THE potential investor in Dundee – former trialist with East Fife, John Nelms – wants to create a football academy in the city that will aim to provide the Dens Park club with a conveyor belt of talent for years to come.
However, Nelms is conscious of Dundee’s blighted past when it comes to such ambitious projects. From greyhound tracks to signing World Cup stars such as Claudio Caniggia, they have rarely turned out well.
Nevertheless, Nelms yesterday sought to soothe the fears of Dundee supporters who are conditioned by history to be distrustful of promises by prospective white knights.
The Texas-based consortium he is fronting have already been described as “cowboys” by one Supporters’ Direct official. However, the offer includes additional funding from Dundee directors Steve Martin and Bill Colvin, taking the initial injection of investment proposed to £650,000.
Such a sum is set to test the resolve of the Dundee FC Supporters’ Society, which owns more than 52 per cent of the club’s shares. Given Dundee’s financial difficulties, which stretch back almost a quarter of a century, their view is that any funding opportunities must be balanced against the long-term health of the club. The DFCSS, who held a board meeting last night, have already requested more time to consider the implications of returning to a “single controlling interest, benefactor-based ownership model”.
By the time of the DFCSS board meeting, Nelms was already on his way home from Scotland to the States, after directors from the organisation were unable to facilitate a meeting with the 42-year-old football academy coach who arrived on Sunday – because it was “too short notice”.
“I sat down with some fans, but it’s very disappointing that I have not sat down with the Supporters’ Society,” said Nelms, who was speaking in Edinburgh yesterday morning, before returning to the States. “That was the main goal. I wanted them to throw some darts at me, and ask me whatever they wanted to ask. Then they are coming from an informed place.”
However, he stressed that he is still intent on returning to Scotland to implement his vision of creating a football academy at Dundee that would aim to provide the club with locally-based players. The consortium also plans to buy Dens Park from owner John Bennett, and then let the Supporters’ Society purchase the stadium back. “We are not promising the world,” cautioned Nelms. “We are promising a sound business strategy.”
“The fans we have met, the manager John Brown, everyone else has been fantastic,” he added. “It makes us want to be here even more.” Nelms is the executive director at Dynamo Juniors of Central Texas football club, which runs teams for more than 700 children in Austin. The club is affiliated to Major League Soccer side Houston Dynamo, which former Hearts winger Andrew Driver recently joined.
Nelms spent a two-year spell in Scotland as a child, when his father worked at Faslane Naval Base and the family was based at Rhu. Later he returned to the country to play a trial match for East Fife, after being spotted playing by the Fife-based father of a fellow student at university in Chicago.
A significant portion of the funding for the US consortium’s Dundee project will come from Nelms’ friend and business partner Tim Keyes, whose family hails from Milwaukee. Keyes’ father James was once chief executive of Johnson Controls, a Fortune 100-listed company, and together they have founded a company called Keyes Capital, which, according to its website, aims to “invest primarily the Keyes family money” in “mature companies needing additional capital for growth”.
But why Dundee? According to Nelms, they have been attracted to the club by the “little debt” and “historic fanbase”. He was at Dens Park for the friendly with Dundee United last August, which was watched by a near full house. “That showed the fans are there,” he said.
These same supporters are now desperate for the club to mount a promotion bid next season, before the expected arrival of Rangers in the First Division. This could hinge on extra outside investment. Should the club accept the offer, Surrey-based Colvin, who helped fund the club’s emergence from administration in 2010, will be offered the role of chairman.
The Texan met with representative of the Dundee Supporters’ Association, an umbrella group of supporters’ clubs. “They hit me with a lot of tough questions,” he said. The DSA have called a meeting for tonight when the proposed takeover will be discussed, with the consortium having originally placed a deadline of Friday on the offer.
“We are very sensitive to what has happened to the club in the past several years,” added Nelms. “This is a collaborative effort. I want the fans to tell us what they expect of us. Tell us how you want to hold our feet to the fire and make sure we do these things.
“The people who I did get to speak to have been sceptical, as they should be. They asked the hard questions.”