The Fight For Wrexham Football Club Continues
We reported on here last week about the alarming turn that the future of Wrexham Football Club had taken with news of the intention of the club’s owners to make them pay rent to continue to play at The Racecourse Ground in the future. Wrexham FC theoretically owns its home of one hundred and thirty-eight years, but ownership now seems to be set to passed to a holding company called Wrexham Village a couple of years ago. They now share it with the Crusaders Rugby Football League Club and both will pay what has been stated as £300,000 for upkeep of the ground per year. In addition to this, it has this week started to become evident that the fortunes of the two clubs are more closely intertwined than supporters of either might hope for.
Crusaders RLFC were put into administration in October of last year and exited it on Christmas Eve, but what is curious is what happened while the rest of the world was putting its finishing touches to preparations for the holiday period. Earlier this week, however, it was revealed that, on Christmas Eve, a charge was placed against The Racecourse Ground in favour of the Rugby Football League and Super League. A charge is effectively security against a debt against property. Meaning that a debt incurred by somebody can be enforced, if not paid, through the charge-holder taking possession of the property that the debt is secured against. This can be done voluntarily (as would happen in, say, the case of a mortgage or secured loan) or through enforcement action brought through the courts, by a Charging Order.
This, however, is voluntary, but why has this happened? It turns out that the Rugby Football League loaned Crusaders RFLC £700,000 last year, while the club was in financial difficulty. It has been suggested that Crusaders are due to pay this back, interest-free, at £70,000 per year over the next ten years but that a condition that they wanted, perhaps understandably, considering Crusaders’ recent financial difficulties, security over their debt in order to allow them to continue to play in the Super League. We might ask the question of how Crusaders are allowed to do this against a property that they don’t own, and The Racecourse Ground is still owned, for the time being, by Wrexham FC. The answer to this is that it can be done with ease if they have the permission of the owner of the property, and the owners of Wrexham FC are effectively the owners of Crusaders.
The situation that Wrexham FC finds itself could, therefore, be described as something of a pincer movement. They are now in thrall to Crusaders, and dependent upon them maintaining their payments to the RFL whilst, on the other hand, they remain likely to have to pay rent to the ground that they have played at for one hundred and thirty-eight years. It’s worth taking a moment to consider a couple of stories from the recent history of the game, which give an indication to where Wrexham are likely to find themselves. As regards the loss of control of the ground is concerned, the example of Kingstonian is a good place to start. Kingstonian’s ground was due to be sold and was purchased by AFC Wimbledon, leaving them as tenants in their own ground. The good news for them is that they have good landlords. Kingsmeadow remains largely red, white and black in colouring, reflecting Kingstonian’s colours rather than Wimbledon’s, and their rent is nominal. They lost their biggest asset, but they are as secure as they could be, under the circumstances.
At the opposite end of the scale are FC United of Manchester. FCUM have never had a ground of their own, and they have to pay a crippling £5,000 per match to rent Bury’s Gigg Lane. This means that the club, quite simply, cannot afford to pay the wages that one might expect a team with an average home league crowd of 2,000 to, but the search for the unique identity that only comes with a ground of one’s own and to reduce the amount of money being thrown away on ground rental informed the herculean effort that went into identifying the Ten Acres Lane site for a ground of their own, building up the near-unique Community Share scheme to fund its construction and obtaining planning permission for it. For now, though, they remain hamstrung by this fundamental cost.
Wrexham find themselves likely to be facing the worst of these two scenarios. The club, as an institution, is having its biggest asset drained from it, and it seems likely that its short-to-medium-term future will be dependent upon Crusaders maintaining their mortgage payments and on Wrexham FC itself steadying a financial ship that has been haemorrhaging money over the last couple of years or so. Unsurprisingly, this new situation wasn’t made public by the club, and and this joint statement from Roberts and Moss, issued on both the Crusaders websites, made no reference to it last Friday. How supporters of the club are expected to trust these two on the basis of what has already happened is a mystery.
The issue of a new Wrexham club has been raised, but it might prove to be tricky. Would a new club have to go into the Welsh league system? The supporters of the club, as we mentioned on here last week, seem unlikely to be in favour of that and the one things that they need to be at present is unified. Until their supporters get something concrete that indicates that someone, anyone – the local media, the owners themselves – actually gives a tu’penny damn about their club (and no-one seems to at the moment apart from them), it is unsurprising that they should be lashing out in the way that they are. The FA should be looking very seriously at the situation at The Racecourse Ground. In the meantime, the battle for Wrexham FC will continue apace. The Crusaders deal is no make or break moment for the future of the club, but it at least adds to the uncertainty over the club’s future, and this is a status that has been hanging over it for far too long.
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