A FURIOUS row has erupted in Malmesbury after Wiltshire Councillor Simon Killane stated he would not back any grant aid to the town's cash strapped football club while it remained under its current leadership.
Doubts about the long term viability of the club were also raised at Tuesday's town council meeting, where a bid for £500 to help fund its VicFest event was being debated – an application that was eventually deferred until the May 13 meeting.
Cllr Killane, who is the subject of an online petition calling for his resignation, said he had supported the club in the past, but was responding to what he described as a hate campaign directed towards him on social media from members of the club and its committee.
He stated angrily: "Because of the behaviour of these people I will not stoop low enough to support any application they make or any area board funding that is directed towards the club while these two leads are part of the club."
Phil Exton, chairman of the club, who was in the public seats, defended the Vics and retorted that Cllr Killane's behaviour towards his wife, club secretary and fellow town councillor Julie Exton had been out of order.
Cllr Exton herself, had left the chamber at the start of the debate after declaring an interest in the club.
“This is not the forum for this,” said Cllr Killane, pointing his finger at Mr Exton who immediately replied: “Don’t you point your finger at me Cllr Killane.”
Mayor John Gundry intervened and attempted to steer the debate back on track, telling councillors: “I want us to talk about this application.
The 100-year-old Vics are in dire financial straits following two winters of flooding at the Flying Monk ground and townspeople have been organising fundraisers to save them.
Cllr Kim Power revealed the club’s main source of income was £28,000 a year bar takings. “I am concerned about the apparent reliance on the sale of alcohol, especially when I understand it is forbidden in the club’s lease.”
Town clerk Jeff Penfold explained the lease had been renegotiated and previous councils had taken a relaxed attitude. “There is hardly a sports club in existence that can survive without the sale of alcohol,” he said.
“I don’t think the council ever envisaged alcohol sales would be the main activity,” replied Cllr Power.
She said her first thought had been to support the club, but “I have real concerns about the financial viability of the club and how it is going to continue and I’m not convinced that public money should be used to continue to support something that is not financially sustainable.”
Cllr Roger Budgen said: “I think we should look at this application on its merits. Cllr Power’s information should be reviewed, but I don’t think it should colour the decision.”
Deputy Mayor Sue Poole said she was surprised the match takings were not listed separately in the accounts that had been submitted with the application.
Mr Exton said they had been drawn up by the accountant. He also explained that match officials had to be paid whether matches were cancelled or not.
Cllr Poole pointed out that the Vic’s struggle to pay running costs had been well publicised and she questioned how a grant for VicFest in July would help the club survive until then.
Asked exactly what the money was to be spent on in running VicFest, Mr Exton was unable to say. But he stressed that organising the event took several weeks.
Cllr Gundry said the council might want to see a clear statement of what the money would be spent on. He added that £28,000 a year in bar takings “doesn’t strike me as very much.” A commercial pub open daily would expect to take much more.
Mr Exton explained the bar was open whenever any event or match was staged and for family evenings Cllr Lyn Penfold suggested that if the council wanted to look at the lease it should be done separately to the application and if the council agreed to the grant, payment could be deferred until July.
Cllr Budgen proposed agreeing the grant conditional upon receiving information about how it was to be spent.
But Cllr Killane told colleagues: “My view is this is not just a vote on the application for the football club, it is also a vote on confidence in my role as a councillor. It is outrageous that you support this application.”
Cllr Penfold disagreed and the mayor said while he knew Cllr Killane was upset, there was a proposal to be voted on.
Cllr Poole asked the town clerk to investigate whether a rent rebate could be given to the Vics to cover the time when the pitch was unplayable.
“Members of or people that go to the Malmesbury Victoria Football Club have lambasted this council as a whole,” said Cllr Power. “They have challenged us in public to support them, in a very derogatory way and I have total sympathy with Simon’s position.”
She said she had also been targeted. “I really do think we should consider the position of the council and Simon’s position.”
The council voted to defer the application to hear more about how the money would be spent.