters, he was more involved in the football. How proud were you to see the Starlite Rooms back and functioning as it was prior to the fire?
“It’s strange when you look back on the four years, I’m quite proud of a few things off the field. We enjoyed the FA Cup run on the field but we were sitting in the stand as a supporter, give credit to the football manager and the players. Off the pitch we had a lot of support from local people and we pulled that social club around so that the supporters had an entrance to the club if you like. Instead of going into a turnstile somewhere around the ground they were mixing at the doorway to the football club, getting their tickets, going upstairs for a meal if they wanted to, the bar and so on and of course Addison’s Bar at the back which we created.”Yes I was very proud of that, very grateful for the support of Terry Emmett and others. It was nice to go to various functions, tribute bands and whatever. Whether or not financially, it wasn’t going to be a money spinner, but it was there for the football club supporters if they wanted to come to the club. We were very pleased with that one.”But the biggest success really was getting the leases back and we did have a situation where Graham Turner came into the football club and took it on as chairman and manager in 1998 when the football club was £1.2M in debt and he had somebody else holding the leases above him. I left the football club in 2014 with the football club £1.2M in debt but with leases that potentially, if there was any development at the two ends of the ground, would actually secure the football ground for 250 years at Edgar Street. And I read so much nonsense when we went into the Agombar era a bit later that he’s going to build houses, do this do that.
That, being very blunt, was an agenda that some local people were working on that could never ever happen because we spent twelve months having bought the leases back from the Richardsons we had a thirty year lease on the ground. And we negotiated, probably too long with hindsight, legal people and so on, with the local council who were extremely supportive of the football club. And we came out the other end with a lease that continuing for thirty years and if someone came in to develop other end or both ends, the Meadow End and the Blackfriars End, we, the football club, would get the land value and it was estimated at £500K to £700k each end, that would drop into an escrow account held between us and the council ring-fenced for use by the football club for things to do with the ground, maintenance, the groundsman, and as you may know that could run out to £80K to £100K per year for the annual seeding and maintenance and so on. And nobody could touch that so you could have a developer come in and yes reshape the ground. I think Bob Pritchard joined the board, Ian the groundsman’s father, and he was very helpful at these meetings. Yes the shape of the club would change and you would have what I would describe as a Burton Albion feel to the ground at the Meadow End and the Blackfriars End squared off.
Behind it the developer could build 42 one and two bedroom apartments in Hereford city center and at the other end we had discussions with the people across the road at the Old Market, we had discussions with Premier Inn and the like. And the football club would have its own terracing built as part of that development But the key bit was that whatever the land value was, was paid into an account which the football club could use to maintain the ground. And a 250 years lease which confirmed existence of the ground. Nobody could build on it and all that was a big red herring, people with their own agenda to where we are today in my view. And I think also what happened was that it was such a good deal that the council had given us, it was never going to be offered again because there were a lot of councillors who eventually when they got into the detail, started to object and that was never going to be approved again.
That was I think probably was one of my biggest successes in my four years there but it never touched a ball or the corner-flag but it was so important to get that through for the existence of the football club. Unfortunately the level we are at and the cash flow in the Conference together with our diminishing wish to continue with the abuse that was going meant that we just decided to step aside with the strength of that lease in our hand. And we set out throughout the fourth season, the 13/14 season, we were quite open in saying look we need to raise £300K otherwise the football club was in real danger.
At least two occasions on the Hereford United website I said I was quite prepared to stand down but we struggled to find potential investors until quite late on. I spoke quite regularly to the local names but for their own reasons they decided not to invest in the football club. And the numbers involved whilst people were carrying a coffin up Hafod Road because £1.2M debt, and I think I have said clearly the football club with a few ups and downs £1.6M at worst and £700,000 at best after a couple of promotions, the football club for the last 20 years/25 years was never any different situation financially.
And yet suddenly we had this social media agenda where people are carrying a coffin up Hafod Road, the debt is too great.And the fact that local people, in my opinion, didn’t want to get involved, and from a business point of view quite a sound decision, but from a football fan point of view Hereford United I can’t ever understand that, and one thing you do in sport is you never give up your status. And for somebody to say to me at a meeting well maybe we should go down to a level we can be sustainable at, so I knew there were no local people coming forward after that. So we did start to try and find that investor that could put in £300K and at every meeting I attended I said you would need another £300K for the years ahead. That’s roughly what you are going to be spending in the Conference at Hereford.”
