In the space of just a few months, Scunthorpe United have gone from potentially having nowhere to call home to now looking ahead to many more memories at Glanford Park, after a community interest company secured the Iron’s home for years to come.
Glanford Park has been bought by a not-for-profit company called The New Show Ground CIC, which has secured a deal that is anticipated to create around 100 jobs from developments around the ground, as well as 150 homes for older residents and people with complex needs.
The New Show Ground CIC exists to benefit the North Lincolnshire community over all else, with a board made up of club officials, North Lincolnshire councillors, supporters of Scunthorpe United and community representatives.
The deal was secured with private backing from supporters, but the majority came from government cash as part of the Town Deal Fund.
The club’s owner Michelle Harness
said bringing Glanford Park back into Scunthorpe United’s hands “was the reason I stood up in the first place,” as she took over the football club from David Hilton in October.
Hilton and another of the club’s ex-owners, Peter Swann, were locked into legal battles over the ownership of the stadium before Michelle Harness’ takeover of the Iron, with the future potentially looking bleak for Scunthorpe United at this time.
After the turbulence of previous ownership, the future of the football club is now being safeguarded by the completion of a deal for the stadium in the form of a community interest company.
This means that Glanford Park will never be at threat of returning to its previous uncertainty, regardless of any changes at board or ownership level in the future, solidifying its space as a community asset for Scunthorpe.
How we got here
Peter Swann was Scunthorpe chairman from 2013 to 2022. Photo: Scunthorpe United FC
In April 2021, then-owner of the football club Peter Swann transferred the ownership of Glanford Park from the football club to his company Coolsilk, in exchange for the write-off of £11 million in loans owed to Swann by Scunthorpe United.
Swann said at the time that this move would protect the club for “999 years” and that it would not have to pay rent “until they can afford it.”
Just a year after this, Peter Swann announced his resignation as club chairman, but it wouldn’t be until the end of January 2023 that the Iron would find themselves a new owner.
Read: A club in turmoil: A timeline of what happened at Scunthorpe United
That man was former Ilkeston Town owner David Hilton. Hilton set about looking to bring Glanford Park back into club ownership, sorting an exclusivity agreement with Peter Swann to complete legal checks and procedures in relation to the stadium and surrounding land. However, in May 2023, that deal expired.
Scunthorpe United’s former owner David Hilton. Photo: Twitter
It was reported in The Mirror
that Hilton agreed a “nominal” fee for the club, and an additional £3 million for the stadium and land, but proposed changes to the agreement were rejected by Swann.
Despite this, Scunthorpe United continued to play their home games at Glanford Park beyond their deadline, with fears of eviction still looming over them — which translated into back-to-back relegations on the field to the National League North, English football’s sixth tier.
In August, the pair appeared in court over a dispute relating to possession of the stadium. Swann’s barrister claimed Coolsilk was receiving just 7p a week in rent from the club for use of Glanford Park.
This case was due for trial in January 2024, but after revelations of David Hilton’s criminal past emerged in sports publication The Athletic
, his position, by his own admission, became “untenable.”
A second winding-up petition was given to the club as funds were withdrawn, but at the eleventh hour a consortium, fronted by board member Michelle Harness, agreed a deal to take on the football club.
Harness’ first orders of business were to address the winding-up petition, and then move straight on to the headache of Glanford Park ownership, and that has now been secured.
Iron owner, local council and MP celebrate deal
Michelle Harness has a long history with Scunthorpe United, and is now back as the owner.
Owner of Scunthorpe United, Michelle Harness, said of the deal: “Wanting to bring Glanford Park back to Scunthorpe United supporters and the community was the reason I stood up in the first place, along with the Board of Directors. To all of us, it’s why we’ve been working hard every day and every night. It means a lot to the Board, it means a lot to me, and I know hugely that it means a lot to the fans.
“Going forward, we need to continue to tackle the extreme levels of debt that were left with the club when we took custodian. Donations from local businesses and people around the town have been totally humbling, and it shows how desperate everyone in the area has been to keep their beloved football club going.
“All of the additional money that we’ve been able to get in is helping to pay off our debt and get us one step closer to being more sustainable as a football club, which we are striving to do every day.
“The hard work doesn’t stop. In fact, it truly does start today. We got our football club back. We got Glanford Park, our home, back and now, we must fight to keep it, and the only way we can do that is through donations, sponsorship, buying tickets and merchandise, and supporting as many of our initiatives as you possibly can.”
Holly Mumby-Croft, Member of Parliament for Scunthorpe.
Holly Mumby-Croft, MP for Scunthorpe and Vice Chair of the Town’s Fund Board, said: “This deal represents a bright new future for the club, for the community and for our town – it has been backed by government cash.
“Securing the ground as Scunthorpe United’s home will be a welcome relief to fans who now know that the team will always be able to play at Glanford Park.
“We have had meetings with the club and with Government to get the right deal in place to make sure the community is a key part of developing a new sustainable future. Glanford Park not being in the hands of any one single person was critical to securing that new future.
“Lots of people have been in touch with me, supporters and local residents alike and I’ve listened. It’s great to be able to confirm that through working with the council and the club we can now start to build further.
“Michelle has shown a real passion for the club and the fans, she has been a pleasure to work with and her iron will has ensured the deal has been completed.”
North Lincolnshire Council Leader Rob Waltham.
Cllr Rob Waltham, leader, North Lincolnshire Council, said: “The Government has provided a lot of cash to back communities across North Lincolnshire in recent years and today marks another such occasion.
“The ground is safely in the right hands to create a new future for the club and the revenue generated will ensure a good deal for taxpayers and that more money can be reinvested back into the ground and the host of community activities for young people and families.
“The new jobs that will be created and the new homes for older people – which is more than a third of the population here, are key parts of building a brighter future.”