Wrexham Association Football Club (AFC) is certainly having a good 2023. The Welsh football club is playing in the English Football League Two for the first time in almost 15 years. The club’s social media presence and ticket sales are both breaking records. And Season 2 of “Welcome to Wrexham,” a hit docuseries featuring the iconic club and its A-list American owners, was just released.
But just 20 years ago, Wrexham AFC was teetering on the edge of a final end to its storied history. So, how did the club’s financial situation become so bleak? Ironically, it all starts with a man named Pryce.
What’s The Pryce?
Pryce Griffiths is somewhat of a club legend in Wrexham. In 1988, the local businessman became the club’s majority shareholder, saving the club from bankruptcy. The club saw crucial upgrades to its grounds and other facilities over the subsequent 14 years under Griffiths’ ownership. Even though the club achieved some iconic wins over top clubs like Arsenal FC, West Ham United, and Middlesbrough FC, its days in the sun were numbered.
Griffiths, a lifelong Wrexham supporter, retired in 2002 amidst health concerns. In March of that year, he sold his majority stake to Memorvale Limited, a company operated by Mark Guterman and Alex Hamilton.
“Everyone liked him, he was a good owner,” James Kelly, a Wrexham Supporters Trust board member, told “Breaking The Lines” about Griffiths’ tenure as owner. “He did mess the club up in terms of selling it to the next owners, though.” Guterman took over as Chairman of Wrexham AFC soon after the sale, much to the chagrin of the fans.
Pryce Griffiths, who passed at the age of 96 in 2020. Photo Courtesy Wrexham AFC
Unpopular New Owners
The fans were not without reason: the club’s new chairman had worked the same role previously for Chester City, one of Wrexham’s (I promise I’m not making this up) biggest rivals! To make matters worse, he had left that club in the midst of a “cash crisis.”
At first, things remained relatively fine. But behind the scenes, Hamilton and Guterman were making business deals and using holding companies to acquire personal ownership of the club and the Racecourse Ground’s land lease. Rumors of these behind-the-scenes bargains swirled, and fans did not hesitate to vocalize their distaste for the new owners. Guterman eventually resigned from his role in 2004 and sold his shares to Hamilton.
In July 2004, Hamilton issued a 12-month notice to Wrexham AFC to leave the Racecourse Ground and find a new stadium. Remember those deals? Hamilton and Guterman had quietly transferred the land rights of the Racecourse Ground from the club to a company owned by Hamilton. This move meant Hamilton now owned the lease for the stadium Wrexham played on, and he planned to sell it to a supermarket or other big chain for millions of pounds. There were just a few things in the way, like the law, taxes, and fans.
Photo Courtesy Rept0n1x / Wikimedia Commons
Fighting For The Club
Hamilton’s ploy went public in September 2004. Amidst mounting fan backlash, Hamilton, who was also embroiled in court proceedings with Guterman for their business plans and debt payments, was reaching a boiling point. One month later, club directors Dave Bennett and Dave Griffiths opposed the promotion of Hamilton’s son and personal assistant to directors during a board meeting. In an act of anger, the owner then resigned from his position as club chairman.
Still the club’s majority shareholder, Hamilton had, shockingly, been avoiding paying off any of the organization’s debts during this time.
Facing a winding-up order, which would force Wrexham to shut down and liquidate all its assets, a court placed the club under financial administration in December 2004.
The legal and financial windfall from Hamilton and Guterman’s ownership period was, to put it lightly, immense. As proceedings and related court cases slowly unfurled, the club slowly started to pull itself up from the ashes.
Photo Courtesy Maxwell football / Wikimedia Commons
A Brief Reprieve
Under the new administrative ownership, the club was able to win back the rights to its stadium grounds in 2005, finally ending the worst chapter in its history. Fan support for the club (not the owners) had persisted throughout the whole ordeal, and the club would certainly not exist without their efforts.
The club officially left administration in June 2006 when a consortium led by former director Neville Dickens took over. Dickens sold fans and shareholders alike on a clear rebuilding plan, but it would never come to fruition. Wrexham, it seemed, had a type: owners who try to sell the stadium grounds for redevelopment after failing to invest in or help the club.
Next up: More management woes lead to a fan-funded acquisition.