It’s starting to become known as The Vaughan Effect, and it’s a very modern phenomenon. Whenever any mention is made of the slightest possibility the involvement of either of the Stephen Vaughans getting involved in a football club, there is a reflex reaction from the supporters of the club concerned and from various social media outlets, and this time the club with which this most dread of names has been associated with is Stockport County. The last few weeks have been an odd time for supporters of a club that tumbled out of the Football League at the end of last season. We reported last week on the club’s recent tribulations, but the involvement with the club of twenty-seven year-old Tony Evans, who describes himself as a “friend” of Vaughan, there may well have raised eyebrows amongst the supporters – or former supporters – of Barrow, Chester City and Widnes Rugby Football League Club, all three of which club suffered insolvency events under Vaughan’s ownership.
Regular readers of this site will be fully aware of the history of Stephen Vaughan Senior’s involvement in football since the mid-1990s. For those that aren’t, there is an exhaustive history here. Vaughan is currently serving at Her Majesty’s Pleasure over an assault on a police officer, and is also disqualified from acting as a company director over his involvement in carousel fraud during his time at Widnes. As such, there is no danger of him passing the FA’s Fit & Proper Persons Test at any point in the immediate future. Those assuming that this should be the end of the matter, however, may wish to consider that such matters are seldom this cut and dried. At Chester, Vaughan handed over the directorship to his son as early as April 2009 (several months before the club collapsed into administration), and he gave every impression of acting as an effective shadow director of the club during its death throes, later that year. This year, he was strongly rumoured to be interested in investing in Wrexham FC, before the deal to buy the club – fronted by Tony Allan as the Chief Executive, with Robert Bickerton and Jon Harris – foundered just days after it was announced. The fury of the response of Wrexham supporters to his rumoured involvement put paid to that.
So, Vaughan has never given much indication before of being terribly interested in the letter or spirit of company law in his previous football dealings, from signing over Barrow’s Holker Street ground into his own name without the agreement of the club’s other directors in 1998 through to giving every indication of being in charge of the running of Chester City after he had been disqualified from acting as a company director. Yet Vaughan isn’t really the issue at hand here. There is nothing to suggest that he is to invest in Stockport County at the moment. What we should perhaps be most interested in in the involvement of Tony Evans with the club, and a most peculiar statement that he made on the subject of Vaughan. “I know Stephen well. He is a good guy. Everyone needs a scapegoat to blame in football. He was that scapegoat at Chester rightly or wrongly”, Evans has said, “He invested millions in that football club. He’s got my number. If he wants to ring me and get involved I would definitely listen to him but at this moment in time he is not involved in this consortium.”
The links between Evans and Vaughan, then, aren’t denied by Evans. Indeed, far from it. He seems happy to get Vaughan involved if Vaughan wishes to be involved. So far, so troubling. He followed this up, though, with an equally curious statement, that “You tell me someone who has been successful who has not had a company go into administration. If the fans have issues with that, then actions speak louder than words”. Evans’ statement could certainly be interpreted as defensive. At the end of last year, three of his own companies – seeus2save.com, Accident Assistance and Clear Bike Insurance – entered into administration. Perhaps someone should prepare him a list of successful businessmen that have not had companies suffering insolvency events. Indeed, such language would seem to betray a somewhat blasé attitude towards his companies’ creditors and it could certainly be argued that anyone lending money to any company with an owner that holds such an attitude may wish to proceed with caution in dealings with him.
In the meantime, Stockport County have become suddenly financially flush through the sale of Anthony Pilkington from Norwich City to Huddersfield Town for £2m, which will earn the club a 20% sell-on clause, and the bookmakers’ odds against them winning the Blue Square Premier title next season have tumbled accordingly. Dietmar Hamann is the club’s new manager (their fourth manager of 2011), a big name signing that has certainly brought the club a considerable amount of attention, whilst bids for Bury striker (and last year’s League Two Player Of The Year, as well as a former Chester City player) Ryan Lowe, Accrington’s Sean McConville and Halifax’s Jamie Vardy believed to total more than £250,000 have set hearts a-flutter amongst the club’s support. Cynics might see a parallel between this sort of largesse and what happened when Vaughan took over at both Barrow and Chester (both clubs had serious money spent on their teams when he arrived) but, for now, there remains nothing concrete to indicate that he is putting money into the club. Intriguingly, though, at the time of writing Stockport have a pre-season friendly lined up against Chester FC and some Chester supporters are now wondering aloud whether this match should go ahead. The Trust Board, presumably, will address these concerns should they become much more vocal.
Stockport County, then, might be next season’s Crawley Town, or they could conceivably be next season’s Notts County or, in a worst case scenario, Chester City. It is impossible to say at this stage whether they will be any – or none – of these. Yet there is cause – some cause – for concern. Stockport’s new shirt sponsors, for example, have also sponsored a boxer from Vaughan Boxing Promotions. This could all be dismissed as conspiracy theory, but the reputation of the Vaughans proceeds them – hence the outburst of The Vaughan Effect that we saw on Twitter when mention was made of the name last week. The last few days and weeks have seen a sense of The Last Days of Rome emanating from the Stockport County support, and it is absolutely understandable that after several dismal seasons, they should hope for better things after having made the potentially psychologically traumatising fall through the trapdoor from the Football League into the Blue Square Premier at the end of last season. This league, however, remains more difficult to get out of than it is to slip into and getting straight back into the Football League will be an enormous challenge for Dietmar Hamann in his first season as a manager. Off the pitch, however, the old adage that if something looks too good to be be true, it often is. Stockport’s long-suffering supporters will, we daresay, remain vigiliant for signs of activity from the Vaughans. They may consider matters to be beyond control regardless of what happens in the future, but if there is anything in the claims made concerning the Vaughans and their club, they may be the only people that can do anything about it.
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