A loss of the ability to see past the end of their noses is one of the more repugnant character traits of the modern football supporter. While the media were treating Chelsea’s absurd claims that “UEFA has got the European Cup final that it wanted” (as a commentator on here this morning pointed out, shame on the BBC in particular for peddling this particular lie on “Breakfast” this morning), clubs were in the process of dying. It brings me no great pleasure in saying this, but the more apocalyptic visions of some observers could well come to pass this summer and no-one seems to care. Here, then, is a brief summary of some of the worst-hit clubs in English football at the moment.
Darlington: We wrote a little about Darlington earlier on in the season, when they became the first Football League club in England this season to go into administration. Since then, the club’s manager David Penney left for Oldham Athletic and his assistant Martin Gray has been made redundant, along with nine of the club’s backroom staff, leaving just five full-time staff at the club. A charity match played last weekend to raise funds to keep the club alive attracted a crowd of just 3,500 and raised just £25,000, and a deadline for bids to buy the club passed on Tuesday evening with no new buyer having been found. The adminstrator currently running the club has described their position as “precarious”.
Chester City: Chester were relegated from the Football League at the end of last season with only the points deduction awarded to Luton Town seeing them not finish bottom of the table. Chairman Steven Vaughan has confirmed that they are considering entering voluntary administration. The Football Conference’s AGM is at the start of next month and if Chester are forced into administration prior to this meeting, they will likely be relegated straight into the Blue Square North, and if they enter into administration after this, they will be deducted ten points next season. Curiously, Chester would likely stay in the Football League if Darlington were to fail over the next couple of weeks or so. More on them in the next couple of days.
Stockport County: Stockport fell into administration towards the end of last season. Owned by their Supporters Trust, County entered into a loan agreement last year which granted a debenture over the club’s bank account, meaning that the company who provided the loan have the ability to take control of the account and control any payments from it. They froze the club’s bank account, meaning that Stockport were unable to pay any bills – Sale Sharks, who share their stadium, had to pay their police bill for one match at the end of the season. Manager Jim Gannon was made redundant by the club’s administrators yesterday.
Merthyr Tydfil: The Southern League club (who, let us not forget, beat Atalanta in the European Cup Winners Cup in 1987) have been fighting serious financial difficulties all season, against the backdrop of a row between the club’s Supporters Trust and their owner, Wyn Holloway. Merthyr have debts of £315,000 and the Trust have offered to take ownership of the club but have baulked at taking on a debt that wasn’t of their making. Holloway, however, has stated that he won’t relinquish ownership of the club unless they take on this burden. The club faced a winding up order yesterday, but the Trust managed to win a stay of execution for twenty-eight days while they consider their options.
Darwen: Darwen FC were founded in 1870 playing cricket and rugby, before switching to football in 1875. They made the semi-finals of the FA Cup in 1881 and were members of the Football League between 1891 and 1899, spending one season in the First Division. More recently, they have been playing in the second division of the North West Counties League. The club resigned their position in this league this week after owner Kevin Henry confirmed that they would not be contesting a winding up order brought against them by a tool hire company called ING Lease Ltd. A new Darwen club is to be formed, but will not take its place until 2010. The size of the debt that landed them in court? £9,000.
We don’t know at this stage whether any or all of these clubs will survive. We know that Darwen won’t, and the prognosis for the rest of them doesn’t look particularly healthy. It seems likely that, as the day-to-day revenue of the average football club dries up for a few weeks and with advertising revenues and season ticket sales likely to be lower as the recession continues to bite, more clubs will join them in football’s own crisis corner. But who cares about them? In an era in which a football club – any football club – can be driven to the wall over £9,000 (or, for that matter, £320,000), complaining about not getting that last minute penalty and that place in the European Cup final starts to look a little bit churlish, so you’ll forgive me if I don’t shed too many tears for Chelsea this evening.