Former Tigers owner Wayne Scholes: Positive talks give Telford new belief
Former Telford Tigers owner Wayne Scholes today breathed fresh hope into fans' aims for the future, insisting he was confident it would be saved.
This week fans were left fearing for the future of the ice hockey team, after it was revealed that it is in £500,000 of debt and is due to be liquidated in less than two weeks' time.
But Mr Scholes, a lifelong fan and former team stick boy, said he was the largest creditor, with debts to the tune of £350,000, but he was not planning to call that loan in.
"We are still having really positive talks with interested parties to buy the club and keep the Tigers playing," Mr Scholes said.
Highs and lows of club that has slid back into trouble again
1984: Telford Ice Rink is opened and several challenge games are held to see if a Telford team would be sustainable.
1985: Telford Tigers IH Club Ltd was formed for season 1985-86 season by Central TV commentator Gary Newbon with entertainer David Ismay as chairman with Canadian defenceman Chuck Taylor as player coach. In their first season they finish third in the First Division of the British Hockey League.
1988: The club wins its first title after the First Division was split into North-South conferences. Tigers won the Southern conference by two points and beat Northern Conference champions Cleveland Bombers 21–14 on aggregate to take the title.
1990: There were struggles both on and off the ice and the club was put into liquidation in the summer. A new company, Telford Tigers Ice Hockey Club (1990), reformed the team for next season.
1994: Tigers beat Medway Bears 11-7 on aggregate in the final of the Autumn Trophy and finished runners-up in the league. However, later that month the club was issued with an order to fold owing £30,000 in unpaid VAT. A new club was formed.
1995: Claude Dumas, from Quebec, was signed from Cardiff and was a catalyst for the Tigers in the late 90s. During this period he scored 443 goals and notched up 316 assists.
1996: Tigers again ran into money troubles but were saved by Ken Crickmore, who listed them on the OFEX stock market.
1999: Director Roy Williams resigned before Telford Tigers Ice Hockey plc went bankrupt, eventually being wound up in the High Court owing money to head coach John Lawless and his players.
Telford Timberwolves were launched but folded after losing six B&H Cup games and playing in front of gates of only 500, half the size of Tigers' in their heyday.
2001: The Wildfoxes competed in the amateur English National League.
2003: They joined the English Premier League.
2005: The club changes its name to Telford Tigers.
2008: During the pre-season it had been announced that Telford Tigers had secured a new title sponsor, in the shape of Cannock-based company Eurologix. However, just a few weeks later, it was announced that Eurologix had pulled out of the deal, leaving the Tigers with a large hole in its finances.
2009: There is no action at Telford Tigers in the 2009-10 season, mainly due to financial difficulties and missing a deadline for registration into the Premier League.
2010: It was announced in February that a Fans' Trust had been formed and in April the team's application to the EPL was accepted. Current head coach Tom Watkins is appointed to the role.
2013: Tigers are taken over by Red Touch Media, whose chief executive Wayne Scholes was the stick-boy for the team during the mid-1980s. A new company called Red Hockey Ltd now owns the club.
2015: A successful year as Tigers win their first title in 27 years as they are crowned EPL champions with victory over Peterborough Phantoms.
2016: In April new chief executive Matt Bowyer, majority shareholder of Telford Ice Sports, assumes day-to-day running of the club from Scholes.
But in November it is revealed the club has just two weeks to clear debts of £500,000 or face extinction.
"We remain committed to supporting them financially and are also helping with that. I think it still has a bright future. I remain really confident we can stabilise the club and secure the future for the Telford Tigers."
Wellington-born Mr Scholes, who now lives in Utah in the US, said he had no plans to get involved with the club again, and instead planned to support it financially from afar.
"I think it needs local ownership and it needs people based in Shropshire," he said.
"That's always been the long-term goal. One of the most important things is to have people locally – I have never been a massive fan of remote ownership.
"I will still be involved in helping it financially, and supporting it, but I won't be coming back as CEO."
Mr Scholes admitted he had been stunned when he learned that the club was veering towards liquidation within the next two weeks.
He said he had put up a £350,000 loan in April to facilitate the sale of the club to directors Matt Bowyer and Paul Thomason, which forms the bulk of the outstanding £500,000 debt.
He is not pursuing that money now the club appears to be heading into crisis, adding that he would effectively waive it in order to ensure the club survives in its current form.
"We were dealing with the shock of it more than anything else," he said. "We are trying to work out how it happened.
"The original plan when we first came into the club was we wanted to return this to local ownership. It only really works if it is run by local people based in Telford.
"When we had this offer in April time it seemed like the perfect scenario. We felt it was the right time to sell, having set the club up and won the league.
"There was a working bar, great shop and multiple revenue streams, so we did sell.
"We told them to keep their money for the club and we would finance it on a non-repayment loan for £350,000 with no interest and no repayment date. We haven't and had no plans to call in that money.
"All I was interested in coming here was setting up a team that was going to be sustainable. We have no intentions of calling that loan in.
"We have kept funding the club even after we sold it. We put in £176,000 of funding to keep the club stable. We have always supported the club, and we are actively involved in trying to stabilise it, not just immediately but in the long-term."
English Ice Hockey Association chairman Ken Taggart agreed that the announcement of the club's financial crisis had come as a shock.
"We got no heads-up of any kind," he said. "This was a big surprise, which I didn't expect at all.
"With Wayne's experience I can see them getting to the end of the season, and I'm waiting for Wayne's comments to the league management committee.
"One has to look at the business plan, what they can afford, can they cut their cloth and stay within those limits. Their crowds are not bad, although they aren't hanging from the rafters.
"We have had three teams with financial difficulties since 2001 – Bracknell, Manchester Phoenix and Telford – and Telford was the last one I was keeping an eye on. There was not even a whiff. We had no idea there was a problem."
Tigers' problems first emerged over the weekend, when it was revealed that the club was facing a £33,000 county court judgement. Since then Darlington-based liquidators Robson Scott have been appointed, setting a date for a creditors meeting to enact a creditors' voluntary liquidation on November 30.
The company declined to comment further on the progress of talks when approached yesterday.
Fans have started fundraising to support the club since the news emerged, and Mr Scholes called on them to continue with their backing.
"It's important for the fans to remain involved in the club no matter what," he said.
"One thing I have always loved about Telford is there's this culture of helping the teams that they love, whether it's Telford United or Telford Tigers.
"I would say to fans, stay involved, keep trying to help the club, and when people put in the right effort good things happen," he added.
This weekend's games, away at Hull Pirates on Saturday, and at home to Basingstoke Bison at Telford Ice Rink on Sunday, are expected to go ahead as planned.
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