TERRAS: Another year of drama at the Terras

Dorset Echo: GOOD TIMES: Stewart Yetton has proved a success after joining in the summer GOOD TIMES: Stewart Yetton has proved a success after joining in the summer

THE last 12 months at the Bob Lucas Stadium have been fairly quiet compared to previous years – but there has still been plenty of drama.

Fluctuating fortunes on the pitch and boardroom battles off it have ensured the long-running soap opera at the Terras has continued, and, as a result, the club enters 2014 still screaming for stability.

Here is a two-part report on all the main talking points from another rollercoaster year.

ON THE FIELD

THE Terras entered 2013 as serious promotion contenders in the Southern Premier Division.

A run of six straight victories before the turn of the year had raised expectations at the club and it appeared everything was in place for a good end to the season.

The board of directors had chosen to stick by boss Brendon King after an indifferent start to the campaign, and he was clearly repaying their faith until a five-game winless run through January to early February turned up the heat once more.

King’s doubters immediately made their voices heard but league results started to pick up yet again, with seven wins coming in the next eight games to catapult the club back up to fourth position.

Unfortunately for the Terras, it was during that period they lost Kyle Critchell to a fractured ankle in a Dorset Senior Cup defeat against Wimborne Town at the County Ground – a blow that many people feel curtailed their season.

Club chairman Nigel Biddlecombe publicly criticised the lack of medical facilities at the Hamworthy-based venue that night and was later punished by the FA for his comments.

King’s men won their first three games after losing Critchell but would only go on to win one of their last eight as injuries and suspensions took hold, resulting in a ninth-place finish.

One such injury in April left Jamie Skinner fighting for his career. The sickening collision with Bedford’s Nick Beasant not only saw the midfielder rupture his anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments, and his lateral collat-eral ligament, but it also caused substantial nerve, vasculature and joint structure damage.

Everyone at the club immediately wished Skinner well and they were delighted to see him back on his feet again at the Terras’ end-of-season presentation, although his recuperation continues.

Having shown a lot of promise during the campaign, the mid-table position the Terras ended up in was a disappointment to many, but, having flirted with relegation in the previous two seasons, it also had to be seen as progress.

King, who signed a new one-year contract at the end of April, immediately went in search of reinforcements at the end of the season, bringing in the likes of Jason Matthews, Michael and Nathan Walker and Stewart Yetton to name a few.

Several players also moved on but having strengthened his squad with such well-established names at Southern League level, a top-six finish was King’s aim come August and the start of a brand new campaign.

Despite losing Simon Evans to a cruciate-ligament injury and not having played a single home friendly in pre-season due to work on the pitch, the Terras got off to a flier, picking up 10 points in their opening four games.

However, just one win in their next six league outings soon turned the tide yet again at a time when the club also had to come to terms with the news that Critchell had been left fighting for his life after being diagnosed with severe sepsis.

Everyone was left shocked by Critchell’s condition but thankfully he pulled through with King calling for more to be done to spread awareness of the illness.

Some light relief did come in the cup competitions but even the club’s success in those did come at a cost.

By the time they had exited the FA Cup to Braintree Town at the fourth qualifying round stage, Weymouth were playing catch up in the league, with as many as five games in hand on some of the teams above them.

That led to a packed fixture list between mid-October and the new year, and the pressure soon began to tell on the squad in terms of results and injuries to key players.

A run of seven defeats in 10 leagues games, including a 7-0 humbling at Stourbridge, eventually led to King’s sacking in mid-December, leaving Jason Matthews in caretaker charge for the rest of the year.

The experienced keeper took over with the club lying in 15th spot and picked up four points in his first two games.

A 3-0 home defeat against Poole Town in front of a crowd of 1,065 then followed, before news filtered through that both Michael and Nathan Walker had been put on the transfer list following an ongoing dispute with the board.

OFF THE FIELD

THE main talking points off the field over the past year have been the ongoing land issue and Nigel Biddlecombe’s position as chairman.

Wessex Delivery Partnership (WDP) submitted new plans in January to relocate the club to Lodmoor, but the Terras objected to the proposal, claiming the site to be unsuitable.

There were claims in March suggesting Biddlecombe was about to be ousted by some of his fellow directors, but these were quickly rubbished, with Shaun Hennessy insisting that no-one else on the board had “any ambition of running the club”.

A period of calm then followed and a highly successful ‘Return of the Legends’ evening was held at the Riviera Hotel. The event raised in excess of £5,000 for the club but the unity that appeared to be on show that night soon unravelled.

It all came to a head in early June when Biddlecombe announced that he may not stand for re-election at the next month’s AGM due to infighting within the club’s hierarchy.

Hennessy again responded by claiming “there is nobody who would want to take over”.

Positive talks between Biddlecombe and the rest of the board calmed the situation and a public apology was issued for the internet bust-up that led to the upheaval.

The Weymouth FC Supporters Association (WFCSA) released a statement in which they proposed not only to become guardians of the club’s majority shareholding, but also hold joint chairmanship.

The WFCSA felt such a move would help Weymouth become a genuine community club, but Biddlecombe responded by insisting the time had to be right before such a switch could take place.

News of a proposed legal challenge for the land surrounding the Bob Lucas Stadium, which had been kept from some of the board, then filtered out, as well as claims that the club had overspent during the 2012-13 season.

Biddlecombe received a vote of no confidence at a board meeting over the proposed legal challenge but was eventually re-elected to the board at the AGM alongside Mark Coleman.

It was also announced at the AGM that Ian White was shutting down the Wessex Fantasy Football initiative.

Biddlecombe’s position as chairman was still hanging in the balance though, and the ongoing wrangling even caused then boss Brendon King to urge the club to “stop the politics”.

Eventually, the board re-elected Biddlecombe as chairman with Tony Greaves replacing Coleman as vice-chairman.

Back to the land issue, and in late September the Weymouth Sealife Park joined the growing list of objectors to the WDP’s Lodmoor proposal.

WDP’s response was to claim that the development scheme would help create around 360 jobs and bring £30 million of investment into the town.

The following month brought a return to Biddlecombe’s ongoing battle with his fellow directors.

The proposal of an amendment to the club’s Deed of Trust caused quite a stir as Southampton-based gritting company NGS plc were linked with a possible investment in the club.

The amendment centred on lifting the limit on the shareholding any person or body could hold and it immediately prompted a huge wave of debate.

An EGM was called but the vote on the amendment was eventually scrapped due to legal concerns.

NGS plc never made an official offer to the club.

That was not the end of the saga though, as further disruptions in the boardroom continued to leak out into the public domain.

Echosport were even invited to a special meeting with the board to discuss the main challenges facing the Terras, but the divisions within the club’s hierarchy still continued.

Mark Coleman resigned on the day of that meeting before the WFCSA published a statement in which it revealed its concerns over the club’s financial health and the way it was being governed.

The WFCSA threatened to call another EGM but once again a brief period of calm followed with the appointment of Simon Etherington as the club’s new financial controller being welcomed on all fronts.

The WFCSA also set up a new Player Budget Fund following the closure of the Wessex Fantasy Football earlier in the year.

News of the divisions in the boardroom calmed over the festive period but the ongoing instability still remains heading into 2014.

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