Since we last reported from Chester City, much has happened and nothing has changed. At the same time, owner Stephen Vaughan was due to have ceded all control in the club by the middle of December having been disqualified as a company director after an investigation by the Insolvency Service’s Disqualification Investigation Team over alleged carousel fraud. Casual observers may have been forgiven, however, for continuing to hold the impression that not a great deal has changed at The Deva Stadium over the last month or so. Over the last couple of weeks, however, things have started to become farcical there.
First of all came the arrival of Morell Maison, fresh from his disastrous spell at Halesowen Town, which left the Southern League club teetering on the brink of closure, banned from FA competitions this year after they failed to pay Maisdtone United and Durham City gate receipts from matches against them last year in the FA Cup and the FA Trophy (which left a particularly bitter taste in the case of Durham, who had to release all of their players during the summer after the withdrawal of a sponsor, leaving them gamely but distastrously battling away at the bottom of the Unibond League Premier Division with a youth team) and boycotted by their own supporters.
Maison didn’t seem particularly clear on what his role at the club actually was. His official title seems to be “Director Of Football”, but according to subsequent press interviews he still hasn’t met the players yet. The question of why a club would be taking on a Director of Football when the players hadn’t been paid for two months wasn’t, unsurprisingly, answered by the club itself. Maison started his time at the club with an interview on BBC London’s Non-League Show on the 4th of January. He stated – at first – that the club was still under the ownership of both Stephen Vaughan Junior and Senior (news that may have been of interest to the FA as well as the Insolvency Service) before amending this statement to say that Vaughan Senior hadn’t been involved in his appointment. He then went on to state that he wasn’t being paid for his position and that he wouldn’t be getting involved in issues on the playing side of the football club. He contradicted himself on one of these statements within the body of the interview (claiming to have signed two players on loan from Mansfield Town), and the truth behind the other started to come out in the next few days.
By the end of the week, the truth was starting to emerge, as rumours began to circulate that Maison had paid £75,000 for a share in the club, though details remain sketchy over whether this has actually taken place or what he may have paid for. It would have been interesting to hear his interview at the bank for that particular loan. At the same time, manager Jim Harvey gave up the ghost and left the club. Reports on BBC Radio Merseyside again linked Vaughan Senior with the running of the club, stating that it was he that had told Harvey that he had no future at the club. At the same time, Cambridge United were have reported to have reported the club over non-payment for loan players that the Chester took from them during the first half of this season.
It seems that these are the straws that are finally breaking the camels back. There is now open talk on the club’s forum, Devachat, of a breakaway club with the major sticking point between supporters now being whether they should go now in order to be prepared for the start of next season or wait to see if or when the club goes bust in order to secure a lease on The Deva Stadium. It seems unlikely that they will get a lease on what they would regard as their home until the old club has finally vacated it, unless the local council step in and evict Chester City. Whether they would be able to do this legally would depend on the terms of the lease. Meaniwhile, it now seems likely that everything will be done in order for Chester to complete their fixtures this season. It has been mentioned that the survival of the club for this season is likely to be ensured, but where they go at the end of the season is very much open to question. The Football Conference has a deal that it brokered with the Football League for two promotion and relegation places, and it doesn’t wish to jeopardise them. At the end of the season, though, with relegation seeming a near certainty, what exactly will happen?
Even allowing for the absurd and flagrant abuses of the rules that they have already piled up this season and the extent to which they have got away with it, it seems scarcely credible that the club will not have the book thrown at it once 2009/10 is out of the way. The issues of ownership, non-payment of football debts and the manner in which it started the season would seem to indicate that expulsion from the Conference is likely and that the club would have to start next season in the Unibond League Premier Division at best. There is precedent for this, in the case of Boston United a couple of years ago. Boston, a club of a similar size to Chester, remain in the middle of the Unibond League – proof, as if it were needed, that the long haul back to the Football League is something that has to be worked for rather than a series of rights of accession.
Even if it didn’t, relegation from the Blue Square Premier at the end of this season is already almost inevitable – the club would need around forty-five to fifty points from their remaining matches to have anything like a realistic chance of avoiding relegation. Players seem to be leaving on an almost daily basis, and the club will be unlikely to make much revenue from match days if a full boycott. Ultimately, however, the charade of anybody at the club actually giving a damn about the supporters of the club vanished a long time ago. It is now the football authorities that the club’s owners have to persuade. They have played them off for mugs several times before – will they be able to get away with it yet again?