Chester City: The Norwegian Connection
Back at home, Chester City stumble from crisis to crisis. They have a home derby match against Wrexham in a couple of weeks, and tickets have now gone on sale. However, the capacity of The Deva Stadium has already been reduced by safety issues (an impressive dereliction of duty, considering that the ground is less than twenty years old) and the majority of Chester supporters seem likely to be boycotting this match, so how many tickets will be sold for the match remains open to question. The answer to that seems likely to be around 1,000, as Wrexham’s supporters don’t seem particularly inclined to join the boycott. More ready cash for the Vaughans.
They have more pressing issues to face than the Wrexham match, however. The players had threatened to strike for last weekend’s match against Grays Athletic, but were paid one weeks’ wages in Scottish bank notes to stave it off. The Vaughans may as well have not bothered. The match was frozen off, meaning that Chester still sit miles clear at the bottom of the table on minus three points. The club is no believed to be down to nine players, with youth academy players making up the difference. More are expected to leave if the wages aren’t paid up to date. Regardless of any other considerations, what chance a youth team would have over the rest of the season is anybody’s guess.
Meanwhile, however, things are starting to move on the possible sale of the club. Never underestimate the power of the human ego and the persuasive power of just the slimmest possibility of a place in the Blue Square Premier. Groups are starting to come forward to express an interest in spending the princely sum of £1 in the club, but they should be aware of the clauses that the solicitors, Brabner Schaffer Street, have been instructed to advise prospective buyers that:
1. Proof of funding of a minimum of £500,000 cash, to both satisfy club creditors and to fund the club going forward;
2. The identity of the consortium/company behind the purchase of the club to satisfy the ‘fit and proper person test’ imposed by the league;
3. A commitment to pay the club’s legal fees; and
4. A commitment to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
must be fulfilled before any further information will given. None of these clauses are exceptionally unusual, until we take into account the extraordinary circumstances that surround the sale. The fact that “a commitment to pay the club’s legal fees” is inserted into these clauses may cause concern amongst buyers – in other words, no due diligence can be carried out until the Vaughans’ legal fees have been paid - and how can any business ascertain whether “£500,000 cash, to both satisfy club creditors and to fund the club going forward” is an amount of money that can justifiably be promised to the club. It should also be mentioned that no blame of suspicion should be laid at the door of the solicitors. Their role is a very clear and well established one: they act under the instruction of the client – in this case, the sellers of the club.
Meanwhile, however, other groups have come forward expressing an interest in buying the club. One organisation (calling itself CZ Invest) turned up the supporters’ forum Devachat expressing their interest in buying the club. They talked much of the talk, but there was one moment that might have raised an eyebrow, when a site moderator confirmed that the original message sent came from a Swedish IP address. Nothing on the CZ Invest website (presuming these people to be one and the same) indicates an office in Sweden for them or any of their “partner” companies. Some Chester supporters have noted glumly that any businessman or businessmen would run a mile from the conditions being demanded by the Vaughans. The best that we can say about CZ Invest for now is that we don’t know anything about them.
The other group to express an interest has been a Facebook group of Norwegian students. This group already appear to have made serious enquiries to the solicitors and have been active in the Norwegian media. This translation of an interview with the Norwegian television station TV2 (which, due to the unreliable nature of Google Translate, requires a little lateral thinking) seems to give away much of their thinking behind the move and, while it would be unfair to say that their are any ulterior motives behind their interest, it is worth pointing out that there is a message on the group’s wall which speaks glowingly of the Ebbsfleet My Football Club experiment (which would effectively make Chester City FC somebody else’s play-thing), that they are seeking investment from elsewhere and that they have five weeks to raise the £500,000 required as one of the apparent stipulations to go any further with the purchase of the club. Bearing all of this in mind, the following questions are only right and proper to ask:
1. Do they have a legal contact in England, who can carry out due diligence (should it come to that), understands British contract (and, since it may be necessary, insolvency) law, understands the byzantine nature of British tax law, the vagaries of the FA and Football Conference’s rules with regard to the financial running of football clubs, knows the financial requirements and outgoings of a non-league football club and can work with the local council and the club’s supporters?
2. Why did they go public with this story in Norway without having notified Chester City supporters? Are they aware of the supporters boycott and of the work that Chester Fans United have been putting in over the last couple of months to
3. Would any offer to buy the club promise supporter representation at board level? What would their plans be if the club was relegated into the Blue Square North (or lower) at the end of this season?
4. Do they have any idea how difficult it would be to make a profit from a lower division English football club?
Chester supporters could be forgiven for being sceptical of anybody that turns up at this late juncture with a promise to turn the fortunes of their club around, and the bare truth of the matter remains that, with Chester City having been up for sale for £1 for a while now, no-one in England has dared to do so much as touch them with a ten foot long barge pole. The temptation to go for a quick fix will be tempting one, and there are, in their current desperate position, plenty of speculators that will look at their position and quite fancy a speculative punt on the possibility of a lease of The Deva Stadium and the possibility of senior non-league football. However, what may be in the best interests of any group or individual seeking control of the club may well not be in the best interests of sustainable, community-focussed football in Chester.