Saturday, 9 April 2011

Hughes on hand to save Sittingbourne?

In January 2011, the players and managerial staff at Kent-based Sittingbourne Football Club were told by the club they would not be paid, and that for the foreseeable future they would not be paid at all. It has plunged the club and the future of the "The Brickies" into a sea of complete doubt and anxiety.

The cash-strapped side, and my hometown side, currently lie 10th in the Ryman League after a mixed season. Inconsistent results proving to be the faltering force behind Sittingbourne's season, and now with players and manager Gary Abbott not being paid since January, worries over the club, who won their first Kent Senior Cup in 52 years last year against Folkestone Invicta, are becoming increasingly more prominent.

After moving from the old stadium of Central Park (surrounded by two main stands and a greyhound track) to new ground Bourne Park just behind the stadium because of cost issues, it would have been thought the long-term future of Sittingbourne Football Club would have been established, but clearly recent financial problems have hit lowly clubs hard and Sittingbourne remain one of the many affected. Current chairman Andy Spice has been at the top of the club for 10 years now and after revealing to staff at the club at the start of the year that payment could not be made, fears for imminent departures of players and coaching staff became even more realistic as the club tries to wipe out a £20,000 debt. But, surprisingly, nobody left.

However, in February, it was revealed that former Crystal Palace, Manchester City and West Ham midfielder Michael Hughes had made an approach to Spice to take over the club. Hughes, 39, won 71 caps for Northern Ireland, and just 12 days ago, it was agreed in principle that Hughes will take over the general running of the club. He also played for Birmingham City, French side Strasbourg, Wimbledon before ending his time as a player at Coventry City in 2008 in a professional career lasting 20 years from 1988 to 2008.

Bourne Park, based on the Sittingbourne Eurolink industrial estate is set for a new head in charge of the club. The club is currently a members-run club, but with the FA keen to clamp down on these types of clubs in the country, turning them into limited businesses, albeit a move which could potentially destory Sittingbourne, it would seem the potential takeover of Hughes would prove to be a saviour and the beginning of a brand new era in the ME10 area.

Hughes has met with Andy Spice and his committee after recent matches against Leatherhead and Fleet in the last couple of weeks, and Hughes himself is said to be pleased with the progress and the exciting prospect of owning and controlling a club. Hughes has expressed ambitions to start his managerial career at a lower league club, so the future of current Brickies boss Gary Abbott could be put in huge doubt after the Hughes takeover bid. Abbott wants clarification as soon as possible, but with just a month of the season left and Hughes' takeover set to be officially finalised and confirmed in May, Abbott may see his time at Bourne Park finishing off this domestic season.

For some in the town, it is the end of an era and ten years which has seen the club consolidate their position in the Ryman League, but for many more in Kent, this move from Hughes is positive and signs of real intent, and a real lift for the town. Sittingbourne, with the guidance of a former international footballer, could be making the move that the club has desired for so long.

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