A familiar theme of recent years has been that of the non-league football club that stretched too farm, and it seems likely that this phenomenon will claim another victim in the near future after the cancellation of Blue Square Bet North club Histons trip to Colwyn Bay last week. Yet as with so many clubs playing at this level of the game, recent ups and downs mask a considerably longer history than many will be aware of. The name of Histon Football Club may only have been in the broader public consciousness over the course of the years during which they propelled themselves from the East Counties League to the Blue Square Bet Premier, but should this club end up folding after the events of the last few days, weeks and months, it will be one hundred and eight years of history that disappears from the map.
The announcement of the cancellation of this weekends match came as something of a bolt from the blue. There have been rumours of financial difficulty at the club, which is based in a village just to the north of the city of Cambridge, for some time now, though these seemed to have stabilised with the arrival of a new board of directors at the start of the summer. This season, however, has seen the club struggle on the pitch and they are currently third from bottom of the Blue Square Bet North table with only Droyslden and Hinckley United below them. And whilst attendances have hardly been disastrous this season, the clubs current difficulties seem to have come from the period during which they were living the relative high life in the Blue Square Bet Premier. Last Tuesday, the clubs former Finance Director Allen Soraff won a court case against the club for the recovery of monies owed to him. Soraff himself, however, has claimed that this case has nothing to do with the clubs predicament:
This news has got nothing to do with what happened this week with me. I’ve made it clear I have no intention of putting them under any pressure or any insolvency procedures. There is no way I would have ever have put the club in a situation where they would have to consider going into administration.
Such has been the level of silence from the club itself on the matter that it’s not difficult to believe Soraffs version of events. Most obviously, if the club was to be put into a particularly precarious position as a result of this court case, the most obvious thing for those running the club would have been to put it into administration for protection against any legal action being taken against it. Indeed, the fact that the court case was only won on Tuesday of last week makes the fact that chairman Russell Hands was on holiday last week seem even odder. If this court case was so important to the future of the club, why would its chairman have been on holiday at the time? The smell of red herring hangs heavily in the air over this strand to the story. The club has issued a statement in which it has stated that it will be seeking legal advice on Monday with regard to this case, but it doesn’t seem to be the sole reason for the sudden cancellation of this weekends match.
One thing does seem clear about the current situation at Histon Football Club, and that is that supporters are very much in the dark with regard to what has been going on behind the scenes there over the last few weeks and months. Certainly the clubs supporters trust have already stated that they’d received no advance warning of Fridays cancellation. Few, however, can be in any date of the seriousness of the situation with regard to the club failing to fulfil a fixture – although recent events have demonstrated a willingness on the part of those that oversee the running of non-league football to bend over backwards in order to save clubs that find themselves in financial difficulties. Until this season, failure to fulfil a fixture had come to be regarded as the beginning of the end any football club in the non-league game, but Histon may well have been looking at the remarkable leniency offered to the likes of Kettering Town and Truro City already this season and wondering whether similar leniency would be offered to them. They may well find out over the course of the next seven days or so.
The good news for supporters of the club is that The Glassworld Stadium itself is not owned by the club, and is therefore unlikely to be swallowed up should it be read the last rites. We may well find that next season starts with a new club for the village playing several divisions below the level that it has inhabited over the last few seasons or so. With a strong supporters trust – a membership of around eighty people seems likely to increase with the publicity that the club has found itself earning over the last few days or so – there does at least seem a reasonable chance of Histon starting afresh at a more manageable level under the auspices of its supporters trust should the worst happen over the next few weeks or so. That it should find itself in this position, many believe, is an inevitable consequence of overspending over a period of some years.
It was four years ago that Histon beat Leeds United in the Second Round of the FA Cup at The Glassworld Stadium in front of the television cameras of ITV. As those that would have made the trip to North Wales yesterday pondered what to do with their Saturday afternoon, that day must have felt as if it were lifetimes ago. Those supporters deserve a full explanation of how their club ended up in this humiliating position, of what went wrong, of what is owed and what needs to be done in order to save the club. Whether they will actually get this, however, a different matter altogether. And if the club is to be rescued, it is to be hoped that the lessons of the last will have been learned by those putting their money. Again, however, there are no guarantees of this, either.
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