Rochdale AFC supporters have launched a crowdfunding campaign to fight a lawsuit filed against the football club’s directors.
The lawsuit has been filed by Morton House MGT and First Form Construction Ltd, the group which mounted a failed hostile takeover bid several months ago.
The Dale Trust is aiming to raise £130,000 to fight the case, which alleges the trust and eight members of the board unlawfully caused prejudice to Morton House as a shareholder in the club.
Dale Trust and the board say they ‘strenuously deny’ the allegations. The case will be fought in the High Court, and if unsuccessful could result in Morton House finally gaining control, the trust and the club say.
The campaign was announced on the Rochdale AFC website. Trust chair Colin Cavanah was quoted as saying: “Dale supporters have stood firm and resolute over the past 12 months and have responded magnificently to every obstacle that we have faced during that time.
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“Unfortunately, there is one more obstacle that we must overcome, and it is likely to be a very expensive one. Along with the RAFC Board of Directors, we must now defend ourselves from the legal action brought about by Morton House, and we need your help to do so.
“We are seeking donations from our fellow Dale supporters, those who live within our town that our club represents with such pride and from our fellow football supporters across the country who share the same concerns and ideals that we do.
“Our supporters have been unequivocal about their desire for the club to remain a fan-owned club, and we as a fan’s organization have acted on their behalf and will continue to do so to ensure that always remains the case.”
Club chairman Simon Gauge said: “It is important that as directors we stand side by side with our supporters, united as we have been since the new board has been in place, in the fight to be a fan-owned club at the heart of and serving our community.”
Because it is a dispute between shareholders, the litigation cannot be funded by Rochdale AFC itself which means that the Dale Trust (a not-for-profit organisation) and the board – all of whom are unpaid for their work for the club – must bear the cost of their defence.
Rochdale AFC was founded in 1907 and since that time has never had a majority owner. Presently, the club has more than 300 shareholders – the majority of which are fans.
Mr Gauge was appointed as chairman in June, 202 along with new board members – all fans of RAFC.
Rochdale AFC says that Morton House then started acquiring shares in the club direct from shareholders with the aim of attaining a majority shareholding in the club, against the wishes of the Dale Trust and the board and they say ‘most importantly, by the fans’.
The acquisition of shares, it was said, was contrary to English Football League regulations, which had been strengthened following events at Bolton Wanders and Bury FC a year earlier.
The club website reads: “We believe that this is the first time that any supporters body has ever faced such a legal action and we are calling on the help of football supporters within the UK and from around the world to support us in resisting the claim that has been brought by Morton House which, if successful, could result in it being in a strong position to gain control of Rochdale AFC.
“Governance in football is a huge issue right now with the Tracey Crouch Fan Led Review, and we are of the opinion that the safest future for our beloved club is that it continues to be owned and run by supporters for the benefit of supporters and the community at large.”
The Dale Trust and the board have instructed HY Solicitors, based in Rochdale to act on their behalf.
The crowdfunding page can be found here.
The Manchester Evening News has contacted Morton House for comment.