'The budget was 50 per cent too high!' David Newton looks back at 'surreal' Boston United takeover

To mark 15 years at the helm, the Pilgrims chair reflects on a bizarre introduction to football club ownership
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David Newton described his takeover of Boston United as 'surreal' - especially as he admits he had no idea how to run a football club.

With just weeks before the Pilgrims kicked off life in the 2007-08 Blue Square Bet North campaign following their relegation from the Football League and subsequent demotion due to financial irregularities, Mr Newton and vice-chairman Neil Kempster secured a stay of execution.

Fifteen years down the line, with the club virtually debt free and in a new stadium, the chairman can look back with a sense of humour at a mad period in his - and the club's - life.

David Newton and Neil Kempster at their first Boston United press conference, back in 2007.David Newton and Neil Kempster at their first Boston United press conference, back in 2007.
David Newton and Neil Kempster at their first Boston United press conference, back in 2007.

"It was surreal," he said.

"I remember coming out the first meeting and saying to John (Blackwell, general manager) and Craig Singleton (press officer) 'so, how do you run a football club then?'

"I've still not learned."

Mr Newton - whose property development firm Chestnut Homes were the club's shirt sponsor for the previous five seasons before he came to the rescue - knows a thing or two about business.

But football is a different world.

"The biggest thing I remember was that I didn't know what a budget should be," he added.

"It's something people keep close to their chests. I remember ringing a friend in football and asking him.

"But it's like asking 'how long is a piece of string?' We had no idea how the club was going to work.

"It was initially plucking a figure out the air, handing it to the manager and then realising afterwards it was probably at least 50 per cent too high.

"We realised we were paying players perhaps twice what they were worth because the manager had the money.

"We soon sorted that once we started to look at the numbers."

Over-paying was perhaps not the shrewdest start for Mr Newton, taking over a club which owed creditors more than £3.5m.

But that first summer - which saw Tommy Taylor appointed manager and given just weeks, albeit with some generous salaries to chuck about, to put a squad together - had the feeling of a thrilling adventure.

"It felt great to start with as you sold all your season tickets," the chairman continued.

"The money was coming in and I was wondering how people struggle to run a football club.

"Obviously, that money only lasts a couple of weeks and we soon learned. But I loved it.

"Getting Tommy in was great. He was probably the perfect manager at the time, he was very low maintenance and allowed us to work on issues at the club, sort the shop out and give the place a lick of paint."

But it wasn't just a case of sprucing the place up. Changes were made to the daily running of the club in order to help balance the books.

Mr Newton said: "The community foundation was fragmented. The club offices were at Morgan House (on the outskirts of town), so we got it back on site.

"(Matchday) sponsors were dining in restaurants in the town and having to walk to the ground. We changed that and it was nice to make those changes.

"But it soon went from getting the club up and running to desperately trying to stop it being wound up in the next year."

As the club finished 10th in their first campaign back in non-league, Mr Newton sorted deals to pay off creditors.

However, due to circumstances beyond United's control, the National League voted to demote the club to the UniBond Premier as they narrowly missed the cut-off date to be out of administration.

"I'm still angry. Really angry about it still," Mr Newton said.

"When I get the opportunity to speak to anybody at the National League about it, they seem to think it's water under the bridge. But it's not for me.

"It still does not sit well with me. All the work we put in to turn the club around in that year.

"Just because we missed the second Saturday in May by a few days with the creditors meeting - which we couldn't help as we couldn’t get the deal done with HMRC up to that point.

"But it was always going to be done as HMRC were the biggest creditors. It was always going to get done, but they voted to relegate us and that always hurts."

Those days of uncertainty may feel, the same with the club's fortunes, like an alternate reality these days.

But Mr Newton believes the secret to ensuring the club is now in better shape came from his need to trust his gut and stick to his guns.

"Running a football club is very different to any other business," he said.

"In reality you have a product you're selling. But your customers have a massive influence in what you do.

"Here everyone has an opinion and you have to keep them onside.

"They probably won't like to hear this, but I never consider the fans in most decisions.

"To me you have to make the right decisions for the football club, then hopefully it's successful. If so, then they're on side.”