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Welling United saved by fans rescue act

PUBLISHED: 09:20 11 October 2012

Barrie Hobbins

Barrie Hobbins

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In May, Welling United were one agonising win away from promotion to the Blue Square Bet Premier, the highest division outside the Football League.

Welling collect their losers medals in last season's play-off final but thanks to the fans the club still exists. By Keith GillardWelling collect their losers medals in last season's play-off final but thanks to the fans the club still exists. By Keith Gillard

Two years ago such a scenario would have been fanciful as the club came perilously close to going out of business, setting into action a chain of events that would see Welling become a community interest company (CIC) and give the fans an element of control over the club they support.

The Wings had been served with a winding-up petition by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in August 2010 and the Football Association slapped a transfer embargo on them. They were deducted five points in Conference South and given a suspended £5,000 fine.

It was the fans who came to the rescue. They raised £60,000 to pay off all the debts.

Last summer the club announced it would be becoming a CIC while relinquishing 30 per cent of the ownership.

Welling United's Park View Road ground by David Brown.Welling United's Park View Road ground by David Brown.

Matthew Mein, head of the supporters’ association, said: “The club could have gone out of business without the fans and we’ve turned over a new leaf.

“Everyone has had to pull together and the journey we’ve been on, both on and off the pitch, has filled me with hope for the future.”

Club secretary Barrie Hobbins has been a fan of the club all his life.

Welling were formed by his father Sidney to give somewhere for him and his late brother Graham to play football.

He said: “Since our problems of 2010 the club has been completely transformed off the pitch and you can see that in the team’s performances.

“Being a community interest company effectively gives the fans a say in the running of Welling and a say on the board, as it should be for a club so important to its local community.”

This is not another football club’s false promise. Just before the play-off final defeat last season, Welling’s board confirmed they would transfer the business of the club to the newly-formed CIC.

While the club has not gone as far as local rivals Ebbsfleet United, who are owned by the fans, it is still rare to give supporters some element of control over a club.

Norwich-based law firm Leathes Prior has helped with the transition and they are confident more football clubs will follow Welling’s example.

Sports lawyer Dan Chapman said: “In an era where, quite rightly, more football clubs are considering passing some or all of their control to their fans, the community and supporters’ trusts, CIC status was right for Welling.”

Barrie is cautiously optimistic about the future and the team is looking good for another promotion push.

“Thanks to the fans the club as it is now is well set up for future generations, so this was definitely the right path to take.

“A lot has changed in the 12 years since we were last in the Conference National but the new structure will give us a great opportunity to get there in the next few years.”

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