After the forced decampment of Wimbledon to Milton Keynes, we thought, perhaps, “never again”. That was six years ago, but football franchising is raising its ugly head again. This time, however, the rumour mill is coming from the Conference North, with the distinct possibility starting to appear of one club trying to buy out their local rivals in a tawdry attempt to get two promotions without even having to kick a ball, even the whole thing is being marketed as a “merger”. In Worcestershire, of all places, a plan is being concocted that will wipe one club from the face of the earth and put its biggest rivals in their place. Supporters of both clubs are now up in arms, and such is the level of anger from both sides of the divide that it seems unlikely that the club that gets parachuted in above its level will be able to establish itself. As ever in modern football, however, money and ego seem to be the driving factors, with ethics the best interests of the supporters of the clubs concerned being left very much on the back burner.

Redditch United were founded in 1891 as Redditch Town, and played fairly anonymously in regional leagues in the Midlands until they joined the newly-expanded Southern League Midland Division in 1972. They joined the newly-formed Alliance Premier League (later to be branded the Football Conference) in 1979, but lasted just one season, winning just five matches, before being relegated again. They haven’t made it back that high since and have had several battles for their very existence over the last couple of decades, but they entered into the Conference North in 2004 and have been there ever since. Their local rivals are Bromsgrove Rovers. Bromsgrove were also put into the Southern League in 1972, but it took twenty years for them to reach the Football Conference. Once there, they survived for five seasons but, since then, their decline has been rapid. They were relegated into the Southern League Premier Division in 1997, and again in 1999. The ultimate indignity came in 2001, when they dropped out of the Southern League altogether and into the Midland Alliance. They were promoted back straight away and have been back in the Southern League Premier Division since then, but were relegated again and now play in the Southern League Division One Midlands.

Both clubs, although two divisions apart, live something of a piecemeal existence now. Their average crowds are more or less the same (320 at Redditch, 330 at Bromsgrove) and both have seen better days, but both continue to exist. This may not, however, be for long. Rumours of a merger of the two clubs began to surface several weeks ago, but events have taken an alarming turn for the worse this week, with sources at Bromsgrove starting to give the distinct impression that this will not so much be a merger as a take-over. Bromsgrove’s director of football Steve Daniels said, “If Redditch want to come to us and want to be part of Bromsgrove Rovers that’s their prerogative. The structure of this club will remain as it has for the last 120 years and will be for the foreseeable future”. Bromsgrove have signalled their intention to resign from the Southern League on the 27th of December, in preparation for taking the merged clubs place in the Conference North from the start of next season.

Would this, however, be a “merged” club in any meaningful sense? Consider Steve Daniels’ statement. The club would be called Bromsgrove Rovers, and would be playing in green and white at Bromsgrove’s Victoria Ground. To put it another way, through this very murky looking “merger”, Bromsgrove would be effectively buying themselves two promotions without having to even kick a ball. Rumours are already circulating that Bromsgrove are subsidising Redditch’s wage bill at the moment to protect them from being relegated this season, and it is perfectly clear that no-one cares in the slightest about the views of Redditch’s supporters. Justifiably, Redditch’s supporters are furious about it. Andy Mitchell of The Redditch United Supporters Trust put it about as succinctly and eloquently as it could be:

Bromsgrove would simply be buying Redditch United’s league status and taking it to the Victoria Ground. There would be nothing for the Redditch supporters or for the Redditch community as a whole. It is much like the MK Dons/Wimbledon situation a few years back. Hopefully, as football fans the Bromsgrove public will also see this is wrong and this abhorrent plan will never come to fruition.

The attitude of the owners of both clubs seems perfectly obvious from the veil of silence coming from their official websites. Meanwhile, this interview with Redditch manager Gary Whild somehow managed to overlook the fact that he is also a director of the club and, as such, will probably do quite nicely out of any merger himself. All eyes, then, are on the reaction of Bromsgrove’s supporters. At the moment, they are speaking out against the “merger” as vociferously as their rivals, but the proof of this particular pudding will come in the summer, should the move be approved. If it goes ahead, Bromsgrove Rovers Football Club will have the blood of Redditch United Football Club on its hands and, if Bromsgrove supporters choose to back such a wretched venture, they deserve all the contempt that we can throw at them. The ball is very firmly in their court, for the time being.

There is a thin silver lining for Redditch in that their Valley Stadium is owned by the council, so at least that is unlikely to be sold for development, meaning that a newly-formed, supporter-owned club would likely be able to continue to play there. However, the fact remains that this shouldn’t be necessary in the first place. It may only be a small club, but a town and a community will lose one of its focal points if Redditch is allowed to be absorbed in such a way. If Bromsgrove Rovers wants Conference North football, it should play for it like everybody else. Should they manage to get this through, however, they should be treated as pariahs of non-league football. We shall have to wait and see whether the FA have the nerve to put this appalling plan where it deserves to be.

Updated on Saturday 22nd November: The following message was put on the Bromsgrove Rovers website this morning, which would seem to indicate that this idea is, thankfully, dead in the water. Let’s hope things stay that way.

I think I must start by putting the record straight regarding all the talk of a merger between Redditch and ourselves.
A few months ago we were approached by the Directors of Redditch United about the possibility of the clubs merging. We agreed for them to do some research to see if it was feasible to do so at this stage. We were open minded on the subject. We then meet a few more times for update on their progress and were initially informed that the FA and Football Conference were happy for them to proceed.
The FA came back and informed us that if the clubs merge, a new club would have to start up with a new change of name. The new club would take over Redditch status in the Football Conference and Bromsgrove Rovers would have to resign from the Southern League.
When we were told of the requirements from the FA that we would have to change our name it was then dead in the water as far as we were concerned. I will reiterate what has been said on the radio this week while I remain as Chairman this Football Club, will never change its name.
The history of this Football Club is to great for that, although, yes it might have been nice to move up 2 divisions and play in the conference North the price was to big to pay. So we will have to do it the proper way and win leagues to do so. I hope this now clears things for everyone.

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