Notts County owner Alan Hardy admits he was “seduced by the dream” of owning a club and he alone is responsible for the financial crisis that has engulfed him and the Magpies.
Hardy rescued the League Two side from possible extinction in January 2017, pouring in his own money to save them from relegation and then take them to the play-offs the following year.
Defeat to Coventry in the semi-finals, however, started a slide that has left the club once more in grave danger of losing their status as the league’s oldest club, in debt to the taxman and up for sale.
The 55-year-old has paid a high personal price as the interior design company he built was placed in administration and sold, leaving him with nothing to show for 31 successful years in business.
He told Press Association Sport: “It’s only one person’s fault – I write the cheques here. I accept I’m the master of my own downfall.
“There’s an idea in business about the importance of watching the dance from the balcony. I have always liked to take part in the dance and watch from the balcony.
“I did that at my company Paragon. I got my hard hat on, mixed with the troops, met customers, but I also directed from the boardroom. That’s the bit I got wrong here.
“I was hungry, I was ambitious, I got seduced by my schoolboy dream of being involved in football and the mistake I made was forgetting my business principles.”
Hardy enjoyed initial success after being persuaded to buy the club by his predecessor Ray Trew.
With Kevin Nolan as manager and a playing budget of £3million, County comfortably avoided relegation and were top of League Two by the end of the year with an improved off-field situation to boot.
But results dried up and player recruitment went awry, while Hardy’s desire to engage with fans on social media and fight County’s corner also started to cause problems.
His angry response on local radio to Nottingham Forest recalling Ryan Yates, his “man of the season”, from a season-long loan resulted in County being frozen out by their neighbours.
“We fell out with Forest – I was naive,” he said, admitting it was a huge error to suggest the Championship club were trying to derail County’s progress.
“With hindsight, I accept Ryan was their player and they can do what they want. I overreacted and I’ve since apologised to Forest for that. I regret saying that but I’m a passionate guy and it was an emotional response.”
Hardy sacked Nolan after a dreadful start to this campaign only to nearly rehire him a day later.
Harry Kewell’s detached approach and play-from-the-back philosophy proved too great a contrast to Nolan’s passion and route-one football and the Australian was gone by November, with former Wimbledon boss Neal Ardley parachuted in to pull off the great escape.
But, even after a few good results last month, County are still last, five points from safety and with an awful goal difference. They also owe HM Revenue and Customs £200,000 and Hardy expects to have sold the club within a month.
There is considerable interest in the club and its “Championship-ready” stadium, and one of the interested parties even wants Hardy to stay on as chairman.
He knows that ship has sailed, though, after online abuse led local police to advise him to stay away from last week’s home game against Port Vale, saying they could not guarantee his safety.
“I’m getting battered on social media but people have short memories,” he said. “I wrote a cheque for £2million to save Notts County when it still belonged to someone else.
“Football has chewed me up and spat me out. I don’t feel bitter about it. I may do in three or four months’ time. But I don’t feel any resentment and I still have a great love for the club and the fans.”
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