The Club That The City of Bangor Deserves
History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. It’s a well-worn line, but it was difficult to think any different earlier on today with the news that the Bangor City FC Supporters Association had voted overwhelmingly in favour of the formation of a new club to start from the beginning of next season in the Welsh pyramid. It didn’t take particularly long for offers of help to start coming in, the most pointed of which came from just the other side of the English border at Chester, where the Vaughan family, the wreckers of Bangor City, contrived to drive supporters into a boycott which ultimately forced the closure of that club and the formation of Chester FC, who are currently plying their trade in the National League North.
Whether carried out deliberately or purely through rank incompetence, it doesn’t seem to take very long to strangle the life out of a football club. Bangor City ended last season as runners-up in the Welsh Premier League but were demoted into the Cymru Alliance, the second tier of the Welsh pyramid, regardless. Under normal circumstances, the club would have spent last summer preparing for and competing in the qualifying rounds of this season’s Europa League, but circumstances are seldom normal at any club into which the Vaughans stick their collective beak. “Failure to meet the financial criteria requirements” was the diplomatic reason for the demotion given. We could all offer an approximation of what the blunter version of this might be. Let’s settle on, “The books must have been an almighty bloody mess” and move on, shall we?
Under such circumstances, its difficult to gauge how “success” might ever have reasonably been defined for Bangor City this season. Having finished in second place in the division above last time around, even the prospect of losing the majority of their more talented players shouldn’t have prevented a quick return to the WPL at the end of this season, but what followed last year’s demotion has been a team that has found its way to fifth place in its new, reduced circumstances on the pitch. Once the Vaughans sink their teeth into a football club, though, on the pitch affairs have a tendency to stop mattering very much after a while. The only reasonable way to define “success” for Bangor City this season is in terms of continuing existence and whether the owners of the club have been run out of town just yet. Bangor City continues to exist, for now, but this husk of a club has spent the season fighting financial fire after financial fire.
In August, the club was subject to a winding up petition from HMRC over an unpaid £10,300. The following month, it had to fend off a strike-off notice at Companies House over its failure to produce a confirmation statement, a document required to provide a snapshot of its position regarding directors avd shareholders. In October, the club’s annual accounts for the year to 2017 were finally produced, although the auditors, Salisbury & Co, confirmed that they were “unable to determine whether adequate accounting records had been kept” at the club and that they had not “obtained all the information and explanations” that are considered necessary for a financial audit.
The auditors also confirmed that, “We were also unable to satisfy that adequate documentation has been received in relation to cash shares totalling £258,000,” in relation to the transfer of 25,800 shares to the company Vaughan Sports Management Ltd, the transfer of shares referred to above, which gave the Vaughans’ company significant control of the club. Shortly afterwards, Salisbury & Co. resigned as the club’s auditors, giving eleven reasons why they considered their position to have become untenable:
The Vaughans stated that they were stepping aside at the start of December, claiming that a takeover of the club was imminent. Meanwhile, the full extent of the club’s financial problems were confirmed. By this point Bangor City had debts of at least £105,000, of which £16,000 came in the form of a demand for electricity and a water bill for £9,000. Both ended up being cut off. The club – let us never forget that, so far as the Vaughans are concerned, the financial chaos which seems to follow them from club to club is always either someone else’s fault or the result of an unlikely series of coincidences -feebly claimed that this was down to Nantporth CIC, the stadium operators, changing suppliers. Nantporth blew that out of the water pretty quickly, confirming that “the delays referred to in the statement were as a result of the club preventing the supply from being switched over in November resulting in this task being re-scheduled for week beginning 4th February.”
At an EGM held last night, the decision was taken. A statement by the association said it had agreed to incorporate as a Community Benefit Society (or Supporters’ Trust) and set up a new club, not in opposition to Bangor City FC “but as insurance against what we consider to be the real threat to top level football being played in the city.” Such a decision can hardly be considered surprising. The Vaughans were behind the liquidation of Barrow AFC at the end of the 1990s and it took the intervention of a court to prevent Vaughan senior from unlawfully transferring ownership of its Holker Street stadium into his own name without the appropriate permission from other directors.
At Chester City, a botched attempt at a CVA with debts appearing from the woodwork that defied any rational explanation was eventually blocked in court, leading to the club only being able to begin its 2009/10 Football Conference season with a savage twenty-five point deduction and the supporters walking away. By the following February the club was wound up, a state of affairs that made a mockery of the decision to let them start that season in the first place and which led to wide-ranging changes in the league’s financial rules. Chester FC was formed in 2010, taking over the lease on The Deva Stadium.
It extended beyond football, too. In November 2009 Vaughan senior was disqualified from acting as a company director for eleven years following his involvement in an alleged VAT fraud at Widnes Vikings rugby league club. He signed a disqualification undertaking after enquiries by the Insolvency Service’s Public Interest Unit into his conduct while a director of the Vikings. Widnes Rugby League Football Club Limited entered into administration in October 2007 with liabilities of more than £1.6million. The undertaking contained details of alleged carousel fraud carried out by Vaughan, designed to prop up the finances of the club which was technically insolvent at the time.
The family would return to the Widnes area in 2012, seeking to start a new football club to share the Vikings’ Halton Stadium home, but this ended after they were refused permission to use the facility. A brief spell in Malta with Floriana at least didn’t end in a complete financial cataclysm. Effectively persona non grata at any club in England, the peculiarities of the Welsh system – which doesn’t have an Owners & Directors Test but does issue licences based on financial stability, amongst other criteria – had an obvious appeal. It didn’t, however, take very long for familiar mismanagement issues to begin the process of tailspinning the club towards the desperate plight in which it finds itself today.
In terms of their record on running football clubs, the Vaughans are clearly beyond redemption. Four failures is proof of this, beyond any reasonable doubt. The attention, therefore, has to turn to the authorities who are supposed to be governing the game in order that this sortt of situation doesn’t come to pass in the first place. In England, at least we may console ourselves with the fact that the Stephen Vaughan Senior fails the Owners & Directors Test, as he is still banned from acting as a company director. The events at Bangor City over the last couple of years, however, surely create a powerful case for arguing that it is time that the licensing system currently used in Wales is not fit for purpose. It identified the issues at Bangor and demoted the club, but it’s done nothing to prevent the state in which it finds itself today.
Reform is the obvious answer, and it is to be hoped that the Football Association of Wales has learned from this debacle. And in the meantime, the only possible happy ending for Bangor City is for the supporters to be either be handed the club with its financial affairs brought into line, or for a new club to carry a lengthy and proud tradition forward, safeguarding the continuation of the city’s history within the game. Chester went through all if this. There have been ups and downs, but they remain in control of their own destiny, wherever they end up. The decision to cut the cord has been taken. It’s time for anew start for yet another set of supporters who simply did not deserve the Vaughans walking in, breaking their football club, and walking away again.