Businessman Stephen Cleeve buys King’s Lynn Town Football Club from Buster Chapman

Stephen Cleeve is the new owner of King's Lynn Town Football Club. Picture: Ian Burt

Stephen Cleeve is the new owner of King's Lynn Town Football Club. Picture: Ian Burt

Norfolk businessman Stephen Cleeve has taken over King's Lynn Town Football Club, ending the six-year reign of speedway chief Buster Chapman.

Stephen Cleeve, left, and Buster Chapman. Picture: IAN BURT

Stephen Cleeve, left, and Buster Chapman. Picture: IAN BURT

Chapman, current chairman of the British Speedway Promoters' Association (BSPA) – and long-term owner of King's Lynn Stars – helped bring football back to the town in 2010 after the original Lynn had been wound up in December 2009.

But he has now called time on his stint in charge of the Linnets with Norfolk businessman Stephen Cleeve taking over at The Walks.

The new owner said: 'King's Lynn is a sleeping giant. It's got a lot of potential. About 300-400 more people can come through the gate that are coming through the gate without too much difficulty.

'I'm going to try and bring some commercial avenues into the club. I think clubs have got to be sustainable. You need to be able to ensure that if you're hit by the proverbial London bus, or King's Lynn bus over here, that the club can continue.

Stephen Cleeve is the new owner of King's Lynn Town Football Club. Picture: Ian Burt

Stephen Cleeve is the new owner of King's Lynn Town Football Club. Picture: Ian Burt


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'For it to continue it needs to be able to bring in extra partnerships. Whilst I'm prepared to put some money in, in the short term, my main aim is to try and bring extra revenue in to pay more money out and to give the manager (Gary Setchell) a greater wage budget.'

Cleeve, 49, from Lamas, near Aylsham – a Chelsea fan who believes the Premier League has lost its soul – has been trying to convince Chapman to sell the club for three years.

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His pestering finally paid off with Lynn's most influential sporting figure admitting his role with Town, the Stars and the BSPA, taken on at the end of last year, have taken their toll.

Chapman said: 'We've put a lot of hard work into it and it's been a hard six years – an enjoyable six years.

Stephen Cleeve is the new owner of King's Lynn Town Football Club. Picture: Ian Burt

Stephen Cleeve is the new owner of King's Lynn Town Football Club. Picture: Ian Burt

'But over the last year with all the other pressures I've had with speedway, the (BSPA) chairmanship and other issues around life I've found this last year very difficult.

'I thought the best thing I could do is move over and let someone else, who has got the ambition and passion, to take the club further. That's what I've done.'

Chapman was awarded a 25-year lease on the council-owned Walks stadium to reform the Linnets in January 2010.

West Norfolk Borough Council chose the speedway supremo over the supporter-led Blue and Gold Trust proposal as the proverbial phoenix rose from the ashes of Lynn's demise – caused by a hefty unpaid tax bill.

Stephen Cleeve is the new owner of King's Lynn Town Football Club. Picture: Ian Burt

Stephen Cleeve is the new owner of King's Lynn Town Football Club. Picture: Ian Burt

Lynn were forced to start life again at Step Five (level nine of the national system) of the semi-professional pyramid but have gone on to enjoy two promotions. They now play at the same level the club did before it went bust.

Hopes are high that Cleeve – who owns The George Hotel in Cley – can take the Linnets into the Conference set-up.

But many fans have already expressed fears about a background that has seen him banned from being a company director for eight years in 2000 – as well as a failed bid to take over Wrexham FC in 2011.

Cleeve was the UKIP candidate for the Kensington and Chelsea constituency at the 2010 General Election but resigned as the party's candidate before polling day.

He said accepted he had made mistakes during a string of controversial schemes that included selling whisky, Champagne and land.

He successfully won two cases against the Department of Trade and Industry but accepted the ban after allegedly running out of money to fund a third set of expensive legal bills.

Cleeve, thought to have paid around £250,000 to buy the club, said: 'At the end of the day it's very easy to make stories up which have got 20pc truth and 80pc not truth.

'I'll chat to anyone and talk to anyone if they want clarity on anything at all. The reality is I have said I've made mistakes in the past, there's no question about that. We've all tried things that we'd rather not have done.

'But was my heart in the right place before I made the mistakes? It was. It's just for reasons, that are complicated and boring, it didn't happen. In a way it's good because I've learned from that now and I've come out the other end.

'I've gone through processes which people normally wouldn't have had to go through and I've learned a lot of lessons, which is important. Nothing happens by accident, in my view. It's happened, you move on. You think: 'That's good, it's the past, it's finished' and then you move on to the next chapter.'

Who knows what that next chapter will include? But one thing is certain, it will unfold at The Walks – the home of Norfolk's second biggest football club.

•Video shot and edited by Ian Burt

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