The axe swung, then, and the side of the neck was lightly grazed. Actually, in spite of what we may well be thinking (and this is a feeling that is spreading around the game ilke wildfire at present), there may be an ounce of common sense in the Football Conference’s decision to allow Chester City a temporary reprieve until Thursday: they are playing Cambridge United at The Abbey Stadium tomorrow night and Cambridge would have been put to a considerable amount of inconvenience (and, of course, expense) were the match to not be played. Here is the Football Conference’s statement on today’s talks in full:
The Football Conference confirm that positive discussions have continued today between themselves, the Football League and Chester City FC concerning the club’s continued membership and participation in the Blue Square Premier.
We are able to report that the Football League is playing an active role in endeavours to ensure the Club is able to meet its financial commitments regarding their legal undertaking to settle with creditors which formed part of their requirement for membership in 2009/10, and which also incorporates payment to creditors which the Club has with the Football Conference.
To enable the Football League to provide maximum assistance in drawing matters to a satisfactory conclusion, Tuesday evening’s match (1st December) between Cambridge United and Chester City will proceed as scheduled.
The Football Conference will then convene an emergency Board meeting on Thursday, 3rd December to receive a report from the joint deliberations between all parties, before discussing what further action may be necessary in light of the information provided. Following that meeting the Football Conference will issue a further statement.
So, there will be an extraordinary board meeting of the Football Conference on Thursday and the understanding is that the league is absolutely at the end of its tether with the club. The money owed to Wrexham and Vauxhall Motors, which are the crux of the issue being debated (as opposed to the various misdemeanours of Stephen Vaughan Senior and/or Junior), have not, apparently, been paid. If the issue of inconvenience to Cambridge United has been taken into account, however, and this turns out to be the reason for Chester being thrown a further seventy-two hours to try and sort themselves out, then Thursday’s meeting will end less than forty-eight hours before Chester are due to play Luton Town at The Deva Stadium.
More protests are likely for Saturday and this time the media, who were largely caught napping by the abandonment of last weekend’s match against Eastbourne Borough, are likely to be paying much closer attention this coming Saturday if the club does manage to somehow to get itself yet another stay of execution on Thursday. What surprises might the increasingly militant and agitated Chester crowd have in store to try and top last Saturday’s events? It seems unlikely that they would make the mistake of publicising is first. Should the Football Conference confound expectations and grant them another chance, though, the likelihood is that all Chester home matches will become publicity stunts to varying degrees, until the league does the decent things and puts the club out of its misery.
The irony of this situation is that there is nothing that the Football Conference wants more than to be Taken Seriously. The ground requirements are stiff so that as many teams as possible have a chance of promotion into the Football League, and the financial requirements used to be stringent with clubs being denied promotion unless they could prove that they were sustainable. What is happening at the moment, however, is making a laughing stock of the Football Conference and, in a broader sense, of non-league football in general. The question that we therefore have to ask is who is this being dragged out for the benefit of.
It isn’t for the benefit of the clubs in the league, who are playing matches against a club without even knowing whether the results will be worth anything in a few weeks. It isn’t for the benefit of the Blue Square Premier, which is being made to look like a league that has a member club that is a combination of a tragedy, a soap opera, a disgrace and a laughing stock. It isn’t for the benefit of the players and staff, who aren’t being paid. It isn’t even to the benefit of the supporters, who now seem resigned to the death of this club and who would probably benefit the most from the closure club, to give them a chance of getting a new, democratically-owned club into The Deva Stadium, even if it was to start a far lower level than that at which what passes for Chester City currently plays.
To an extent, however, the Football Conference have been stuck between a rock and a hard place. Leant on from one side by the Football Association, who considered them to be in breach of their own rules, and on the other by the Football League, who were exerting pressure to guarantee the future of clubs that fall out of the league. The “easy” solution would be for someone to give the club their Football League parachute money (a sizeable amount of money), but this money is discretionary and there is, presumably, a reason why it is not being released by the Football League. In the meantime, the match against Cambridge United goes ahead – whether there is any point in this match being played, however, will not be known until Thursday at the earliest.