The icy touch of the Grim Reaper threatens to blow across non-league football yet again this summer with the news that Farsley Celtic of the Blue Square North face a winding up order at the hands of Her Majesty’s Revenues and Customs on Wednesday over an unpaid tax bill said to be in excess of £200,000. Farsley merited a mention on here once before over talk of their intention to change their name to “AFC Leeds” in an attempt to boost the support in the city that they inhabit. It didn’t happen, and it remains unknown whether such a decision would have made that much difference with regards to their salvation. What we know for sure, however, is that this is another example of a club managing a combination of bad management with a small amount of somewhat bad luck.
Farsley have been an example of a small club that has over-extended itself. They were members of the Yorkshire League and the North East Counties League until the formation of a second division for the Northern Premier League in 1987. They were promoted into the Football Conference via the play-offs in 2007 but lasted just one season (with all the attendant financial strains that such a promotion brings upon a club of limited means and a comparatively small support) before being relegated back into the Conference North, and it is at this point that their difficulties started. The club owns its own ground, The Throstle Nest, but sold a proportion of it in the expectation of planning permission to develop it. When planning permission fell through, they fell into financial difficulties. Meanwhile on the pitch the club struggled to adjust to life back in the Blue Square North and finished last season just one place above the relegation positions.
This, however, only tells what looks like part of the story. If Farsley’s debt to the tax man is anything like £200,000, it would indicate that the club has paid no – or very little – tax for several years, and herein lies a wearyingly familiar tale. There can be little question that Farsley carried on blowing its cash over that period of time, and whether they were successful on the pitch or not is largely irrelevant. For a company that owns its own land to not pay its tax bill is little short of irresponsible. The club are seeking to enter into administration before the winding up order can be brought but, no matter what happens over the next couple of days or so, the stark fact remains that the ongoing existence of The Throstle’s Nest is endangered by such recklessness.
In some respects, it is suprising that as many non-league clubs have survived for as long as they have in this long, barren summer. The collapse of Setanta has thrown an even longer shadow over the summer, with most clubs in the top three divisions of the non-league game now likely to lose a five figure sum as a result of their collapse. This, however, seems to be a quite seperate issue. Farsley’s chairman John Palmer said it all when he commented upon HMRC reluctance to help the club out of its current predicament. “That is their prerogative”, he said, “and it has perhaps not helped that in the past our payment record has not been the best”. Such plain talking from a Yorkshire club perhaps shouldn’t be surprising. Such financial mismanagement would be, were it not for the fact that this is a non-league club that we are talking about.