A situation that had long been beyond being a farce finally looks like entering its end game this evening after Chester City failed to fulfil their Blue Square Premier fixture against Forest Green Rovers. The result would have been more or less immaterial for Chester anyway – they are so far adrift at the bottom of the table that their relegation is already little more than a formality – but once again, the club’s owners have brought shame on themselves, the carcass that they claim to represent and the league of which they are members. That very league is unlikely to care very much about anything other than its own reputation, but yet another line has now been crossed and everybody complicit in allowing this farce to continue should now be called to account for their actions.
For Chester supporters, who have long since abandoned any hope of salvation for this wretched incarnation of what used to be their club, there was at least some black humour to be found in the circumstances surrounding the postponement of the match. Their match against Ebbsfleet United last week avoided action being taken by the players after they were paid one weeks wages – reportedly in Scottish bank notes – on Friday, but this time the Vaughans’ luck ran out. There have been conflicting rumours of what actually happened outside The Deva Stadium this afternoon, with the BBC reporting that the players were refusing to board the coach and local newspaper the Chester Chronicle reporting that the coach company refused to leave because they hadn’t been paid.
The club’s long-suffering supporters could, however, now be joined in boycott by supporters of their bitter rivals Wrexham. The two clubs are due to play each other in the league on Sunday and Wrexham have sold out their allocation of tickets, but the question now has to be one of whether the match will or can actually go ahead or not. With police expenses and stewarding costs high for a such a potentially volatile fixture, it seems impossible that the club will be able to raise the required funds to get the gates open at The Deva Stadium on Sunday in the first place.
Wrexham’s supporters have problems of their own. It has recently come to light that two employees of the club, Andy Garside and Lisa Colford, have somewhat chequered pasts and were involved with the running of a company called Chestnut House, which exposed by the Daily Mirror a couple of years ago as being little more than a scam to sell goods under the near-pretence of giving money to charity. Garside and Colford are respectively employed in the retail and financial departments of the club, and some Wrexham supporters have stated that they will now boycott the club until the pair are removed, whilst others are now boycotting the club shop and their weekly draw.
What is somewhat peculiar about the whole affair has been the club’s reaction to it. When it first became public knowledge on the supporters forum, Red Passion, numerous messages sent to the club were met with a resounding silence. Today, however, the story broke in the local newspaper, the Daily Post North Wales, and the club was finally backed into a corner of releasing a public statement. It didn’t make for particularly inspring reading:
The Directors of Wrexham FC were disappointed to read the article that appeared in the Daily Post on February 9th and would like to issue a statement in response to the inaccuracies printed about two of its employees.The club was aware of the allegations against the two employees and following internal investigation noted that:
1. Neither had broken any laws.
2. The Honeyrose Foundation negotiated and agreed with the 5% figure, by way of a commission payment from Chestnut House, a commercial business, towards their Charity.
Geoff Moss, Chairman of Wrexham FC said: “Spurious newspaper allegations can sometimes be very damaging to the individuals concerned. Neither have been charged with anything and we will be supporting them in this difficult time. Both are valued employees at the club and the situation will be discussed at a full Board meeting which is scheduled for Wednesday 17th February when a further statement will be issued.”
Well, that’s okay then. Are the directors of Wrexham AFC suggesting that they support the behaviour of Chestnut House? Because there is plenty about it on the internet, for people who would like to know more about it. Here, for example. Or here. You can read a bit more about the companies that preceded them here. What is interesting about the club statement is what part of the newspaper report they find “spurious”, because every single part of the report in the Daily Post is factually correct. The Honeyrose Foundation’s own website confirms that it terminated its arrangement with Chestnut House, and there is a direct quotation from the charity’s founder, Lynn Duffy, in which she states that, “I’d urge the Wrexham FC board to get rid of these two, and quickly – they’re a nightmare. I’ll certainly join the Wrexham fans in protest”.
Cause for concern, then, at The Racecourse Ground, and not for the first time. These problems pale, however, when compared with the situation just up the road at The Deva Stadium, and it is about time that a few answers were given about the decisions that were made by the football authorities. It wasn’t that difficult to predict that “a new club is surely the only way forward for the supporters of Chester City” or that they would be unlikely to survive the season in the Blue Square Premier this season. We know that they knew that they were making the wrong decision. The FA gave the Football Conference a suspended fine for allowing them to start the season without having agreed a CVA (which, it should be remembered, was never agreed after they cravenly allowed the club’s league place to be transferred into that of a new company for the sake of expedience), after all.
Chester supporters will be well aware from the cautionary tale of Kings Lynn that the end of their club might not be the start of a new one in the mould that they would like. Any decision over the continuing lease for The Deva Stadium will be likely to be contested, with speculators deciding that they want a piece of the latent energy for a club in a city that is obviously plenty capable of supporting a thriving one. It may well turn out to be a long way back for a new club, but it has always been the only forward. The most saddening thing about it all has been the humiliating and undignified way that it has been allowed to unfold – but no-one involved in this saga, the brilliant Chester Fans United excepted, has ever really any indication of even pretending to give a damn about the supporters of Chester City Football Club. If there is a failure to recapture the interest of the local public in the club, there will be a lot of people that should look long and hard at the decisions that they have made over the last seven months or so.
Edit: For those of you looking for a window into what exactly was going on at Chester City this afternoon, here is a club statement made on behalf of Forest Green Rovers by their vice-chairman earlier this evening which gives an indication of the effects of their behaviour on other clubs.
I was aware that Chester City met with the Football League this morning in Preston, seeking to have discretionary payments made to them from their time in the Football League. This would have allowed them to make interim payments to their players but unfortunately for them this request was declined.
In light of that information I sought an assurance from Chester City that they would still fulfill their fixture this evening and this was confirmed to me at 2pm.
In light of rumours from the Chester area then circulating I could only respond to enquiries with the assurance given that they were travelling. At 5.11pm I received notification by telephone from Chester City that they were unable to fulfill the fixture due to lack of players and since then staff and I have been working hard to minimise the impact such a late cancellation causes to everyone. May I thank them for their response and offer sincere apologies to all sponsors and supporters. Cancelling any fixture causes major problems and this has been the worse one due to its timing.
It would be remiss of Forest Green Rovers to pass further comment at this time, other than to say this loss of the fixture will cause serious consequences financially, when you consider the loss of other fixtures due to the FA Cup and the possible loss of other income Saturday week, dependant on the FA Trophy results this evening. Added to that we also have had an issue over money from Notts County and the knock on effect with Inland Revenue payments. The club will now be seeking to recover loss of revenue from those sources it feels it can claim against.
No doubt the Football Conference will now be seriously looking at Rule 8.6 and the possible expulsion of Chester City under this rule. If such action ensues this will not help us for obvious reasons but again I believe it is right we keep our counsel at this time and await a speedy resolution so we can adjust accordingly to protect the long term interests of the football club and the Ltd Company.
Rule 8.6, for the record, refers to “failing to fulfil an engagement to play a competition match”.