The supporters group Chester Fans United may not have reached a consensus over whether they should formally call a boycott of their club, but it seems to have started already. They beaten 1-0 at home in the Blue Square Premier last night by Salisbury City in front of a record low crowd of just 425. The match may turn out to be their last ever home match. They travel to Mansfield Town in the league on Saturday, and take on HMRC in the High Court next Wednesday. Should they even manage to win both of those fixtures, they will go into February 2010 on zero points – it’s the Third Round of the FA Trophy on the 30th of January and they’re already out of that.
Quite how they can talk their way out of the winding up order is anybody’s guess. They’ve only played two matches home or away since the 11th of December, so the club itself can’t have generated much revenue in that time and the meagre takings from the Salisbury match won’t have boosted the coffers that much. On the pitch, relegation seems a certainty even if they do survive the axe next week. They are currently twenty-six points adrift of fifth from bottom Forest Green Rovers with twenty matches to play. Whether they will be relegated one division, two divisions or down to absolute foot of the football pyramid will depend on what form football takes in the city by the summer.
The latest name to be linked with the club is the boxing promoter Frank Warren. Quite what Warren would hope to get out of an ailing football club with supporters in open revolt that is going to relegated (or expelled) from its league at the end of this season is very much open to question. The announcement was made to the local press by… Stephen Vaughan – an odd choice of mouth-piece for the club, considering the words of The Insolvency Service’s Ade Daramy when Vaughan was banned from acting as a company director for eleven years:
If you are subject to this undertaking then you are banned from being in the shadows or someone acting as your proxy. It’s a complete ban from being a director of a limited company and any of those roles or duties.
It doesn’t seem like an unreasonable question to ask why he still seems to be making decisions and acting very much like the owner of the club two months later. Of course, Vaughan’s words aren’t quite as black and white as Warren having agreed to ride into The Deva Stadium on a white charger and save the day but, then again, Vaughan is fully aware of the law and usually chooses his words very carefully when dealing with the press:
I have been speaking to possible investors in the football club and one potential investor in talks has been boxing promoter Frank Warren.
This, of course, could mean anything. Should he be mad enough to consider this to be a sound investment (and this is working to the assumption that there is nothing “under the counter” going on at the club), it will be up to the football authorities to make a decision over whether they are going to agree with it. They have tacitly agreed with more or less everything else that he has done over the last few months, so it seems difficult to believe that they will stand in his way this time. The entire raison d’être of Chester City Football Club at the moment is something of a mystery at the moment.
In the mean time, Morell Maison may or may not be the new owner of the club. Vaughan said, “Our director of football, Morell Maison, has exercised his option to purchase the Vaughan family’s shareholding of the football club. He has agreed a price for the shares and he has now got two years to bring in prospective investors and bring investment into the football club”. “Exercising an option to purchase” is a different beast to actually, well, “purchasing”. The majority of supporters seem unsurprisingly unimpressed.
What, though, of City Fans United? The fans’ group has been stayin tight-lipped recently, and there are good, sound reasons for this. There is no point in them issuing a public statement every time a bizarre statement comes from the club or a new low is hit. Chester supporters can rest assured that they are carrying out a lot of work behind the scenes, the majority of which cannot be made public at present. There have been calls for them to make the boycott of the club official (which would surely at least give Maison some sort of record in being involved at two clubs at which supporter groups have held boycotts of matches in the same season), but it seems too soon for them to do this. Enough people already seem to be drifting away from the club of their own accord.
On the other main issue that may be vexing them, the issue of whether to sever all ties and simply form a new club, a game of wait and see needs to be played as well. As things stand, any new club would be homeless and would likely have to play away from the city. The home of the club – in spirit as well as in body – is The Deva Stadium, and this is owned by the council. There is, of course, a chance that the council could make a decision like the local council did at Kings Lynn last week and give any new lease on the stadium to another “consortium” with a “business plan”, possibly with an “investment strategy” and a “project”. If or when the club expires, CFU are the obvious successors to that lease.
Then and only then will a bit of the trust come back. At that point, some of the missing hundreds might start coming back to football in Chester. If that crowd of 425 last night said anything at all – and it screamed it pretty loudly – it said, in the voice of the long-suffering supporters of Chester City Football Club, that the current state of affairs, the current administration and the current mess is absolutely, emphatically not what they want. That it should come to this is a savage judgement upon those that allowed them to start the season in the first place.