Well, it was yet another miraculous escape for a non-league club which, by any degree of rational thinking, didn’t fully deserve to pull through. Farsley Celtic had been a tale of too much too soon, and their recent difficulties reached a dramatic conclusion late yesterday afternoon when the club’s administrators, Mazars, announced that they could no longer justify running the club as going concerned, locked the club out of The Throstle Nest and locked the gates. It seemed that the death of the club was nigh and their home league match against Stalybridge Celtic in the Blue Square North was called off, but this afternoon an unnamed consortium stepped in and paid the £200,000 required to keep the club alive. The match is back on, and the club has been saved for now.
Farsley, it seems, overspent in the rush to get into the Blue Square Premier. They lasted just one division in the top division of non-league football, and have been in state of perpetual crisis since they fell back after just one year. Playing in front of dwindling crowds, the club has failed to make ends meet ever since. At the start of July they were issued with a winding up petition from HMRC over an unpaid tax bill and were set to be expelled from non-league football before they won a reprieve and a ten point deduction for the start of this season. The fact that they have found a new buyer can only be linked to the fact that the club owns its own ground. Whether this bodes well for them in anything like the medium to long term remains to be seen. They will, however, at least continue to play their fixtures for the time being.
Non-league football, then, lurches through yet another crisis with another club coming through just about intact. At the time of writing, though, there are several other clubs in a similarly desperate situation, and the events at Farsley over the last twenty-four hours will have run a chill through a few spines. Blue Square Premier club Salisbury City entered into administration earlier this week, while Lewes and Weymouth of the Blue Square South are also be said to be close to the edge. Others are believed to be in an equally desperate position. Last season, Team Bath and Fisher Athletic limped through to the end of the season before expiring as they crossed the finishing line. It remains more likely than not that not all of the teams playing in the non-league pyramid will finish the season.
Possibly the most worrying aspect of these developments is that they are happening as September starts. This time of the year is one of the few times of the year when many clubs could be forgiven for feeling a little flush. The season ticket money is in, no wages will have been paid over the summer, crowds are usually slightly higher than average because of the excitement of the start of the season and sponsors may have paid out in advance. If clubs are entering into administration at this time of year, what on earth would a prognosis for the rest of the season look like?
The time has come for action, but it is action that needs to be taken by the game’s authorities. New rules need to be brought in to ensure that clubs do not find themselves in this desperate sort of position within weeks of the start of the season. HMRC needs to be given the same status as football creditors, in order to stop them constantly taking action to wind up clubs that owe them money and to ensure that clubs actually pay their tax bills on time. Stringent wage caps need to be introduced which cannot simply be circumvented with a little sleight of hand when the accounts are handed in, and clubs need to be made to prove, before the season starts, that they have a clear financial plan which will ensure that they can last until the end of the season without bothering the insolvency practitioners. When these steps – and more – have been taken, non-league football can finally get on with doing what it does best: providing affordable football and a focus for the community that it serves. As things stand at the moment, the people that knock and belittle the non-league game, and the fact of the matter is that if non-league football doesn’t wanted to be thought of as a joke, it needs to stop acting like one.