FORMER Long Melford goalkeeper Andrew Stopps has been described as the club’s ‘knight in shining armour’ as he looks to pull off the biggest save he has ever made for the Villagers.
The 39-year-old accountant has offered his services for free following last week’s revelation in the Free Press that the club’s holding company was dissolved 12 months ago for ‘consistent non-compliance’ with supplying tax and annual returns, since 2009.
Vice-chairman Simon Garden, in charge of the club’s finances, claims the company dissolving on March 1, 2011, was ‘an admin mix-up’ he was only recently made aware of.
Stopps, a partner in Seago and Stopps Chartered Accountants in Sudbury, was handed the paperwork on Monday to get in shape to file to Companies House ahead of submitting an Administrative Restoration request to restore the company.
It comes as Braintree Town chairman Lee Harding, who has been revealed as still owning 100 per cent of the shares from when he set up the holding company when moving Melford up to the Ridgeons League as chairman, has warned the club’s whole existence is in ‘major doubt’.
Honorary club president Richard Kemp has said calling on a personal favour from his own accountant, and former youth team goalkeeper Stopps, will ensure the club survives.
“Although the coffin may have been ordered, Long Melford Football Club 2002 Ltd is in the process of reincarnation,” he said.
“I have served as a honorary president for over 30 years and, prior to the company being formed in 2002, I have served in every position in the club for the entirety of my 60 years involvement in the club.
“We are very fortunate that the period I served as a youth team manager has resulted in a knight in shinning armour coming forward in the shape of Mr Andrew Stopps of Seago Stopps Chartered Accountants in Station Road, Sudbury.
“He also happens to be my company accountant and he has volunteered to do the necessary paperwork and finish the accounts to get the club reinstated within the next 14 days.”
Stopps told the Free Press he still has fond memories of playing for the club from under-12s to under-18s in the Eastern Counties League from the late 1980s and would do anything he can to protect its future.
“I would hate anything to happen to it,” he said. “There are people there I still know and if I can help out I will do.”
Stopps, who will not be charging the club for his time, says all the hard groundwork has already been done and it is just a case of formatting for Companies House.
Meanwhile, Kemp has said questions will need to be answered about how the club got into this situation during a meeting to be held in the close season.
He also added a restructuring of the club with a Community Interest Company being set-up was ‘very likely’ to happen.
The Ridgeons League and Suffolk FA have both said it would be inappropriate for them to comment on the Long Melford situation at this time.
Long Melford Colts issued their own statement this week clarifying they are run entirely separately to the adult club, including finances.
Harding signed over the day-to-day running of Melford’s holding company to chairman Alf Woodhouse and vice chairman Garden after special dispensation from the Football Association to avoid a conflict of interest. He said taking his shares out of the company would have bankrupt it.
n Long Melford’s pursuit of a top 10 place in the Ridgeons League First Division, to qualify for next season’s FA Cup, comes under close examination on Saturday when the 13th-placed side host 12th-placed Downham Town.
Fourth-placed Halstead Town and basement side Cornard United face off in a local derby at Rosemary Lane, while in the Premier Division 13th-placed Hadleigh United host title-chasers Ely City (all 3pm).
* FOR photo of Stopps’ 1987 youth side, see this week’s Suffolk Free Press.