There is always something faintly pathetic about the list of creditors for a football club’s proposed CVA. It’s not so much the big creditors that sink the heart – after all, those that pour money into the black hole of a football club, for example, have paid their money and taken their choice – but the smaller creditors that tug at the heart-strings. This is as true in the case of the CVA proposed for Northwich Victoria FC at the end of 2009 as for any other. It’s difficult not to feel sympathy for Anthony’s Travel of Runcorn, a coach hire company which ended up being owed £16,178 by the club – a lot of money for a small business – while the stomach can only turn a little at the inclusion of a £5,889.13 debt to Blessed Thomas Holford Catholic College, a school at which the club used for training sessions.
This CVA, however, reached its conclusion in February when the administrator, Gary Pettit of the Northampton-based company Marshman Price, requested its cancellation at the Manchester High Court. No payments had been made as per the agreement reached and in his report to the court, Pettit noted (with a degree of almost tangible exasperation) that, “the purchaser [chairman Jim Rushe] sought to claim payments were not due and pleaded ignorance to their obligations.” With the CVA having failed, it was no great surprise to hear that the club, which finished in second place in the Premier Division of the Northern Premier League this season, was barred from entering the end of season play-offs and instructed that it was to be expelled from the league altogether from the end of this season.
Earlier this week at Wembley, however, the FA somehow saw fit to fall for Rushe’s pleas for clemency up to a point, and commuted their expulsion to a one division relegation. Such matters, however, may soon end up as an irrelevance. In spite of the pie in the sky claims of Steve McNally, an individual who mysteriously parachuted into a club with which he had no prior connection at the precise moment at which it lost its ground with grandiose plans to build a new, 7,000 capacity stadium and get it into the Football League in five years. No part of McNally’s story makes a great deal of sense. He claims that the new stadium will be built at Lostock Triangle, on the outskirts of the town, but this is land that has just been purchased by the house-builders Barratt Homes and the land adjacent to it is green belt land, for which planning permission would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.
McNally remains an enigma of the worst sort. He posts regularly on the Northwich Victoria Supporters Trust’s forum, but side-steps any questions asked of his background and seems to spend as much time attempting to discredit the Trust as anything else. Quite why anybody should trust him is a question that remains at arms length. He claims to have been a non-league footballer who played until he was thirty-nine years old but, for someone that had such an apparently lengthy playing career, he didn’t leave much of a footprint. Might he be this Steve McNally, who played five games in the Northern Premier League for Southport during the 1979/80 season? It seems unlikely, considering how old he would have to be, but we still don’t know the truth about him because he steadfastly refuses to reply to any questions about him that might give anything away about his background.
Rushe, meanwhile, continues to carry himself with a putrid combination of obstinacy and bone-headedness. Having openly displayed his contempt for the supporters of this rotting carcass of a club – that he has mismanaged into the position in which it finds itself today – by laughing and holding up a red card himself during a protest by supporters against what passes for his “custodianship” of the club last weekend, he spoke to the Northwich Guardian this week, stating that, “I don’t feel that what has happened is my fault”, and that, “I’m determined to fight on and won’t be relinquishing control.” We hardly, of course, even need to ask the question of who else could conceivably be responsible for the financial well-being of any company apart from its majority share-holder and chairman. Possibly the only bigger mystery than this is that of how anybody without an ulterior motive of some description could conceivably attribute any credibility to this most odd collection of individuals.
The Northwich Victoria Supporters Trust has previously stated that it would look to form a new club in the event of the existing club folding, but it is surely now time to reconsider this position. With the CVA having failed, it is surely only a matter of time before a fresh winding up order is issued against the club – especially with HMRC being owed £446,108, according to the CVA paperwork from December 2009. Meanwhile, applications to join the North West Counties League have to be in by the end of next month. Supporters of AFC Rushden & Diamonds, who have spent this season watching a youth team after their club folded too late for a new club to start for the beginning of this season, will be more than aware of what happens when a club folds too late for a new one to begin for the following season. No-one would suggest that this wouldn’t be a heartbreaking decision for supporters to have to make, but Cheshire West & Chester Council, the local council to Northwich, are fully versed in this sort of situation following the events at Chester City of two years ago and only a club run by a supporters trust, not one that is run as one mans fiefdom while another seems to spend his time seeking to divide the supporters and isolate the democratically run organisation which represents many of them, might be able to rebuild bridges with the local community which have been burnt by recent difficulties.
Ultimately, though, Northwich Victoria supporters have to be united. Where clubs have risen from situations as dire as this, it has been in no small part because every single one of them shares the vision of a community-focused, democratically-run club that is out of the hands of individuals whose motives remain unclear and whose managerial abilities seem questionable, to say the least. At Chester, Enfield, Wimbledon, FC United of Manchester, Wrexham and far beyond, the fruits of the hard work of those who give their time up for their supporters trusts has been repaid in spades. In some of those cases the supporters walked away because they had to, and they have made it work. The simple truth of the matter is that supporters of the club do not have to be in thrall to the likes of Jim Rushe. If they allow games of divide and rule to play out to the eventuality that those instigating them presumably aspire, they will only have themselves to blame if the town ends up with a club – or more than one club – that is enfeebled.
The supporters of Northwich Victoria have three choices. They can walk away from en masse, start again and fight to get their club back to the position that it held before these years of madness. They can stand behind a man who openly laughs at them and has driven their club to the lowest division it has ever played in and to the brink of extinction with spectacular mismanagement without even having the basic common decency to show any remorse for what he has done whilst seeking to blame, without any basis, everybody but himself for the mess. Or they could just walk away from football altogether. By coming together as one and once and for all rallying behind the trust, there is a great chance that they could save the soul of their club. It seems inconceivable that the pathetic list of creditors from December 2009 will not have grown considerably by now. It’s time to let Northwich Victoria die so that it can be reborn in the hands of people worthy of its custodianship.
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