Close of business today, we had been told, was the deadline, and the sanction if this wasn’t met was common knowledge. Wrexham FC was to be barred from entering this year’s Blue Square Premier play-offs with one of Kidderminster Harriers, York City or Darlington replacing them, depending on the way that results went on Saturday afternoon. The reason for the Football Conference playing hardball over this was obvious. The club had a winding up hearing at the High Court in London on the eleventh of May, which is slap bang in the middle of the play-offs and, although previous cases involving football clubs would seem to confirm that adjournments are the norm for a first winding up petition hearing, there were no guarantees of this and unless the outstanding bill was paid in full by this date, the club could theoretically have been wound up at this first hearing.
With this in mind, the Football Conference stated that Wrexham’s outstanding tax bill had to be paid before the final round of Blue Square Premier fixtures this weekend and their tactic seems to have been successful. This afternoon, an official club statement confirmed that the £200,000 bill has been paid, which is more than can be said for the club’s players, who, it has been reported, have not been paid yet this month. We don’t know exactly how this has been paid (it is said that the bill has been paid using a “combination of donations and loans”), and the Wrexham Supporters Trust had already stated that it would not be covering this debt, in spite of thinly-veiled requests for them to do so. One investor is the former Labour MP and now Conservative Welsh Assembly member Dr John Marek, who has pledged £50,000 in the form of an interest-free loan to help to pay off the bill. However, Marek’s comments regarding the WST are a definite cause for concern. He stated that:
Whether the club survives or is forced into administration seems second to their aims to buy the club – which must survive in the Blue Square Premier. If the WST were really concerned with keeping them in the Blue Square Premier, then they would have provided £50,000 towards paying the tax bill – but they didn’t.
All of this rather overlooks the fact that it was not – and, moreover, neither should it have been – the responsibility of the WST (whose principle aim should be to acquire the funds to purchase equity in the club itself) to bail out the football club’s owners by stumping up a considerable proportion of the momey that it has raised over the years. At no point over the last couple of weeks has it been suggested anywhere that WST would actually get anything for its money, above and beyond somebody else’s debt paid for them. The club’s recent official statements have continued in the recent tradition of tugging very firmly at the heart-strings of the club’s supporters. Consider this, from an official club statement made on the twentieth of April:
Obviously, should the company be wound up or go into administration, it could lose its current league status and any phoenix club may be unable to apply to enter the English Football hierarchy.
It is well-known that there is no desire whatsoever amongst the club’s support to enter the Welsh league set-up, but it is equally well-known that there is a precedent for a phoenix club to be allowed to continue within the English pyramid. In the case of Merthyr Town last year, the FA’s Leagues Committee and the FAW agreed that the reformed club, founded after the collapse of Merthyr Tydfil FC, should be allowed to continue in the English pyramid, playing in the Western League rather than being shoved into the Welsh league system (there is a decent overview of what happened here). Merthyr have already won Division One of the Western League in their first season, with games to spare.
So the club has dodged another bullet, then, but even missing out on this year’s Blue Square Premier play-offs would probably have palled in comparison with the long-term future of the club and the WST has finally thrown its hat into the ring with an ambitious plan to try and raise £1m in order to acquire a majority share-holding in Wrexham FC (2006) Ltd, the company which owns Wrexham Football Club, The Racecourse Ground and the club’s Collier’s Park training ground. Leaflets were handed out prior to their home league match against Tamworth earlier this week, outlining plans for a share offer which would see The Racecourse Ground and Collier’s Park placed into the ownership of a Community Interest Company in order to protect them from future development.
In this bid lies Wrexham Football Club’s chance of survival and a happy ending to this particularly tortuous story. The speculators – the likes of Stephanie Booth and Stephen Cleeve – continue to circle in the peripheral vision of the club, but the long-term health of Wrexham FC will be best served by the people and businesses of the town coming together now to raise the money to purchase a majority share-holding in the club. If there is one thing that has become clearer than anything else over the last few years at Wrexham, it is surely that the old model of running a football club, that of a benign and supposedly benevolent dictator, has failed the club repeatedly. Wrexham Football Club, the players, the staff, the supporters and the wider community, deserve better – the chance to control their own destiny, whether that happens to be back in the Football League or still in the Blue Square Premier again next season.
In the meantime, however, the WST have won this particular battle of brinkmanship, but the war over the medium to long-term future of the club remains up in the air. We remain confident, however, that their eventual ownership of the club and its assets can, will and must happen. Supporter ownership and a protected ground is the only way forward for Wrexham FC. It’s now down to the whole town to show the will to make it happen.
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