"A right mess!" How chairman David Newton saved Boston United from extinction and transformed their fortunes

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Fifteen years after takeover, the Pilgrims are in rude health and virtually debt free

Boston United chairman David Newton admits he inherited 'a right mess' when he took control of the ailing club.

But after years of dedicated hard work and sleepless nights it is now a very different story for the Pilgrims, virtually debt free and preparing for a second full season in their brand new Jakemans Community Stadium.

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Fifteen years ago today the Pilgrims held a public meeting at York Street where general manager John Blackwell, assisted by advisor Barrie Pierpoint and head of youth Steve Welsh, begged the community to help pull the club back from the brink.

Boston United chairman David Newton. Photo: Oliver AtkinBoston United chairman David Newton. Photo: Oliver Atkin
Boston United chairman David Newton. Photo: Oliver Atkin

Relegated from the Football League, United were £3.5 million in the red. Staff were working unpaid, fearing a knock at the door from the liquidators at any time.

Mr Newton - who attended that meeting to represent shirt sponsors Chestnut Homes, his property development company - felt something had to be done and, despite having no experience in running a football club, instigated a takeover.

Now, speaking to the club from one of the executive boxes at the Pilgrim Way stadium, he can almost - almost - feel relaxed those dark days have gone.

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"We're moving in the right direction. When I came in the club was in a right mess," Mr Newton said.

"It was losing a lot of money. We probably put £300,000 a year in the keep it going and I can see now that if we get everything working, it can be sustainable."

Mr Newton - now one of the longest serving current chairmen in the National League - is determined to see out the pledge he made to fans on the day he took charge.

"I want to do what we said - a new stadium, be debt free and be the heart of the community," he continued.

"I said that on day one and that's what we're doing.

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"We're effectively debt free. We've got three quarters of a stadium and I think it's at the heart of the community.

"One day, whenever we walk away, as long as people don't mess up, there will be a football club here.

"The focus for us is getting it finished, improving the systems and how we operate and how we can improve match day experiences."

A Sports Winter Survival Loan, taken out during the Covid pandemic to account for the loss of revenue, is the club's only outstanding debt.

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"We'll get that repaid," Mr Newton, who has written off the loans made by Chestnut Homes to prop up the club, said.

"The club is basically debt free and definitely in better shape than we were."

Moving the club from their historic town centre home to the new venue has further transformed the club's fortunes.

They have just completed their first full season in front of fans, with the turnover almost double what it was at York Street.

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That may look like an inviting proposal for someone lookin to make a few quid. But with the ground owned by a community interest company, there will be no asset stripping of the stadium.

"That's set up so it (the community interest company) owns the asset and Boston United rent it on a peppercorn rent," Mr Newton explained.

"Just enough (rent) so we can pay the 99-year lease and accountant fees.

"If anything happens to the football club it (the stadium) remains here. If anything happens the club can reform and play here.

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"Worst case, it becomes a community asset and ultimately people could take it over and run it. If not, it goes to the (Boston) Borough Council.

"It's here in perpetuity as a community asset."

A romantic could argue that it was fate which brought Mr Newton and Boston United together.

Had Neil Kempster - United's vice-chairman, Newton's long-serving number two and a Pilgrims fan - not been on a family holiday in Cyprus at the time of the meeting, it would have been him attending that day instead.

"I went because Neil was on holiday. I think if I hadn't have gone we probably wouldn't have got involved," Mr Newton said.

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"But, as I've said before, a football club is the heart of every community. I knew more than what was being said at the meeting.

"(As sponsors) we'd kept in touch with (chairman) Jim Rodwell, who I think was in the south of France at the time.

"Things weren't good. I knew what was being said at the meeting wouldn't get anywhere.

"I went home and thought 'I have to get involved or the club will disappear'."

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Despite having 'absolutely no' desire to run a football club, especially one facing liquidation, Mr Newton found himself announcing the takeover days later.

"I like being in the background. When we took over that was the worst part," he added.

"Scott Dalton (BBC Radio Lincolnshire reporter) shoved a microphone under my nose. I couldn't even speak at the time. That's not what I'd done before.

"But I became fond of the club as we'd sponsored them for five years. It gets under your skin."

Mr Newton joked he still has no desire to be the club's chairman but, after 15 years at the helm, is he ready to go?

"I'm happy to continue," he said.

"We're on a journey and I want to see it through."