With a five-year stadium plan and a similarity with ourselves, not all sits well with Torquay fans regarding their current chairman. This from BBC Sport…
The life of a Torquay United fan is far from easy right now.
Seven points from safety towards the bottom of the National League, a once proud English Football League side are staring into the very real possibility of relegation to the second tier of non-league football.
But many Gulls fans are more concerned with goings on in the boardroom than they are on the pitch.
Scepticism is growing about owner and chairman Clarke Osborne – the businessman who took over the club at the end of 2016.
Since then he has stated aims to build a new stadium, adopt a locally-based board of directors and establish a long-term plan for the future of the club.
As yet, little detail on any of those proposals has been published.
Clarke Osborne – ‘mystery’ man
“One of the main problems is the lack of clarity about the future plan that Mr Osborne might have,” says Michel Thomas, the chairman of the Torquay United Supporter’ Trust (TUST).
“Not just the five-year plan and the new stadium that he proposes to build, but what is the plan if we’re relegated, what is the plan if we remain in this division?
“What is his plan B if he fails to realise the new stadium?
“There is a lot of mystery surrounding what he intends to do, and this mystery and lack of knowledge is only working towards increasing supporter disillusionment, concern, suspicion and even anger.”
Torbay MP Kevin Foster (left) says Clarke Osborne (right) only agreed to meet him after saying he would “discuss his refusal to meet with me under parliamentary privilege”
While nobody doubts that Mr Osborne has saved the Gulls from what seemed an almost certain path to administration, he is conspicuous by his absence at Plainmoor.
He acquired the club from the previous owners – a well-meaning but ultimately inexperienced and under-funded group of supporters – just before a £125,000 loan to the club from his firm was due to be paid back.
He has never conducted a broadcast interview or held a press conference, instead issuing statements at key times, such as when he acquired the club and when he sacked Kevin Nicholson as manager after just four games this season.
But it is not just the media that finds him difficult to get hold of – even the local MP Kevin Foster found it tough to organise a meeting with the majority shareholder of the only professional sports team in his constituency.
“He wasn’t required to meet with me,” Foster told BBC Sport. “However, it did take a number of letters, a number of cancelled appointments and ultimately an implied threat that I would discuss his refusal to meet with me under parliamentary privilege before the meeting was arranged.”
Fans, too, have their concerns over an owner who wrote in a recent letter to TUST “when anonymity is available it sends some people to the dark side of the debate and discussion”.
“That’s very rich for him to say when he’s been barely seen at the ground,” Gulls fan and contributor to the TorquayTalk blog Luke Hunter told BBC Sport.
“It’s ridiculous that somebody should be so hidden when he’s the owner of a football club.
“There needs to be some accountability for how he’s proceeding with it and the path that he’s planning on going down for the next five years.”
Mr Osborne declined repeated requests to be interviewed by BBC Sport, with the club putting forward general manager Geoff Harrop instead.
“Clarke’s got nothing to hide at all,” Harrop, whose previous football experience has been running youth teams at various clubs including Torquay, told BBC Sport.
“He’s a very genuine man, over the next few months he’ll build relationships with the various media.”
One of Osborne’s most controversial plans is to move Torquay away from their home at Plainmoor to a new stadium by 2020.
His bid to buy the freehold of Plainmoor – currently owned by Torbay Council – has so far been blocked, much to the relief of fans who are unsure about his ability to construct a new arena.
Osborne was chairman of a consortium which hoped to build a 30,000 capacity stadium for Bristol’s two football clubs at the turn of the millennium – a plan which never materialised.
He was also a director of the firm which bought Bristol Rovers’ old Eastville Stadium and sold it to furniture firm IKEA and his company currently owns the Abbey Stadium in Swindon.
It is home to the Wiltshire town’s greyhound track and speedway team and, searching through the archives, Mr Osborne is first quoted about redeveloping the stadium as far back as June 1998, but plans to begin work on that arena were only submitted in January this year – the best part of a 20-year wait.
Geoff Harrop, the man put in place to oversee the club on Mr Osborne’s behalf, was unable to answer questions on the chairman’s ability to build a stadium.