Chairman Stuart Lovering. Yeah he just looks the sort doesnt he.

by Richard Brook

Everybody knows what goes on when a football club sacks their manager. He clears his desk, leaves quietly, gives a statement to the press and seeks alternative employment within the game. Usually the fans are excited; even those who supported the manager staying in the role tend to get caught up in the frenzy of wondering who will take over the reins.

Well that is not quite how the last couple of days have panned out at Barry Town. Gavin Chesterfield, de facto manager of the club was officially relieved of his duties on Saturday 8th December by chairman, Stuart Lovering. The so far inconsequential sacking came just hours after Chesterfield has steered Barry into the fourth round of FAW Welsh Cup following a 3-1 victory, in extra time, coming against Ely Rangers.

The assertion that his services were no longer required appears to have been water off a ducks back to Chesterfield, who has so far ignored the chairman’s instruction to leave the club. Chesterfield is in fact reported to have led a training session last night, which involved a full squad of Barry Town players, and is expected to be managing them in their fixture, at home to Haversfordwest County, tomorrow. This potentially embarrassing episode is the latest chapter in a long running standoff between the chairman, and the players and fans of the Welsh club. Having already suffered the ignominy of having Lovering put the club up for sale on Zoopla, a site designed for selling homes, it is doubtful that clubs supporters will even register the latest course of events.

Lovering is reported to want at least £170,000 for the club and has threatened to liquidate the club if such a bid is not tabled by Christmas. The club, currently celebrating their centenary year, have not paid their players since the beginning of the season. A supporter led buyout remains a goal, though the ever worsening relationship with the chairman may preclude this. Lovering had previously stated that he would withdraw the team from the Welsh League unless a buyer was found by December 1st. It is to be presumed that this particular plan is on hold as there is an advertisement on the League’s website advertising the post of Barry Town manager.

In fact it was not even the chairman, or any chairman that appointed Chesterfield as Barry Town manager. During his nine year stint as chairman, having picked up the club subject to the terms of a Company Voluntary Agreement from administration in 2003, Lovering has put the club up for sale numerous times, from as early as 2008, with a view to making a profit from his investment. Prior to entering administration, Barry Town won 7 out 8 titles between 1996 and 2003, and are the most successful club in the history of the League of Wales. They even had some thrilling adventures in European competition, notably the 1996-97 UEFA Cup, which they eventually exited at the hands of Aberdeen, 6-4 on aggregate. Their home leg of this tie attracted 6,000 spectators.

The average gate however, was insufficient to cover running costs and by the time the club went into administration their debts were reported to stand at around about £1 million. Lovering’s time so far as chairman has seen, temporarily moving grounds after a refusal to pay the rent, relegation and the formation of a breakaway club, Barry FC, in addition to the repeated attempts at off-loading the club.

In May 2011 Lovering decided that he would not continue to fund the football side of the club. At that point Barry Town Supporters Committee (BTSC) took on the funding of football matters and as such it was they who appointed Gavin Chesterfield as Barry Town’s manager. Additionally Lovering removed David Cole from his position of club secretary, and assumed the role himself. It has been speculated that this was done with a view to retaining total control over his threat to withdraw the club from the league.

The BTSC in a statement have expressed their shock and disappointment and urged Lovering to “reinstate both [Chesterfield and Cole] with immediate effect”. The supporters’ group was glowing in their praise of Chesterfield; “Gavin has been instrumental in ensuring the continuation of football at Jenner Park, over the past two seasons, following the owner’s refusal to fund any football activities.”

The statement goes on to assert the BTSC’s position as regards football activities at the club; “It is the BTSC who currently hold the Primary User agreement at Jenner Park in conjunction with the Vale of Glamorgan Council. It is the BTSC that has incurred the cost for this and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. It is our unanimous wish that Gavin Chesterfield continues as manager and that David Cole be reinstated as club secretary.”

Everyone who follows football has heard stories of interfering chairmen, from transfers to team selection, though at least these chairmen tend to be funding footballing operations at their clubs when they undertake these footballing decisions. Taking a decision, as unpopular as this, to sack a manager at a point where no-one at the club is prepared to submit to the decision is quite something else altogether. The fans and the players are clearly united in their recognition of Gavin Chesterfield as Barry Town manager.

The BTSC concluded their statement with a message of thanks from the respective parties: “Gavin and his management team, David, the BTSC and all supporters of Barry Town are humbled by the messages of support received from the community and the Welsh football family”.

The supporters, players and management of Barry Town deserve an awful lot of respect for everything they have been through. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to have a chairman constantly threatening to pull the plug on your club every time the wind changes. The collective spirit that is being taken to achieve that as the players play on unpaid, and the BTSC and supporters plough on to keep the football operations going is something to behold. It is epitomised by the failure to recognise the decision to sack Gavin Chesterfield. It is an inspiring story, and it is to be hoped better times are around the corner for Barry Town.