We shouldn’t, of course, be surprised by the Football League’s third successive capitulation to Stephen Vaughan. If they weren’t going to do what needs to be done and get rid of Chester City at the start of the season or earlier this week, they sure as hell weren’t going to do it now. The bar for passing this peculiar version of a “fit and proper test” had been set absurdly, ludicrously low. All Chester needed to find was a little over £30,000, a laughably small amount of money when the continuing existence of the club is at stake. There was little doubt that someone, somewhere, would drag the money out and that no questions would be asked about where it came from, either.
The whole thing has long since started to stink. It is starting to look like a fix. It took all day yet again for them to be cowed by Vaughan, for whom the clock is ticking before he has to surrender his interest in the club after being banned as a company director for eleven years for carousel fraud (even though he already publically stated that he had already disposed of his interest), and the official statement released by the Football Conference this even must rank as one of the most gutless, spineless and asinine pieces of “literature” (if such a word can be used to describe something so wretched) to be written anywhere this year. Here it is, in full:
The Football Conference and the Football League have been working together to reach a decision over the release of discretionary payments in favour of Chester City FC, thereby retaining the integrity of both competitions and enabling legal undertakings and orders were met by the Club. As part of a commitment made by Chester City FC towards settling these matters, Chester City FC agreed to make up any potential shortfall between the funding due and football creditors. The Club has, therefore, lodged a payment of £36,600 with the Football Conference. Upon clearance of such payment and release of that funding, the threat of expulsion from membership will be withdrawn.
Brian Lee, Chairman of the Football Conference states, “Together with my fellow Directors and staff at the Football Conference; and with our other football partners, particularly the Football League and the PFA, everyone has worked tirelessly to save Chester City FC from expulsion. The Club’s recent history should send a warning signal to every club. He added, “In anticipation a satisfactory conclusion will be reached, we are hopeful those who have supported the club through such difficult times, especially the fans on the terraces, appreciate the position we as a competition faced in dealing with this situation. We wish all those currently connected with Chester City FC will ensure the club deal promptly with all matters of financial prudence in the future and our combined efforts will not have been in vain.
These are weasel words, words so wretched that they scarcely merit any further comment. They speak perfectly well for themselves. The Football Conference, The Football League, The Football Association and The Professional Footballers Association, by allowing themselves to be drawn into “saving”, well, something or other, have lost an authority to tell any of us how football clubs should run themselves. They may as well give up, throw in the towel and allow the game to become as corrupt as it wants to be. Ultimately, Vaughan and the rest are continuing to laugh at them and in the most open sense possible. Consider, for example, the words of Chester’s Bob Gray on the subject of why Vaughan still hasn’t sold his shares in the club:
He has seen people. In fact he saw somebody today. But he will not let the club go at any price. They’re coming up with stupid figures. They don’t realise the strength of the man. He’s as thick-skinned as a rhino.
The football authorities have repeatedly had the chance to nip this in the bud for the good of the game, and they have bottled it. This isn’t said with any great pleasure or relish. We don’t just want or wish for strong authorities within the game to make tough decisions – we need them to. When they say that “we are hopeful those who have supported the club through such difficult times, especially the fans on the terraces, appreciate the position we as a competition faced in dealing with this situation”, they prove that they are fundamentally missing the point of the entire argument. Why do these people think that supporters are boycotting the club? Why do they think that some are risking football banning orders to protest during matches? Do they think that normal, rational people are behaving like this for the sheer hell of it? If they do they are idiots, and it is difficult to reach any other conclusions than that they do.
Chester, then, will limp on. They are still twenty-four points off safety in the Blue Square Premier and relegation seems likely. The protests will continue and judging by the mood amongst the club’s supporters this evening, they will get bigger and bigger. And it is they that will be blamed for the scale of these protests. The ultimate blame for them, though, will lie with the feeble and inept infrastructure that administrates the game in this country. Ten years ago, they allowed Vaughan to sell one of the two clubs that he (against FA rules at the time) owned at the time to his painter and decorator a couple of days before they met in the FA Cup, only to buy one of them back just after the match had been played. They allowed him to try and put through a CVA that was challenged by HMRC and was thrown out by a judge for having “material irregularities”. They have maintained a stony silence over this admission of carousel fraud and don’t seem in the slightest bit interest in who he ends up “selling” his shares to when he, by law, has to.
When the protests end, a large group of people will walk away from Chester City Football Club. The crowds at The Deva Stadium will continue to plummet. The FA don’t seem to support them. The Football League don’t support them. The Football Conference don’t seem to support them. The Football Conference’s statement doesn’t stop short of saying to protesters, “Yeah, well, you wouldn’t understand”. It’s little short of insulting, to their intelligence and their dignity, and it’s insulting to our intelligence and our dignity. Moreover, it’s killing football in Chester. When Chester City won the Football Conference in 2004, the average home crowd was 3,065. It’s down to 1,285 this season, and it’s likely to drop still further. Is this what they want? Almost two housand people that can’t be bothered with their local club any more in the space of six years?
Because that is what they have got, and it is only going to get worse. The worst scenario a year from now is as grim as can be imagined. Relegated from the BSP, they limp on at The Deva Stadium in front of the few that are prepared to continue to accept this sort of treatment from a club that has been sold to someone that may or not be a puppet for the Vaughan family, or a member of the family themselves through misguided loyalty. A supporters owned team may have started, but with CCFC still at The Deva Stadium they are forced out of town to find a stadium that meets their requirements. A schism has grown, and in three or five years time there are two clubs, both drastically reduced, snapping at each other as old enmities continue to bubble away. The football authorities have (and have had) the opportunity to prevent this, and have failed at every turn.
This, though, is the worst case scenario. It remains possible – likely, even – that the club will go bust (although with the old company having been allowed to transfer its “golden share” into the name of the misleadingly named Chester City 2004 this is less likely than it was). This will free up the council owned Deva Stadium. Chester Fans United will then be able to start afresh, with a new club. Then – and only then – will the soul of Chester City Football Club be saved. Until then, though, the death rattle continues. The patient lies on the bed on a life support machine in obvious agony. The family are watching the screams, pleading for someone to make the suffering stop. The doctors, though, are keeping the patient alive. No-one knows who this is for the benefit of, and the doctors – the people that have the power invested in them to end this suffering – won’t say. You woudn’t treat a dog like this.