The non-league football AGM cup had been eagerly awaited, but the early results have still come as a bit of a shock. Rushden & Diamonds were expelled from the Football Conference this morning, a decision that will have ramifications throughout the non-league game. Southport, who finished in fourth from bottom place in the league and were to be relegated into the Blue Square North for next season, will be reprieved and Hertfordshire club Bishops Stortford, in one of those quirks that is always possible in a regional system, seem likely to be shifted into the Blue Square North. Amongst the round trips that they will face next season will include a six hundred mile round-trip to Workington and a five hundred and fifty mile round-trip to play Blyth Spartans.
We have reported on the problems at Rushden on this site before, of course. The arrival of Gary Calder (formerly of Hornchurch and Weymouth, hardly a Curriculum Vitae to inspire a great deal of confidence) with the father and son Beasant duo in December of last year brought considerable problems for the club, and a familiar argot of phrases – players unpaid, transfer embargo, HMRC, winding-up order, creditors meeting – has come to encircle the club over the last six months or so, culminating in a farcical meeting which only seemed to exacerbate the tensions that had built up between the club and its creditors.
Meanwhile, the supporters had been active, attempting to raise £250,000 in order to be able to put together a CVA to save the club. Twitter and Facebook campaigns had been set up in order to faciliate this, but the question that they now face is whether it is worth continuing with this. The club has a Winding Up Order hearing at the High Court on Monday – how likely is it at this stage that administration can be entered into by the time of the hearing? The alternative – to seek an adjournment at the hearing – seems considerably less likely to be granted than it might otherwise have been had they been guaranteed Blue Square Premier football next season. The courts have been lenient in the past with this sort of hearing (long-time readers may well recall the almost farcical sixty-three day adjournment that Plymouth Argyle were awarded at the end of last season), but such uncertainty only seems likely to make the granting of an adjournment less likely. If we define insolvency as being “unable to meet day-to-day financial obligations as and when they fall due”, then Rushden & Diamonds certainly seem to fit the bill.
It is understood that the expulsion of another club was discussed at the Football Conference’s AGM this morning, but that this club has been reprieved for the time being. At the time of writing, however (and in the best interests of not wishing to induce panic elsewhere, it is probably for the best not to name the other club at this time), only Rushden & Diamonds’ fate is sealed, and they will start next season – if they start at all – in the Southern League Premier Division. We should also bear in mind the knock-on effects that this news brings with it for others. As already mentioned, the effects of playing in the Blue Square North could be ruinous for Bishops Stortford. Travel costs will be immense, and there is also the small matter of how difficult it may be to attract players when so many away matches involve the sort of epic journeys that they will face next season.
To this extent, Bishop’s Stortford are innocent victims of the mismanagement of another club. Regionalisation was always likely to produce this sort of anomaly, so it is worth asking the question of whether Stortford will be recompensed by anybody for the difficulties that they may face next season through no fault of their own. The decent thing to do would be for somebody in a position of authority – be that the Football Conference, their sponsors, or whoever – to make an ex-gratia payment to the club in order to cover anticipated losses. We shall have to wait and see whether such a scenario plays out, but it seems fair to say that Bishops Stortford have been pushed into a position of effectively having all of the drawbacks of national football with none of the benefits that it brings. It is to be hoped that they are helped out, should they need to be.
Meanwhile, it is only appropriate that we should take a moment to pass our sympathies to the other innocent party that has been so hurt by the maladministration of Rushden & Diamonds FC – the supporters of the club itself. They should remember that, no matter what the outcome of the court hearing is on Monday, resurrecting their club can still happen, and that if this is the eventuality that they have to resort to, there is every chance that they will be able to build themselves a football club that says “never again” to the madness of the second half of their season this year. In the meantime, the future of Rushden & Diamonds FC will be played out at the High Court on Monday. It is a crushingly familiar act of deja vu.
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