Northwich Victoria: The Drugs Didn’t Work For Jim Rushe
It has been, putting it lightly, an eventful few years for Northwich Victoria Football Club. Seasoned readers of this website may already be aware of the long-term troubles that the club had, having a new stadium that was considered an asset when it went into administration, a new owner who failed to purchase it which led to its eventual sale and dismantling, leaving the club playing forty miles from home in Stafford. Supporters, enraged by Jim Rushe, the football club owner who just somehow kept on coming back from the dead, eventually lost their patience altogether, leading to the club’s long-suffering supporters trust breaking away and forming a new club called 1874 Northwich, which is now set to complete its second season in the North West Counties League whilst playing at nearby Winsford United.
Such a brief précis could barely do this story justice, but time is of the essence because this really has been a very eventful year for the club. Northwich Victoria moved back to Northwich to play at Witton Albion’s Wincham Park in 2014. By March of this year, however, Witton announced that they wished to terminate the contract, but Northwich responded in the strongest possible terms, by appealing as loudly as they could, and making legal threats against their landlords. The club itself has already confirmed that Witton were threatened with legal action for breach of contract and were considered to be vulnerable to this action. Eventually a one year long extension was agreed between the two clubs, with certain clauses for Northwich to fulfill. This was – quite possibly reluctantly – accepted by the Northern Premier League last weekend.
On the pitch, meanwhile, the club gave a run out to a former Everton and Woking goalkeeper – it should be pointed out that he never played for Everton’s first team, but did cost them £125,000 to buy from Shrewsbury Town’s youth academy, and only played for Woking twice – called Mason Springthorpe in on loan from AFC Telford United. This, however, was not recorded with the Football Association and subsequently there was some debate over whether Springthorpe playing when ineligible meant that Vics should be disqualified from the FA Cup. After all, he had played in goal in two rounds of the competition, both of which they won. In the end, the club had to replay its Second Qualifying round match with Hyde United and won this, eventually coming within an inch of reaching the Third Round of the competition, conceding three goals in the last seven minutes against Northampton Town.
The Northern Premier League had also spotted this registration blunder and were unimpressed. They docked the club all nine points that it had won in the league with Springthorpe playing unregistered. Again, Northwich howled in protest, taking the matter to an FA Appeal committee. The club was, at the time of the announcement, ten points behind Division One North leaders Warrington Town with three games in hand. This points deduction would most likely end their championship run, and they argued that the league had misinterpreted its own rules and applied them too harshly. The FA’s committee agreed with the club on the first point, stating that “The league misdirected itself” and that “It should have considered whether or not to exercise its discretion.” However, it also added that, “We took this to be a significant matter, and that it was entirely right to deduct points.” So, something of a hollow victory for the club, which is now seeking to enter into arbitration over the matter. It would seem unlikely that the Northern Premier League Division One play-offs will start on time this season.
This season, the club has been under the apparent ownership of Martin Rushe. Jim Rushe, his father, had been the man who’d brought Northwich Victoria in 2007, but Mike Connett, who’d sold the club to him, had kept hold of ownership of the stadium itself. Late in 2008, Connett was declared bankrupt and Victoria Stadium became an asset to be included in that bankruptcy. Early in 2009, Connett removed safety equipment from the ground, leaving Northwich touring other venues for a while. Eventually, they were allowed back on a short-term lease. It was widely expected that Rushe would buy the ground, but that sale never came. Rushe claims that he couldn’t get the finance required, but for a three year old football stadium already built no price should have been too high. It was purchased by a company called Thor Ltd, and by 2012 the club was homeless again.
On top of this, Northwich had entered into administration again and also been demoted by a further division. A combination of this and the disastrous move to Stafford led to increased protests, which grew to such a point that, in November 2012, the supporters trust voted to break away and form a new club, to be called 1874 Northwich. Rushe himself had been declared bankrupt and subsequently had it annulled in 2012, but when insolvency struck again in 2014, this time his luck ran out, meaning that he now failed the FA’s owners and directors test. It was at this point that Martin Rushe apparently became the club’s sole shareholder.
The extent to which Jim Rushe has been away from Northwich Victoria may be debatable. He was certainly having a pre-match meal after having travelled on the team coach to their FA Cup match at Northampton. At the very least, another arched eyebrow feels like an appropriate response, and the fact that it doesn’t appear that anybody at the FA has even seemed particularly bothered to find out whether Rushe might be acting as a shadow director is mystifying. Proving such a notion, of course, may be extremely difficult, but this should never mean that serious questions aren’t asked.
