Seagulls saved

By ED SOUTHORN

SEAGULLS is safe. The "Mexican" take-over has failed.

More than 1700 Seagulls club members turned out for yesterday's extraordinary general meeting to vote on a Sydney challenge to remove four directors of the Seagulls-North Sydney Leagues Club board.

Less than 800 North Sydney members attended the meeting, held simultaneously at the two clubs via video link.

The combined vote from both clubs decided 10 to 1 against the motion - 2186 against and 201 for. As a result, other motions to install new board members lapsed.

It was perhaps the biggest crowd ever at Seagulls. The Stardust Room was packed with about 1500 members, including many standing at the rear. More than 200 members packed the Jacana Room.

Hundreds of people who turned up to vote at Seagulls went home, unwilling to wait in long queues. Car parks were full and "Vote No - Seagulls staff" placards were on roadsides outside the club.

The vote ended weeks of anxiety for Seagulls members, staff and management who feared multi-million dollar renovations scheduled for the West Tweed landmark, with in-principle approval from the board, might be cancelled if there was a board takeover.

Seagulls general manager Wayne Kendrigan said after the vote that bank officials had requested they be telephoned with the result of the challenge immediately the count was completed.

"They breathed a sigh of relief," Mr Kendrigan said.

He said negotiations would now continue to borrow up to $8 million for the first stage of the Seagulls renovations - to relocate poker machines and for a new bistro and outdoor dining area.

A development application is expected to be lodged with Tweed Shire Council in about four months and work completed by the end of 2006, Mr Kendrigan said.

North Sydney Football Club boss Mike Gibbons, who led the failed challenge, had initially indicated the board could withdraw its support for the Seagulls renovations if his takeover bid was successful.

Mr Gibbons changed his mind a fortnight ago, declaring the renovations could go ahead if Seagulls members felt they were absolutely necessary.

But Seagulls stalwarts did not believe him.

Many people among the huge Seagulls crowd were angry that Mr Gibbons had not visited the Tweed to seek local views and was overseas for yesterday's vote, which cost $60,000 in mail-outs to stage.

Mr Gibbons did not respond to messages left by the Daily News yesterday on his mobile phone.

Seagulls member Graham "Sparrow" Lee told the meeting the Gibbons team was trying to conduct a "naked grab for power in a sneaky back-door way".

Tom Searle, father of Gold Coast NRL franchise managing director Michael Searle and a former Seagulls Football Club player and coach, said the Sydney push had underestimated the level of support for Seagulls.

Clubs NSW chief executive David Costello, operations manager at North Sydney for six years until 1995, urged members at the North Sydney meeting to "get behind the incumbent directors in tough times like these".

Mr Costello defended the North Sydney club's financial performance, stating that 52 per cent of clubs across NSW were making losses or struggling to break even, as hotel revenues soared due to poker machine revenue and with increased taxes on pokies hurting the clubs.

The Seagulls meeting, chaired by board member Wilf Ardill, struggled to find members to speak in favour of the challenge motion.

North Sydney members who spoke in favour argued that the North Sydney Football Club had supported Seagulls when the Tweed club was in crisis and now Seagulls should help North Sydney. They also argued the current board had been in power for seven years, was struggling financially at North Sydney and it was time for a change.

Mr Ardill told the Daily News: "Those people who called this meeting never attempted to contact anybody on the Tweed. They don't give a bugger about us."

Speaking to the departing crowd after the meeting, Mr Ardill thanked members for their overwhelming sup- port and urged they remain vigilant.



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