On the day that the England team are due to get a pasting in a World Cup qualifier, it feels apt that we should be dropping in on another team in crisis with a link to St George. St George’s Lane, Worcester, was the venue of one of the FA Cup’s greatest upsets. Liverpool weren’t quite the giants that one might expect when they visited Worcester City for an FA Cup Third Round match in January 1959. The match was postponed initially because of a frozen pitch, but over 15,000 people packed into the tiny ground on a Thursday afternoon for the rescheduled fixture. Worcester raced into a 2-0 lead before Liverpool pulled a goal back, but the goal was no more than a consolation. Worcester City held on to win 2-1, and went on to lose 2-0 against Sheffield United in the next round. Liverpool sacked their manager and replaced him with a certain Bill Shankly. Just over five years later, they were crowned as champions of the Football League.
Fifty years on, and nothing much has changed for Worcester City. They still play at St George’s Lane, in the Conference South, into which they were transferred from the Conference North at the end of last season. The club, however, has become the centre of a widespread protest by supporters over how it is being run, with a debt having been run up that is so great that even the sale of their current stadium might not be enough to cover their losses. Recent maladministration appears to have been so great that Worcester City Football Club could be left homeless. The club’s president has resigned in anger at the way that the club is being run, there is currently no official club website and, at the time of writing, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of the closure of one of non-league football’s more iconic names.
The problems have been building over the last couple of years or so. The club sold St Georges Lane for £7m with the intention of building a new stadium, but a debt of at least £2m is going to eat an awful lot of that money up. If one subtracts the amount of money required to buy the land upon which they can build a new stadium (believed to be in the region of £1.5m), not a great deal is left over for a new stadium. It’s important also to note the use of the phrase “at least” in front of the amount of debt that the club has accumulated. They have filed no accounts at Companies House since May 2006, so the exact level of this debt is unknown. This situation has been hindered by what can only be described as a veil of silence falling over the club itself.
A group of rebel shareholders (Shareholders Action Group) has requested a meeting with the board of directors. They wish to work with the clubs Supporters Trust and the supporters themselves to secure new ownership for the club, but have met with only intransigence from the club’s chairman, Dave Boddy. As the result of this, the SAG issued a press release stating that:
It is our opinion that the present board of Directors and their management of the business is causing untold uncertainty to the clubs future. Unless change is brought about swiftly the current situation cannot (in our opinion) be maintained and it is only a matter of time before the business collapses.
The situation deteriorated still further this week with the resignation of Dr Michael Sorensen, the club’s president. Dr Sorensen had been the club chairman from 1990 until 2003, and had been attempting to broker a compromise deal between the SAG and the club’s board of directors, but has been frustrated in his attempts to do so. His comments upon his resignation were a pretty damning indictment of the way that Worcester City FC is being run at the moment:
I don’t think the current board is capable of moving the club forward. I think it needs to develop and get more able help, both at board and sub-board level. I think they will struggle to achieve what they are hoping to achieve without a lot more professional help. I am resigning because I believe the compromise board was the way forward and I disagree that the current board can go it alone. I didn’t receive the support of my fellow directors and therefore my position is untenable.
The compromise would have injected a new momentum and unquestionably led to a considerable increase in income. Equally importantly, it would have contributed to the establishment of a long-overdue and proper infrastructure for the football club. This is the first time such an opportunity has arisen since the relegation and near-collapse of Worcester City during the 1980s.
I accept that perceived difficult personalities and previous disagreements, that have led to bitterness and resentment, made it difficult to achieve a compromise. I, however, do not accept these were insurmountable. All parties should have been prepared to put these issues and any self-interest aside in the overall interest of the future welfare of the club. I am very sad to be leaving. I am going to continue supporting the club and will continue to do bits and pieces and help out on the medical side, but I just can’t be involved with the decision-making when I disagree with the decision being made.
Most troublingly of all, though, in a recent local radio interview, Mr Boddy said that, “The credit crunch has had a massive impact on the new stadium from all angles, including the sale of St George’s Lane – the sale price has fallen dramatically over a 12-month period”, which is strange, considering that, at the club’s AGM in May, he told all present that the ground had already been sold and that a definite price of £7m had been agreed for it. When such basic statements are made in blatant contradiction of statements previously made to supporters, one starts to question whether he is telling the truth at all. Indeed, it is difficult to escape the opinion that he has to be, in view of what he has recently said, either mendacious or incompetent. It’s difficult to say which would be worse for the long-term survival of Worcester City FC.
Another club, then, is being pushed to the brink of oblivion by a board of directors who seem to think that they are competent and able, in spite of running up a seven figure debt. Clubs such as Worcester City, they have enormous potential. They are in a great catchment area for support. It doesn’t take much digging to see that more or less no-one connected with Worcester City has any faith in the board of directors apart from the board of directors itself. One can only speculate as to why they are so desperate to hang on to control of the club, especially since it appears that relations between them and their supporters have surely now broken down to such an irretrievable extent. The best case scenario is that it is a matter of ego that keeps them hanging on. The alternative is something darker still. One hopes that those with the club’s best interests at heart continue their protest, and eventually win through.