That they were playing on a Friday night in the first place told a story of its own. Northwich Victoria were entertaining Hednesford Town in a Premier Division match of the Northern Premier League last night when the news came through which rendered any efforts that the team puts in for the remainder of this season – an official announcement from the league in which they play that they have been found guilty of charges raised against them over non-payment of their CVA and will be barred from entering the play-offs in the league at the end of season. On top of this, the league confirmed that the clubs membership of the Northern Premier League will be terminated, meaning that the club will be relegated into the North West Counties League at the end of this season.

The news emerged last week that Northwich Victoria had not been paying the arrangement which kept the club playing after their last insolvency event in 2009, meaning that the league has found the club to be “found guilty of failing to comply with League Rules 2.9.2, 2.9.3 and 14 b 4 relating to financial matters.” The club responded with an immediate statement (including a sideswipe at those that have been critical of Chairman Rushe in recent weeks, in the form of reassuring “all genuine Northwich Victoria supporters that we will pursue the appeal to the highest governing body possible” – the clear inference of which is that you’re not a “genuine” supporter of the club if you criticise what passes for his stewardship of the club) which confirmed that it will be appealing against the decision, meaning that there is now a realistic chance that this season’s play-off matches may be delayed while it is heard. To put it another way, the entire top of the division will now likely be inconvenienced because of the financial mismanagement of one of its clubs. For Northwich’s rival clubs at the top of the Northern Premier League, however, there is one small ray of sunshine – it seems likely that, rather than keeping the play-off places limited to the top four in the table below champions Chester FC and giving the top-placed side a bye to the final, sixth place in the table might be enough to book a place in the play-offs in this division this season.

Supporters of Northwich Victoria should, by now, be used to issues relating to the demotion of football clubs in non-league football. In 2004, the Vics were beneficiaries of the collapse of another club when Telford United folded, meaning that they were able to keep their place in the Blue Square Bet Premier. From then on, however, it has been Northwich Victoria that has been on the receiving end of more than one demotion. The following season, having entered into administration and been docked ten points, the club finished one place above the relegation places in the table but were demoted after failing to meet FA deadlines over the transfer of the club’s Football Conference membership to its new owners. They were promoted back at the end of the following season, but were relegated back in 2009, although this was swiftly followed by the club entering into administration which meant the club was demoted to the Northern Premier League before winning an appeal which saw the club placed back into the Blue Square Bet North. This demotion followed at the end of the 2009/10 season instead.

Should the club fail in its appeal this time around, then, it will at least have achieved something quite unique in managing to get relegated through – depending on which division of the North West Counties League they are placed in – either four or five divisions in three years, having only finished in the relegation places only once in all of that time. This in itself should stand as testimony to the gross mismanagement of the club over the last few seasons. And there may be some that would even argue that the club might benefit from this job. After all, it was ground grading that moved the club to a ludicrous ground-sharing arrangement with Stafford Rangers, more than forty miles from Northwich, but dropping a further two divisions would mean that other local clubs with more basic facilities may be usable for the club. What happens in this respect will, of course, be dependent upon whether the club’s appeal against the demotion is successful and what contract – if any – has thus far been signed with Stafford Rangers for next season.

Some have opted for gallows humour in pointing out the irony of the fact that Northwich’s appeal being left in the hands of a Mr Bean, but Graham Bean has a fairly formidable reputation in terms of compliance with football’s regulations. A Barnsley supporters, Bean is a former policeman who sat on David Mellor’s Football Task Force as a representative of the Football Supporters Association (he was the organisations chair from 1996 until 1998) before becoming the FAs first Compliance Officer in 1999. During his four years with the FA, he was involved in high profile cases at Chesterfield and Boston United (the latter of which resulted in a certain bête noire of this site, Steve Evans, being banned from football for twenty months), before resigning his position in 2003 with the press reporting that he was not given the FAs support to be able to do his job successfully. Since then, he has formed a company called Football Factors, which specialises in in defending disciplinary charges within the game.

Whether Bean will be able to find Northwich Victoria owner Jim Rushe a little wriggle room in terms of this latest expulsion is, of course, open to question and it would be improper comment on how fruitless or otherwise any appeal might be at this early stage. What we can say, however, is that this latest expulsion puts the fantasy of those that are talking of a place in the Football League in five years at a new stadium in Northwich into sharp focus. Quite asides from any other considerations (of which there are, of course, many), if this demotion is not overturned on appeal, progression League Two in five years will effectively become impossible anyway. Meanwhile, the Northwich Victoria Supporters Trust has issued a response of its own which urges all supporters of the club to join. This continues to be the only sensible course of action that supporters of the club can take at this difficult time.

The other thing that we can say with a degree of certainty is that the death knell for this club is drawing ever closer. Without a ground, likely to be playing four or five divisions below the Blue Square Bet Premier and with the legal issues relating to the clubs failed CVA hopelessly unresolved, it still seems impossible to imagine a set of circumstances which could end in a happy resolution for the supporters of the club. If death and rebirth it has to be, then this must be allowed to happen, but Rushe and his few remaining acolytes seem unwilling to do so. Let us not forget that responsibility for the state in which the club finds itself today rests  his doorstep. He has failed and should do the decent thing – hand over its ownership to the supporters trust and let them see whether there is anything salvageable from the wreckage of the last few months and years. He has, however, thus far shown little sign of wishing to do anything but cling on until the bitter end, and the only question now is that of whether he will drag the club to its death in doing so. At the time of writing, it’s difficult to see how he won’t.

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