Exclusive: Halifax Panthers respond to claims of unpaid rent at The Shay

John Davidson
The Shay Halifax Panthers SWpix

Photo: Ed Sykes/SWpix

Halifax Panthers have responded to revelations they owe Calderdale Council more than £50,000 in rent for The Shay Stadium, claiming it is related to substantial inherited debt that the club’s new board took on 19 months ago.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request last month shows that the Panthers are £53,512.70 behind in rent, as of 12 April this year.

The Championship club and FC Halifax Town, the two main tenants of The Shay, are charged for rent £56,732.40 each annually to use the stadium. Documents show that the Panthers have made sporadic rent payments for several years.

But Damian Clayton, CEO of Halifax, told Love Rugby League: “The Club is aware of a FOI request and reply detailing a statement of outstanding stadium invoices.

“When the current Board of Directors took over the club in October 2022, it inherited substantial legacy debt and obligations, which since the takeover it has made significant progress in dealing with.

“We can confirm that while rental payments have been made by the club over the past 12 months, these have been applied to older outstanding invoices pre-dating the FOI period in line with the council policies.

“We’d like to reassure fans, that we have already agreed a payment reschedule with Calderdale Council, who have been very supportive and mindful of the commercial challenges throughout the semi-professional sporting arena.

“The Panthers are at the beginning of the 2024 season, with only 3 home league games being played so far and we look forward to welcoming more fans to the Shay this coming season.”

Clayton was appointed CEO of the Championship club in November. Dave Grayson, chairman of Halifax, declined to comment when approached.

In October 2022 the Panthers were taken over by a consortium of five local businessmen that included Mark Bannister, Craig Wright, Ian Uttley, Richard Durgan and Grayson. Directors Ian Croad, Gary Bray, Sarah Morgan and Laurence Turner departed the club following the takeover.

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According to Companies House, Michael Steele led go of significant control of the Panthers on 11 October, 2022, and on the same date the company PK 2022 Limited (the consortium of the five local businessmen) took control of 75% or more of the shares of the club.

Then in September last year Durgan, Lambert and Wright had their appointments as directors terminated, with Lee Kenny appointed as a director in April this year.

According to the club’s accounts for the year ending 30 November 2022, net liabilities jumped from £35,080 in 2021 to £351,907 in 2022 while its creditor amounts due increased from £155,848 to £302,577.

Titled under ‘Going Concern’, the accounts state: “The year ended 30 November 2022 was a difficult trading period for various reasons including less than forecast revenue, whilst costs were greater than expected.

“The Board at the time made overtures to various parties for investment to try remedy the situation and consequently on 6 October 2022 the ownership of the club transferred to PK 2022 Ltd, a holding company, owned by a number of successful businessmen local to Halifax with previous connections to the Club.

“The new owners placed immediate investment into the club to ensuring its financial sustainability. This practice has continued since the 6th October and is still ongoing.

“In the longer term the Directors plan to completely analyse and overhaul the whole revenue income streams. Calculating profit margins throughout and adjusting where applicable to drive profit into the business.

“At the same time looking at introducing possible new revenue streams into the business model. Likewise all key cost drivers will be analysed -including the biggest area- salaries- to drive unnecessary cost out of the business. Further investors will also be actively sought.”

When approached for comment on the situation by Love Rugby League Ian Day, Calderdale Council’s Director of Public Services, said: “We always do everything we can to protect public money, and continue to work closely with the club on the financial arrangements.

“We know how much the club means to the local community, and we are keeping in regular contact with them on all aspects relating to their use of and payment for the ground.” FC Halifax Town have not responded to a request for comment.

An RFL spokesperson said the governing body is aware of the rent situation that the Panthers find themselves in, and that the club has kept them informed. In January Calderdale Council outlined a plan to potentially sell The Shay as part of a series of cost-cutting measures.

The authority’s budget recommendations stated it could save £161,000 from 2025-2026 if it sold the stadium. The Council needs to find savings of £18 million over the next three years to balance its books.

The Shay, which was built in 1921, is opened by the Council and leased by the Shay Stadium Trust, a not-for-proft set up to preserve the ground as a sports stadium. 

The Panthers have played their home games there since 1998 when they sold their ground Thrum Hall. Fans of both the Panthers and Town have been left frustrated with the state of The Shay pitch this season, with the football club forced to take home fixtures and play them at other grounds.

In the off-season Halifax signed a number of high-profile recruits from Super League, including Gareth Widdop and Greg Eden. The Panthers have had a tough start to the Championship season, winning just two of their first seven matches.

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