In some respects, it was probably a good thing that Jim Rushe was otherwise engaged, because he has had much to be engaged by. On the 20th August 2015, Rushe was charged with conspiracy to import a quarter of a kilogram of eighty-three per cent pure cocaine – described as ‘import strength’, for those amongst you who may be interested – into the United Kingdom. He was arrested alongside two other men, a Mark Fishwick and an Andrew Fetherstone. Rushe stated that he knew Fishwick because his son had played for Northwich Victoria and also because he repaired Rushe’s vehicles. The police suggested otherwise, and when the matter went to trial, the truth came out.
The prosecution stated that from February to May 2015, Rushe, Fishwick and Fetherstone conspired together and with others to supply cocaine. The case revolved around an investigation by the police’s North West Organised Crime Unit (Titan) into the large-scale supply of cocaine and other controlled drugs throughout the north-west of England and the rest of the UK. The three met with another man, one Paul Berry (who had already pleaded guilty to charges at an earlier hearing) at a pub in Preston on the 27th February, but the police were already aware and had two surveillance officers listening in. The prosecution stated that the officers overheard the phrases “four on bail” (meaning purchased on tick) and “eleven in Spain” (an apparent reference to drugs contacts in Spain). Rushed claimed that “Bail” was actually “Bale”, and that he was referring to Gareth Bale, the footballer.
The prosecutor added that Berry’s couriers drove to a karting track in Manchester called Karting 2000, formerly owned by Rushe but at the time run by his sons and Fetherstone. The jury heard that Fetherstone was passed a package by the couriers, which he placed inside the fleece jacket he was wearing. Rushe denied any knowledge of that meeting. On the twenty-first April, a vehicle travelling on the M6 was stopped and the cocaine was found. It was also claimed Rushe that used a Blackberry phone to communicate with Berry and other conspirators about drug deals. Fishwick stated that he had telephone two numbers for Rushe, but Rushe maintained he only had one, stating that, “I only had one telephone at that time, an iPhone. I own a Blackberry but I’ve never used it. I can’t use them. I text with my fingers not my thumbs.” However, his partner confirmed that he owned a Blackberry when they first met in 2010. She was quite specific about the time periods, too. It was a Blackberrry that has never been found, the prosecution argued, that was used for drug deals.
So it was that this afternoon, Fishwick and Rushe were found guilty whilst Fetherstone was cleared. Jim Rushe has already been informed that he can expect a custodial sentence, and this will follow on the sixth of May. What happens now, though, regarding Northwich Victoria? The few remaining Vics supporters will be praying that Jim Rushe wasn’t a shadow director or financially involved in the club to any great extent, because the likelihood of him being able to make much money are likely to be reduced somewhat for an as yet undetermined amount of time. With paying the rent having been an issue this year, and a feeble sounding one year lease almost against the will of the landlords, Northwich Victoria’s return to the town seems likely to turn out to be a brief one.
Whoever it is that is pulling the strings at Northwich Victoria should surely realise that this battle is over. When playing in Stafford or Flixton, it was easy to blame the pitiful crowds on the distance fans had to travel, but the truth of the matter is that even returning to Northwich and a team that, until its recent points deduction, had a chance of winning the league, barely a couple of hundred people have been tempted back to the club. Leaving the town again will surely only further impact upon this. Surely a time comes when it has to be understood that… this is over. It’s gone. Why are the Rushes still there? What do they get from it? They can’t “love” football. If they did, how could Jim Rushe – who once mockingly held a red card himself during a protest against him during a match – treat supporters of the club in the way that he did?
If it’s possible for anything, never mind a football club, to have a “soul”, that “soul” left Northwich Victoria on the day that 1874 Northwich were formed, and there seems little evidence to suggest that the club will undergo any positive restructuring in the near future. The Rushes, meanwhile, should walk away from the whole game, forever. Perhaps someone pick might it and just run it down until it expires of natural causes, or at least find a level that doesn’t feature threats of legal action, skulduggery, jiggery-pokery, administration, eviction, fielding unregistered players or import quality cocaine as a part the story of its recent history, then at least that might be, well, something.
Jim Rushe, meanwhile, awaits the extent of his fate, most likely at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Perhaps his life has been one continuous series of unfortunate coincidences that were nothing to do with him. Perhaps we should be feeling incredible sympathy for a desperately unlucky man. On the other hand, however, perhaps we shouldn’t – and the balance of probability hangs heavily in that direction. He lost the Victoria Stadium, he lost the majority of the club’s support, he lost his solvency, and now it seems almost certain that he will lose his liberty. Perhaps with this, football in this Cheshire town might just settle down for a while. It has, after all, been long enough.
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