The boycott, as things turned out, only ended up being unofficial for a couple of days. After just 425 people turned out on Tuesday night for their Blue Square Premier match against Salisbury City, the results of a survey carried out by the supporters group showed 72% of those polled to be in favour of a boycott of the club’s home matches, while 23% “considered it an option”. Just 5% of those polled were opposed to the idea. There was no alternative. The boycott was made official on Thursday evening. The only question that now remains is whether there be any matches for the club’s supporters to actually officially boycott.
Meanwhile, what is left of the “club” itself was in the process of sticking two fingers up, yet again, at those that had actually spent all season in the vain hope that something could good could come from this train wreck of a season. They had been summoned to a meeting with the Football Conference on Thursday to discuss their current situation, but only Managing Director Bob Gray turned up, rather than whoever actually is acting as a director of the club at present. Dennis Strudwick of the Football Conference sounded somewhere between amused and perplexed by this decision:
We were looking to meet senior personnel in a decision-making capacity but, without wishing to sound condescending, they sent Bob Gray. Nobody else turned up. We can’t deal with the club’s former chairman Stephen Vaughan as he is a banned director after failing the ‘fit and proper person’s test’. But his son is now the named chairman and they also have a new director of football in Morell Maison. We are trying to help the club. We have done our utmost in that respect this season, but we need to speak to them about issues such as whether they have yet paid the wages they owe for November and December. And we now have to reconvene another meeting with them as soon as possible.
Quite asides from what this says about the Football Conference’s confidence in Gray to hold any influence over what may or may not be going on at The Deva Stadium at the moment, Strudwick’s statement is pretty clear in its tone. It would be extraordinary if patience wasn’t at snapping point the the Blue Square Premier now. Chester City, to put it simply, are in no position to be giving the authorities the runaround at this moment in time but the rumour, if true, that the Football Conference left messages at the club for someone to call them on the day of the meeting and received no response, would appear to confirm that the point of no return has well and truly been passed.
Meanwhile, the club faces a winding up order at the High Court on Wednesday. The amount of money owed to HMRC – at least, the amount that they are petitioning over – is a relatively paltry £26,000 but the club is absolutely, utterly out of money. With no recent home fixtures apart from the one at Salisbury – a match that can’t realistically have brought any significant money into the club – it is difficult to see where the money could from legitimately to pay off this particular debt. HMRC seem unlikely to be very amenable to any sort of arrangement that would benefit the club. After all, it was they that challenged the old company’s CVA during last summer and it was their sister organisation, the Insolvency Service, that brought the action against Stephen Vaughan Senior that led to him being disqualified as a company director for eleven years.
Against this background, perhaps the news coming from CFU this evening becomes less surprising. A rumour had already started to take hold that the club was up for sale for next to nothing but that any prospective new owner would not be allowed to look at the club’s books (presuming such artifacts actually exist) prior to purchasing it. They issued a press release this evening confirming what had happened:
City Fans United can confirm that earlier this afternoon we received a text message from Stephen Vaughan Senior’s mobile phone as follows:
£1 for 100% shareholding.
u pay all outstanding creditors.
Stephen vaughan junior
We feel that two days would not be sufficient for us to carry out the due diligence that any fit and proper future owner would wish to undertake, so we trust in Mr Vaughan that he has made provision for the Club’s survival of Wednesday’s winding up order.
As our members would expect, we have now acknowledged receipt of this message, and will give due consideration to his offer at our members meeting on Thursday.
As ever, it was a message that offered as many new questions as it answered. Why was Stephen Vaughan Junior (who, let us not forget, is currently the chairman of the club) using his dad’s mobile to send a text message to CFU? Did they really, considering everything that has gone over the last few months or so, expect CFU to be mad enough to accept the offer without completing due diligence first? CFU will “give due consideration to his offer” on Thursday but this, of course, comes twenty-four hours after their winding up hearing. There may be nothing left for them to take over by then.
Even if this was a last roll of the dice by the Vaughan’s, it seems unlikely that it will be taken up. Chester City 2004 Ltd only really started trading last summer but it is believed to have hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of debt. It seems unlikely that taking over what is left of it will make any economic sense whatsoever. It may, however, give the club the chance to say that they have offered it to someone when they turn up in court on Wednesday, and that may buy them an extra couple of weeks. Frank Warren was very quick to play down any notion of him investing in the club last week, after all. It may also be an attempt to drive a wedge between supporters by being able to say that at least they have offered to give the club to CFU.
We will know a little bit more by the end of this week. Within forty-eight hours, Chester City could be dead, once and for all. With the CFU boycott now official, it has to be maintained until the Vaughans and those that may or may not be connected to them are removed from the club. Their home derby match against Wrexham, due to be played next month, might turn out to be one of the strangest derby matches ever played. Wrexham supporters have been asked to boycott this match, but it would be unsurprising if their loyalty to their team proved to be greater than any feeling of common cause with their stricken neighbours.
There is, in all honesty, no right and wrong in the decision that they take. Quite aside from any other considerations, no-one even knows who the owners of the club will be or whether they will be trading by then. For the home supporters, however, it isn’t just one match. They may yet have to starve the current owners out of the club and, when they do, it will be worth it, providing they can get the all-important lease for The Deva Stadium. At that point, they can start rebuilding, and question of what level of football people in Chester will be watching next season seems unlikely to be answered any time soon. Any level of football with a new club, however, would have to be better than what they have been expected to put up with this season.