The End for the Yeltz?

As the football season winds down there is serious doubt about the future of one of the region’s oldest clubs.

We’ve covered the plight of Halesowen Town before,  and their situation has not improved. Relegation from the premier division of the Zamaretto league (three steps below the Football League) was confirmed several weeks before the season ended, and there are now grave concerns that the club, founded in 1873, has played its last game. Owner Graham Ingram and his brother Godfrey have refused to give any further backing and with Godfrey Ingram reportedly facing fraud charges in the USA, Halesowen supporters are making plans to set up a new club of their own.

Former chief executive Brendan Phillips was at one stage heading a consortium interested in taking over the club, but has now withdrawn after failing to reach any agreement with the Ingram brothers.  A statement has been issued on the club website in the last few days which reinforces the brothers’ intention to walk away from the club, blaming local newspaper the Halesowen News and in particular its sports editor Matt Maher, for running stories which they claim have “killed any chance of the club attracting goodwill from the local community.”

A Halesowen Town spokesman told us that “As things stand we will be starting next season in the Zamaretto central division, and the club is up for sale.” However, the chances of the club, whose finest hour came during the mid-eighties with three successive trips to Wembley, winning the FA Vase on each occasion, being able to successfully compete at this level are growing ever-more remote

It would seem more likely that if the town is to host senior non-league next season it will be in the hands of supporters group the Yeltz Trust. The Trust are holding their AGM on Sunday, and high on the agenda will be the proposed formation of a phoenix club to take over from Town. Such clubs have become commonplace in non-league football over recent years, with Bromsgrove Sporting having just completed a successful first season in the Midland Combination following the demise of Bromsgrove Rovers. Yeltz Trust chairman Gary Willetts told Birmingham Press “The situation is changing on almost a daily basis, but we hope it will be a lot clearer after Sunday.” Any new club would have to be founded quickly as the deadline for entry into the non-league pyramid is Friday 13th May, although Willetts is confident that this can be resolved: “We’ve been in discussions with the FA, who are aware of the situation, and we are looking at several different options involving the level we begin at and where the new club would be playing.”

Relations between the club’s owners and supporters are now reckoned to be impossible to reconcile, although manager Shaun Cunnington has been praised by all sides for his work during a difficult period. Despite the team’s relegation, the Trust recently took the unprecedented step of awarding Cunnington their Player of the Year award in recognition of his efforts last season, and Trust members helped pay the team’s travel expenses to away games. “Without Shaun we wouldn’t have completed the season,” says Willetts.  However, Cunnington has been strongly tipped to take the vacant manager’s job at Redditch United, newly relegated from the Blue Square Conference North, and with the situation at Halesowen unclear he would almost certainly jump at this chance if offered.

The loss of the only man who seems capable of bringing together the two opposing factions could be the final blow to the club’s chances of survival. Willetts is still hopeful that some form of compromise can be reached and the name of Halesowen Town saved, but concedes that this is unlikely. “The club has lost a lot of support, and if they do carry on I can’t see where their support could come from,” he told us.

For a club with such history to fold would be an undoubted loss to the local non-league scene, but hopefully the Yeltz Trust will ensure that Halesowen continues to boast at least one thriving football club.