Going back to the investment, there was talk of Arab investment. Was that just a rumour or close to happening?
“It was nowhere near close to happening. That was my fault in that on the day there were some discussions about it. I saw Richard Prime going up the steps to the stand and he said how are things going and I made the mistake of mentioning to him and then it seemed to grow like wild-fire from there. But it never came to fruition. You learn to keep your mouth shut, you can be too open at times.
“Reverting back to on the field, Marin Foyle left and Pete Beadle came in. Was it a case that he was the youth team manager, just give him the job?”
Yes, it was sh*t or bust if I’m allowed to use that phrase. I don’t know how many games Peter had, ten or twelve? We played at Wrexham, it was poor and I was there and Dave Preedy and maybe Grenville and you just looked at each other. And I said I think we’ve got to make a change. And we spoke to Martin Foyle that night on the touchline at Wrexham and we agreed to continue the chat the next morning. We needed to make the change. He had lost his momentum and it had become very difficult for him I think and we were in danger of going down without doubt from the Conference. So we made the change and I can remember knocking on the door of youth office, Pete was there and maybe Steve Jenkins. And I just said what we had done and would you be prepared to take it on? And they did well. After the initial poor performance at Tamworth I can remember, it looked like nothing had changed, at the end of the day they were the same players for the most part. It was just a fresh voice trying to change things and again, rather like Richard O’Kelly, it started to turn and culminated in that great day at Aldershot and how that changed in the last five or six minutes when you were hoping for Salisbury to pick up a result from Chester. You pinch a goal and you go up and down. An incredible day there. Great support.
“But I can tell you I sat all afternoon looking across at the flag that said David Keyte you murdered our club. You don’t usually have directors running on the pitch and jumping into the crowd and things like that but such was the relief that Dave Preedy, who is Hereford United through and through, it was Dave on the pitch first, and then
Colin Addison and I probably took a more sedate route onto the pitch You’ve still got a game you’ve just played, you’ve got the appropriate decency to shake hands with the Aldershot people and a brief chat.
Then the day next I’m reading about the look on my face, the disappointment that we hadn’t been relegated. And you just think where do you start? Why do you bother to take on that sort of social media rubbish. Who in their right minds who is trying to step aside, trying to get some investment, would want their asset, if you like the football club, to be relegated to the a lower level of football. Who in their right minds would think if they saw any look on my face that’s what it was. It’s beggars belief really what some people think and together we don’t have five or six lads in the pub Friday night talking about the football or Saturday night after the match talking about the football where they are quite entitled to say how you think it went and they finish their pint and go home. Now you’ve got a thousand, two thousand, three thousand people who either making these comments online or reading them. And as people used to say mud sticks and eventually you can’t take that on in my view. You might say to counter it there’s certain people who just wish to dive all over it and jump on it.“I listened to an interview Paul McCartney gave about the break-up of the Beatles and how looking back he was always accused of breaking the Beatles up. He knew that wasn’t the case yet he read it so many times and bearing in mind we are going back 40 years he said you start to believe it.Thankfully I know what we went through, I know why we made every decision we did at that time with the information we had. It’s only with the benefit of hindsight that these people can become experts and say Keyte’s mistakes etc etc.
“It rather like the situation we are in now with the Government where they are making decisions on the information they’ve got and everybody becomes an expert if anything doesn’t go quite right. Social media is something else now. I met with Peter Hill once, I think it was the Alfreton match second last match.Jack Perks was in from the FA and Peter Hill and Peter said to me that he had it bad the abuse and what have you in his time in 1995 but he said it is not as bad as you get. And the difference twenty years later is social media. It’s horrible the effect it can have on you. I didn’t actually see it but one of my sons partners got upset by something on twitter that she had picked up about me, and it culminated in an arrest, and the bizarre fact he was involved in the church, Lyonshall/Kington way. You know Saturday afternoon in the Meadow End and they’ve had a few beers, they’ve got all the answers. He should have gone to court but I suggested that he signed up for a caution as long as he put an apology out. But that’s the way it goes.
“No doubt the new club are edging towards professional football where things don’t go right every week and they will expect I’m sure to have the abuse. I thought it was not appropriate to be abusive these days”
Did the Social media abuse had affect you?
“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 with you, 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 enormous. 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.”
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 2013/2014 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 personal 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 corona virus 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?
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?
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 really 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.”
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 United, these names 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.”
*Photos supplied by Bulls News, transcript written by Graham Goodwin