Words from Richard Foster
As rumours continue to circulate and strengthen about 23 year-old Frenchman Kyril Louis-Dreyfus’ interest in taking a majority shareholding in their club, Sunderland fans should take note of a cautionary tale from 30 years ago. In 1990 an even younger man came to rescue Aldershot FC. Spencer Trethewy was still a teenager, although already a self-styled property developer, when he arrived proclaiming that he was going to save The Shots in their hour of need. Aldershot were saddled with debts of almost £500,000 and were heading for liquidation before Trethewy popped up with a signed affidavit that promised £100,000 immediately and another £100,000 in the space of a year.
It seemed too good to be true as the local paper hailed their hero – “This is the young man who everybody down at the Recreation Ground would like to shake hands with.” The dream barely lasted more than a month, as the funds never materialised and it soon became clear that Trethewy had borrowed the monies and had no way of paying them back. On the pitch the team continued to struggle at the bottom of Division Four with the trapdoor to non-league football beckoning. Their so-called saviour was ousted from the board and although he vowed to come back, he never did and Aldershot finished the season one above bottom-placed Wrexham.
The following season Aldershot were well and truly shot. They limped along until March 1992 and following their 3-0 home loss to Lincoln City they were adrift at the bottom of the league by six points. There was even worse news behind the scenes, with rising debts hanging over the club again they faced a winding-up order from the High Court, which they managed to freeze so that they could fulfil their next fixture away to Cardiff. That was only a temporary reprieve and shortly afterwards they were declared bankrupt and forced to resign from the league ending their 34-year stay in the Football League.
Within a few months Aldershot reformed as Aldershot Town and were soon rising up the leagues, eventually regaining their Football League place in 2007. Meanwhile Trethewy had been rather busy fighting his own battles. He had a brief spell in which he moved into the agency world, not in football this time, but in show business. He claimed to be Whitney Houston’s agent, which was clearly news to Houston who took out an injunction against him. His next business venture was setting up an airline, Cunard Airways that was going to serve the Barbados London route.
This proved to be yet another pie in the sky idea as in 1994 he was convicted of breaching the Companies Act for continuing to run up bills while Cunard Airways was suspended from trading. He was sentenced to just over two years in prison, but after a successful appeal this was reduced to eleven months. Unbowed by his imprisonment, Trethewy returned to property development under a different name, taking his mother’s maiden name of Day. Over the next decade his business was relatively successful and he was back on an even keel.
Just as Aldershot Town gained promotion to League Two, Day was on the verge of another football venture, although a few notches further down the pyramid. In 2007 he became not only the owner but also the manager of Chertsey Town, who plied their trade in the Combined Counties League, the ninth tier of English football. At Chertsey Day finally got his first taste of footballing success, leading them to promotion to the heady heights of Southern League Division One.
Chertsey was only a staging post for Day as in 2011 he moved to Farnborough FC who were heading for the Conference, the highest non-league tier. The club were initially buoyed by investment from Day that this time proved to be worth more than the paper it was written on. But that did not prove to be sufficient to save the club from entering administration in 2013 with an astonishing £2million of debt. By strange coincidence Farnborough FC had also been reborn in 2007 after the previous incarnation of Farnborough Town had gone the same way as Aldershot.
Day was wise to the event and this time around he realised the solution was outside his control, as he spoke to BBC Surrey about the decision to voluntarily enter administration. “It is something which has been coming for a number of months. We have been openly looking for new owners but it just hasn’t happened. We have made this decision as a positive statement to get our house in order and to be able to move forward. We have taken a lot of professional advice over the last six months. We could have carried on. We have been self-sufficient this season but the historic debts just keep on coming. We are pretty confident administration will bring in new owners.”
In parallel with the farrago at Farnborough, Aldershot Town’s five-year stay in League Two was over as they finished bottom and soon afterwards they entered administration but were also bought by new owners and currently sit mid-table in the National League. Although Farnborough suffered automatic relegation because of their administration in 2013, and fell further down the pyramid because of continuing financial problems, Day did gain promotion to the Ryman Premier League (which was reconstituted as the Southern League South), so they now sit two divisions below Aldershot Town.
Farnborough and Aldershot stand less than five miles apart while their football clubs are twinned in more ways than one. Their topsy turvy existence, stemming from financial problems, which then led to both having to re-form, continuing off-the-field shenanigans and of course, they share the indelible imprint of Spencer Trethewy/Day. Day cannot be solely blamed for all their ills but his appearance as a tyro thirty years ago provides a precedent for Sunderland who await salvation from their new kid on the block.
The good news for the Black Cats is that there are crucial differences between the two young men. Unlike Trethewy, Louis-Dreyfus does have considerable wealth to back up his ambitions – the family firm, which he inherited along with his two brothers, had sales of £33.6 billion last year. He also has some inside knowledge of running a football club, having been involved with Marseille where his late father was the majority shareholder from 1996 until his death in 2009. As Louis-Dreyfus prepares to take control at Sunderland, he may be only a few years older than Trethewy when he arrived at Aldershot but they are surely leagues apart.