Football supporters perusing the website of the commercial and retail property company GVA Grimley might have recently spotted something that would take their fancy. “The property comprises a purpose built non-league football stadium. The stadium, its immediate surroundings and surfaced car parking stand on 1.93 hectares (4.78 acres) of the site. The remainder being currently undeveloped, is loose stone covered, resulting from derelict land reclamation carried out by Cheshire County Council”, the accompanying blurb says. The site is a little less forthcoming about one of the other minor details, although it does mention it in passing. The site is occupied by a seemingly perennially cash-starved non-league club called Northwich Victoria have, yet again, survived the axe at the last minute.
The last time we reported from Northwich, the club was playing its home matches at nearby Altrincham after the owner of The Victoria Stadium, former chairman Mike Connett, locked the gates, cut off the electricity and barred the club for entering in display of such extraordinary petulance that the most rational explanation for it would have been to assume that he was having some sort of nervous breakdown. Connett now seems to be removed from the equation. The stadium was finally taken over by Deloitte & Touche in February after Connett’s company, Beaconet, was wound up after failing to pay a five figure sum owed to the Royal Bank of Scotland. The “pension fund” (Connett’s own phrase to describe the ground) turned out to be worth perhaps less than he might have originally thought, though he may still see a small return on it after all creditors have been paid out.
For Victoria, though, the problems continued. The club were relegated from the BSP at the end of last season and entered into administration, but Conference rules state that any club entering into administration has to have exited it by the second Saturday in May at the end of the season or face expulsion from the league. Northwich claimed to have given the Conference notification that they were to enter into administration on the sixth of May, although they didn’t formally complete this process until three days after the league’s deadline. The Football Conference therefore declared their intention to throw them out of next season’s Blue Square North, with Conference general manager Dennis Strudwick claiming that they were ‘not eligible for membership’.
The ramifications of this could have been very serious. There would have been no guarantee that the next league down, the Unibond League, would have taken them, at least in its premier division. Indeed, it’s not guaranteed that they would have been able to find any league that would have taken them, especially considering that their problems have been ongoing for several seasons and aren’t completely over yet. However, the club appealed to the FA and the Conference’s decision was commuted today and the club will start next season with a ten point deduction in the Blue Square North. Northwich’s current owner, Jim Rushe, continues to divide opinion amongst the club’s support, but he claims to have agreed a purchase of the stadium and to have already paid a deposit on it.
The bad news for badly run and financially profligate clubs is that the Football Conference is that the league is planning to tighten its rules over insolvency still further. The league has already abolished preferred status for football creditors, and it is now looking into relegating any club that even enters into administration at the end of that season. What remains to be seen is whether this will mean a sea change in the way that non-league football clubs run themselves, or whether it will merely mean that non-league football will have an even more chaotic look about it at the end of each season. One would hope for the former, but suspects the latter.