Bangor City & The Predictable Trajectories of The Vaughans

Will this turn out to have been the final humiliation? Bangor City, former champions of Wales and regular European competitors over the years have been deducted forty-two points by the Football Association of Wales for various matters of misconduct, including a failure “to comply with financial obligations towards six of their current and/or former players” as well as fielding ineligible players. On top of this, the club has also been placed under a transfer embargo until the 31st December.

The management of the club has been calamitous over a remarkably short period of time. It’s only a little more than a year since the club was near the top of the Welsh Premier League and looking good for a place in next season’s Europa League, albeit in the qualifying stages. Failure to obtain a domestic licence, however, meant demotion to the Cymru Alliance league for this season. The forty-two point deduction is all bar nine of the points that the team earned on the pitch this season. Bangor City will now be relegated to the third tier of the Welsh league system. From the brink of European football to the third tier in fifty-seven weeks or so. It’s a stunning level of incompetence.

Steven Vaughan jr is the chairman of the club at the moment and is acting as the person in control of the club, which is unsurprising, considering that his father hasn’t quite finished his disqualification period from acting as a company director. When the inevitable happens and Bangor City go to the wall – a new club is in the process of setting itself up, after the supporters trust voted to break away – it’ll make for a curious hat-trick for the family, because Stephen Vaughan senior already has two football liquidations on his watch.

Vaughan’s company purchased Barrow AFC in 1995, investing heavily in the club. However, he resigned as Barrow chairman, in late 1997, during a Customs and Excise investigation into his financial affairs – believed to be money laundering. Pulling his funding immediately, Vaughan left Barrow permanently in November 1998, his departure resulted in financial difficulties for the club. Furthermore, it was discovered that Vaughan had transferred Holker Street to his company for £410,000 in return for his investment.

Barrow were kicked out of the Football Conference for improper administration in 1999. A lengthy dispute over the ownership of Holker Street followed. Vaughan remained the major shareholder in the old company, liquidation followed and the club was eventually – after the intervention of the FA – allowed to continue in the Northern Premier League. Eventually, it was ruled that the club legally owned Holker Street.

He wasn’t out of the game for long, though, buying a majority share of Chester City in 2001. However, shortly aftereards Chester were drawn to play Barrow in the FA Cup. Under the rules of the times, he couldn’t hold shares in two clubs that were playing each other. Using a loophole, a few days prior to the match he transferred his Barrow shares to a local painter and decorator for a nominal sum, transferring them back. Shortly afterwards, he finally sold his shares in Barrow.

At Chester, Vaughan again invested heavily and the team won the Football Conference in 2004. In 2007, however, he stood down as chairman following a controversy in which he arranged for the club to hold a minute’s silence following the death of Colin Smith, a murdered Liverpool gangster. Vaughan remained the majority shareholder in the club, which began to run into financial problems. A sale was announced to Gary Metcalf, a Liverpool-based businessman, but this never maerialised and ownership of the club was quietly transferred into his son’s name in April 2009. Eventually, the Chester club went into voluntary administration, and were bought by Chester City Ltd., a company entirely owned by the Vaughan family.

Chester’s administration, however, was revoked by HMRC, and the club was initially barred from competing in the 2009/10 Football Conference. The club was evetually allowed to start the following season, albeit with a 25-point deduction. This left the club struggling in the Football Conference. Chester continued to experience financial difficulties. In November 2009, Vaughan was disqualified from acting as a company director for 11 years, following his involvement in a £500,000 VAT fraud whilst a director of the Widnes Vikings rugby league club. As a result, he failed the FA’s fit and proper person test and was forced to reduce his shareholding in the club.

Unsurprisingly, Stephen Vaughan Jr was put back in formal charge of the club, but by this time supporters were boycotting and crowds had plummeted. By February 2010 Vaughan had stopped putting money in. Unable to fulfill their financial obligations, the club was suspended and quickly expelled from the Football Conference in February 2010. Following a non-payment of a winding up petition for a trifling £27,000 on the 10th March 2010, Chester City were wound up. A new club, Chester FC, were formed under ownership of the supporters trust for the start of the following season, and they currently play in the National League North.

The cases of Barrow and Chester City were so similar in their trajectories as to be eerie. Both clubs received significant inward investment initially, forcing their way to a league title before running out of money after Vaughan was forced out on account of the involvement of the police of financial authorities. At both clubs, the end was fairly swift. Chester’s collapse came less than six years after they won the Football Conference. Barrow won the Northern Premier League in 1998, but by the summer of 1999 they were begging to be re-admitted following expulsion from the Football Conference. Eventually they were allowed to enter, starting a month after everybody else.

What is significant by its absence this year is two-fold. There was no silver lining of a league title win through overspending for Bangor City under the ownership of Stephen Vaughan jr. All there has been at Bangor City – who, like Chester City, rent their ground and are therefore pretty useless as a potential land-grab – is a sudden, dizzying tail-spin. Because Vaughan sr’s name isn’t on any of the paperwork and his involvement with it all is at best low key (he finishes his disqualification period next year, and now would be a bad time to be breaching such a law), there is no involvement at present involving any outside financial authorities, the courts, the police, or whoever.

Vaughan jr does, however, particularly seem to have incurred the displeasure of the FAW. Wales doesn’t have an Owners and Directors Test as English football does. Instead, the FAW issues a licence to play each season. The system, it might well be argued, worked well, this time. It caught Bangor City’s owners out, it was swift, and it was decisive. It was shitty for the supporters, who’d been growing increasingly uneasy since he arrived at the club as a “sponsor” a couple of years earlier. The forty-two point deduction from the FAW feels like an explicit attempt to force Vaughan jr out of the club, to rid Bangor City of this family once and for all. The supporters have already walked away. Perhaps something might be salvaged if Vaughan can be pushed out once and for all. The police, the courts, HMRC, the Football Conference, the FAW. When you factor in that Vaughan sr went to prison fifteen months in 2011, it might be considered that they have something of an issue with authority of any sort.

Perhaps the FAW is to be congratulated over its decisions regarding Bangor City over the last couple of years. They look like extremely harsh sentences, but it is clear that they do not wish to tolerate the Vaughans within the Welsh league system. They were swift and decisive. At Chester, the decision to allow the club to start the 2009/10 season in the Football Conference was a massive blunder. It was clear from the outset the the accumulation of problems building up behind the scenes and in the stands meant that there was no realistic likelihood of the club completing that season. At least when it couldn’t be ignored any more they suspended and expelled the club quickly, and with the minimum of fuss.

With the supporters having voted to form a new club of their own and the club now set to be demoted to the Welsh Alliance League, the third tier of the Welsh league system (the second tier has been revamped and is now called the Championship), surely it’s over. Yet again. Perhaps it’s time the Vaughans just admitted that this hat-trick, scored over the course of exactly twenty years, merely confirms their incompetence, and that perhaps, in the future, they should consider leaving our football clubs well alone.