Well, hooray! It’s an annual tradition now, isn’t it, the Conference’s habit of relegating someone for completely arbitrary reasons? And this year’s lucky losers are… Boston United! Relegated from the Football League on the last day of last season, they have been demoted straight into next season’s Blue Square North because of the terms of their CVA, which don’t take into account the quaint footballing tradition of ensuring that all football creditors have to be paid in full, even if everyone else has to go begging.
No-one with any knowledge of the recent history of Boston United Football Club will be in much doubt that this is, basically, karma in action. Boston, who had been serial under-achievers for the previous fifteen years, suddenly rocketed up the from the Northern Premier League in the late 1990s and won a dogfight for a place in the Football League against Dagenham & Redbridge on goal difference. It fairly soon became apparent that something wasn’t right about their finances, though it wasn’t until last year that the full scale of their tax fraud became apparent – they were finally adjudged to have defrauded the tax man (and, by extension, the public) of £250,000. The cost of repaying it (plus interest) was one of the defining causes behind their plummet into financial chaos this season.
Whilst there is an extent to which we can smile about the club getting their just desserts, there is still an bad taste left in the mouth over the whole affair, not least over their deeply unpleasant manager, Steve Evans. Evans was suspended by Boston just two months after their promotion in 2002, and was banned from having involvement in football by the FA in December of the same year for obstructing their investigation into the club’s murky affairs. Extraordinarily, he was appointed back into the manager’s job in February 2004 and held on there until last month, in spite of pleading guilty in court of conspiracy to evade tax (for which he received a one year suspended jail sentence and a £1,000 fine). Breaking the law, running your club close to closure and ruining its reputation, it would appear, mattered less than being relegated from a league that most people felt that they’d cheated their way into into in the first place.
The final, delicious irony was that Boston’s place was taken by… Dagenham & Redbridge, who they’d cheated five years earlier. Unfortunately, the suffering that has been heaped upon the club has escaped Evans. He was out of work for precisely two days before being hired as the manager of Conference club Crawley Town. Charmless as ever, he said, “There is only one manager that will start the Conference next season that has ever won it”. Well, nice to see a bit of contrition there. Crawley, of course, started last season on -10 points, and have been run to the point of liquidation by the infamous Majid brothers. A match made in heaven. It’s unlikely that there will be too many other competitors for the title of “The Most Unpopular Team In Non-League Football” next season.
The team to benefit most from all of this are the Conference’s first ever winners, Altrincham. It’s the second year in a row that they have benefited from the financial mismanagement of others. Last summer, they were deducted a ludicrous eighteen points for a breach of the international clearance rule (the same one that could have done for AFC Wimbledon last season) to be placed at the bottom of the table, but the league’s expansion to twenty-four clubs, coupled with the resignation of Canvey Island and the expulsion of Scarborough, ensured their survival last time around. This time around, they’ve been reprieved again after finishing in the relegation places. You can’t help but think that they are living something of a charmed life – surely they can have no complaints if they fail to stay up next season, can they..?