It’s a familiar enough scene to anybody that has ever been to the movies. The bad guy gets shot, and some soothing music is played but, just as the audience settles down after the previous few minutes of tension, the music cranks up a notch and what we thought was his lifeless hand grips the handle of his gun again. There are some people in life who just keep bouncing back, and this afternoon the website of the North West Counties League published an announcement that will have raised eyebrows from Cumbria to Cheshire – the return, after a short absence, of the Vaughan family to non-league football.
We can only presume that, this time around, there were no clubs in the area that would take them on, since their newest venture seems to be a completely new club, which will be named Widnes Town FC. This new club, if accepted into the English league system, intends to play its home matches at Halton Stadium, the 13,350 capacity home of Widnes Vikings RLFC and Everton’s reserve team. The ground was also one of the final resting places of the late Runcorn FC Halton, who sold their own ground to move there in 2000, before leaving the ground in 2005 because they were unable to maintain the rent on it. The club folded a year later.
The new club will be chaired by the former England international Mark Wright, and managed by Stephen Vaughan Junior. Vaughan Junior, some of you may recall, played for Chester City when it was under the ownership of his father, before quietly becoming the owner of the club in April of 2009, just a couple of months after the club entered into administration, which was the event that would eventually come to be the death knell for that club by February of the following year. Vaughan Senior would later find himself disqualified from acting as a company director for eleven years and in prison for assaulting a police officer.
To get the fuller picture on The Vaughans, though, we have to go back a little further in time, to the late 1990s. Vaughan Senior had taken ownership of Barrow AFC in the middle of the decade, resigning as chairman in November 1998. The club was liquidated in January of the following year, and it was as a part of the insolvency process that the liquidator, Jim Duckworth, established that he had illegally transferred the ownership of the club’s Holker Street ground into the name of Vaughan Promotions, one of his companies. The courts agreed and Holker Street was passed back to the liquidator, who sold it to the new owners of the club.
Vaughan turned up at Chester City in 2001, but immediately ran into controversy again when Chester were drawn to play Barrow in the FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round. Since Vaughan still owned shares in Barrow, the FA threatened to expel both clubs from the competition, but Vaughan sold the shares in Barrow for a nominal sum to Bobby Brown, a painter and decorator, for £1 a couple of days before the match. He bought them back after the match (which Barrow won 1-0) and then sold them to the directors of the new company for £29,500, but his links to the club weren’t fully severed until the court found against him over ownership of the ground.
On the pitch, the Chester were having some success – having been relegated from the Football League in 2000, they were promoted back in 2004. However, in February 2007 he was charged with violent conduct by the FA following an incident in the players tunnel after a match against Shrewsbury Town. In November of that year, the club held a minutes silence for one Colin Smith, who was announced by the club as “a major benefactor” to them. Afterwards, however, it became clear that Smith was nothing of the sort – rather, he was a right hand man of Curtis Warren, and had been murdered outside a gymnasium in Liverpool in a gangland hit.
What happened to Chester City was thoroughly documented on the pages of this site, but this wasn’t the only sporting pie in which the Vaughans had a finger inserted at that time. Vaughan Senior had started acquiring shares in Widnes Vikings RLFC in 2002, and had completed his take-over of the club by 2006. In November 2009, Vaughan was disqualified from acting as a director of any company for a period of 11 years, following his involvement in a £500,000 VAT fraud whilst a director of the club. The type of fraud committed is known as “carousel fraud”. Vaughan had arranged for the club to purchase three consignments of clothing from a UK company and on the same day sold the clothing to a company based in Spain.
He then attempted to reclaim VAT for the club, but HMRC refused the repayment of the clubs claim. Payment for the goods was made viaa based in the Dutch Antilles, which was subsequently closed down by the banking authorities when it was discovered that it provided banking facilities to a significant number of companies involved in this type of fraud. All of this meant that Vaughan Senior now failed the FA’s Fit & Proper Persons Test, but this didn’t prevent him from acting as the de facto owner of Chester City until the club’s demise at the start of the following year. Widnes Vikings RLFC, meanwhile, ended up in administration before being purchased by a local businessman.
Vaughan Senior was released from prison in September of last year, with Vaughan Junior having taken care of Vaughan Boxing, his other company, while he was residing at her majesty’s pleasure. We might have hoped that they would decide to stay away from football from now on, but the involvement of Vaughan Junior and Wright at this new venture would seem to indicate the return of Vaughan Senior to the game, even if his name isn’t on any of the legal documents. The irony of the Vaughans being back in Widnes, where his actions almost killed one of the original twenty-two rugby clubs that formed the Northern Rugby Football Union in 1895 will not be lost on supporters of that club.
We should, perhaps, look on the bright side. At least they’re setting up a club of their own, meaning that there is no chance that they will ruin somebody else’s club. It’s also worth bearing in mind that rent on the Halton Stadium is likely to be quite high. It’s not out of the question that Vaughan’s boxing promotions company has raised enough money to cover this, but the question who in their right mind would turn out to support such a team is one that is worth asking, and the idea of a semi-professional football club being remotely sustainable without the regular income of supporters seems fanciful, to say the least.
The North West Counties League’s secretary John Deal has today confirmed that, “as this approach is from a new club we have had to refer the matter to the FA as per National League System Regulations”, and we shall await with interest what their verdict is. With Vaughan Junior managing and Mark Wright chairing, the official aim is to “develop the club into a community-based football facility.” Precious little of the Vaughans’ previous involvement in football has had anything to do with the best interests of communities. What, we might well ask, will be so different this time around?
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