Seldom in recent years can there have been a greater contrast between a clubs performance on the pitch and the condition in which it finds itself away from it. Northwich Victoria, of the Premier Division of the Northern Premier League find themselves continuing to challenge for a play-off place for promotion into the Blue Square Bet North for next season, but such considerations have come to pale in comparison with a state of absolute chaos off of it.
Evicted from their ground earlier this year and with an attempt to ground-share elsewhere now apparently in tatters, the future of the club now lays in ruins thanks to the hopeless mismanagement of one individual. Yet again.
Jim Rushe, the current owner of the club, has managed quite an achievement in managing to run the club even closer to the ground than his predecessors did. Northwich left its home, The Drill Field, one of world football’s oldest continually used homes, in 2005 for the newly-built Victoria Stadium, but the new ground has come to a millstone around the clubs neck. An attempt by the clubs previous owner – and, for a while, still the owner of the ground – Mike Connett ended in an attempt to evicted the club which ended in failure when Connetts company collapsed into receivership, but this lucky break only provided temporary respite for one of our more perennial clubs in crisis.
The ground was bought by a biochemical company called Thor Specialities UK, but this was a company that had little interest in keeping a non-league football club afloat in perpetuity. Two months ago, the club was evicted from the Victoria Stadium and has been homeless ever since. It was thought that an answer – of sorts – had been found when the club agreed a ground-sharing agreement to play at Skelmersdale United next season – we hesitate to use the word “nearby” in this case, as Skelmersdale is more than thirty miles from Northwich and in a different county – for next season, but a further set-back came earlier this week with the news that Skelmersdale’s West Lancashire College Stadium has not passed the ground grading requirements of the Northern Premier League.
It had been commonly understoood that the ground would be passed for next season, after another local club, Burscough, made improvements to it after they had played matches there earlier in the season, but it is understood that further changes made to the ground since then have meant that it is again not up to scratch for the level of football at which Northwich play. All of this came just a couple of days before the deadline of March the thirty-first for the club to confirm where it will be playing its home matches next season. For now, Northwich will continue to play its home matches at nearby Nantwich. In addition to this, the company that has been masquerading as Northwich Victoria FC in recent years has been confirmed as running into financial difficulties yet again. When NVFC 2004 went into administration, an agreement was reached between Jim Rushe and the administrators whereby the money to cover a CVA for the old company would be paid in instalments while the club would continue to trade as a new company. It is understood that this money has not been paid, though what the potential ramifications for the new company, which was formed in 2007, might be are less than clear.
Against such a background, it is perhaps unsurprising that the Northwich Victoria Supporters Trust called a meeting last night to raise the issue of whether to call it a day with this incarnation of the club and move on to establish a new club instead. The Trust is proposing “…to create a new, community-owned club that is run in a sustainable, transparent and democratic manner, owned not by one individual”, and at a meeting held last night the amendments to its constitution that make provision for such a bold decision – if perhaps unsurprising – were accepted. An amendment was also passed last night to allow the enabling of a Community Share offer such as those issued at FC United of Manchester and Wrexham recently. Trust chair Andy Stockton has already met with Cheshire West and Chester Council, Sport England and Cheshire FA whilst seeking the direction of Supporters Direct, all of which would seem to indicate that this possibility is moving very much in the right direction.
Mischievous voices have, as is common in this sort of scenario, been using the Trusts own forum to badmouth members of the trust board, accusing them of being more interested in feeding their own egos than saving the club. Such defamatory accusations are easy enough to brush aside, and the idea that supporters if the club have to stand foursquare behind the current owner are an insult to the intelligence of those being addressed. The supporters of Northwich Victoria should follow the soul of the club, wherever that may be. It is down to them to decide whether this sickly beast of a club should put out of its misery, or whether they should follow it in the manner of mice following the Pied Piper of Hamlyn.
Meanwhile, in what we can only assume to be an act of utter desperation, the club has confirmed a ground-share for next season at Stafford Rangers, a fellow Northern Premier League club whose Marston Road ground is even further from Northwich than decamping to Skelmersdale would have been – a jaw-dropping eighty-four miles round journey. Crowds have already significantly dropped since they started playing matches away from Victoria Stadium at Macclesfield and Nantwich. How many people – and just to get this in context, an eighty-four mile round journey is roughly the same as a trip from Central London to Reading or Haywards Heath in Sussex and back – exactly are going to make that journey week in, week out next season? Even those that don’t care much for the moral aspect of continuing to prop up this cadaver of the club are surely likely to baulk at making such a journey for home matches anything like regularly.
Jim Rushe should concede his failure at Northwich and stand down, handing ownership of it to the Supporters Trust. Whether the Trust would want to take ownership of it is another question, largely dependent upon the state of the clubs finances. If this incarnation of the club has become hopelessly unviable – and there has been precious little news to come from it to suggest that it hasn’t – then it should be allowed to die with a little dignity, tears should be shed and the hard work of establishing a new club that does its name proud should begin. This rebirth will not be easy and no-one would suggest otherwise for a second, but this cycle of insolvency, “white knights” with grand schemes and eviction notices has to end. A new, supporter-owned, community-focussed club might have a fighting chance of rebuilding some bridges and tempting back some of those that have drifted away from Northwich Victoria over the last few years. Flogging this dead horse in a town miles from Northwich is a fools errand, and should be resisted at all costs.
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