To say that Oldham Athletic had a mixed season would be something of an understatement. In the FA Cup, they knocked Nottingham Forest and Liverpool out before making Everton’s life considerably trickier than might have been expected in the Fifth Round of the competition, but off the pitch the club struggled in League One for much of the season, eventually finishing three points above the dotted line which might have condemned them to relegation into League Two. If the end of the season was a cause of relief for Latics supporters, though, the possibility of a bigger struggle ahead has now started to rear its head with the news that a consortium that is being lined up to take the club over may be being backed by a name familiar to regular readers of these pages over the years, a certain Stephen Vaughan.

It has recently been reported elsewhere that life for the clubs that live on the periphery of Manchester are having a tough time of it at the moment. Stockport County’s precipitous drop from the Football League Championship to the Blue Square Bet North over the course of just over a decade has been well documented, as has the recent decline of Bury, who have suffered financial troubles of their own of late. This year’s FA Cup run should have shielded Oldham Athletic from the worst of the cold winds that frequently blow through the accounts of clubs at the lowlier end of League One, but it has now been reported by the BBC that the club is set to he sold, and that the Vaughans are the source of the money behind the takeover. For the benefit of those unfamiliar with this particular name, here is a brief timeline of their involvement in football clubs since the end of the 1990s:

Barrow AFC: Vaughan became involved at Barrow in the mid-1990s. Initially he was successful and the club won promotion to the Football Conference in 1998, but Vaughan resigned as chairman after an investigation by HMRC into money laundering. Barrow, however,  were already understood to be in serious financial difficulties and Vaughan resigned as chairman and removed his financial backing in November 1998, although he retained his shares in the club. Barrow were liquidated in January 1999 (a new company, Barrow AFC (1999), was formed in its place) and were demoted back to the Unibond League at the end of that season, but their problems were only just beginning. They almost didn’t start the following season (indeed, they started the 1999/2000 season a month late), but this was a comparatively small problem next to the fact that Vaughan had transferred ownership of the club’s Holker Street stadium into the name of his company, Vaughan Promotions, as repayment for the money that he had poured into the club before this money ran out. The liquidator Jim Duckworth, however, smelled a rat and took him to court over it. In 2002, Holker Street was returned to the liquidators, who sold it back to the new directors of the club for £265,000.

Barrow AFC & Chester City (at the same time): 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 on October. 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. The FA’s handling of the matter was widely criticised at the time.

Chester City: Initially after Vaughan’s arrival at the club, Chester City were successful – having been relegated from the Football League in 2000, they were promoted back in 2004 – and Vaughan also oversaw improvements to their facilities. 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, whilst in January 2008, he was charged with fraud and deception in relation to car finance, of which he was cleared. In March 2009 and with Chester sliding out of the Football League again, it was announced that Chester had sold out to Liverpool based property developer Gary Metcalf. Metcalf was all but announced to have bought the controlling stake in the club, but at the start of the following month Chester supporters established that Vaughan senior’s directorship of the club had quietly been passed to his son Stephen Vaughan Junior, then a twenty-four year old player who had made fifty-eight appearances for Chester City.

In the summer of 2009, a CVA was proposed based on paperwork which indicated that the club had some very unusual creditors. This was overturned on appeal by HMRC and led to a farcical situation developed in which the Football Conference – for the club had been relegated from the Football League at the end of the previous season – allowed the club to start the season in breach of its own rules, under a twenty-five point deduction. Angry Chester supporters had already come together under a single trust, City Fans United, who eventually called for a boycott of the club from supporters as it remained anchored to the foot of the Blue Square Bet Premier table. The club was expelled from the Football Conference in February 2010 and wound up shortly afterwards. The club’s supporters trust subsequently obtained the lease on the club’s Deva Stadium and reformed as Chester FC.

Widnes Vikings RFLC: Vaughan completed the purchase of Widnes Vikings RLFC in 2006, and by the end of the following year this company was in administration. The attention of the authorities soon started to focus on Vaughan, who signed a disqualification undertaking after an investigation by the Insolvency Service’s public interest unit into his behaviour at the club, which included details of alleged “carousel fraud” carried out by Vaughan, which was reportedly designed to prop up the finances of the insolvent rugby league club. Vaughan arranged for the club to “purchase” three consignments of clothing from a UK company and on the same day “sold” the clothing to a firm based in Spain for just over £3m. The transactions appeared to be part of a linked series of purchases between the UK and Europe.

The order stated that Vaughan then attempted to reclaim VAT for the club, but Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs refused the repayment. Payment for the goods was made via the First Curacao International Bank, based in the Netherlands Antilles, which was was closed down by authorities when it was discovered it provided banking facilities to a significant number of companies involved in carousel VAT fraud. Ken Beasley, the official receiver of the service’s public interest unit, said: “Carousel VAT fraud is a serious offence which deprives the UK of billions of pounds of tax revenue each year, and we will investigate any director of a company involved in such actions. Vaughan’s disqualification took effect on November 25th 2009, banning him from acting as a company director or in any way controlling a company until November 24th 2020.

Wrexham, Stockport County, Widnes Town: Despite being disqualified from acting as a company director, the name of the Vaughans continued to be associated with the purchase of football clubs in England. In January 2012 they were linked with a consortium called “Van Morton”, which was expressing an interest in buying Conference club Wrexham, though this consortium ended its interest in the club, citing “negative and adverse publicity that they have witnessed,” in the form of a furious reaction from Wrexham supporters who smelled a rat. In March 2011, Vaughan Senior pleaded guilty to assault causing grievous bodily harm and was sentenced to fifteen months in prison after fracturing a policeman’s cheekbone, Meanwhile, he was also linked to the aborted Tony Jones takeover at Stockport County in August 2011, and in March of last year it was understood that under Stephen Vaughan Junior as the manager and Mark Wright (yes, that Mark Wright) as the chairman, a new club called Widnes Town would be starting the 2012/13 season in the North-West Counties League. It never came to fruition.

Floriana: One of the more venerable names in Maltese football, Floriana FC has a rich history which includes playing UEFA Cup football against the likes of Internazionale and Borussia Dortmund. Last August, however, the Vaughans pitch up there and a familiar pattern soon started to emerge. Within months, however, players recruited from England on the promise of tax free wages were not being paid and this led to FIFPro, the worldwide representative organisation for professional players, issuing a statement which stated that, “FIFPro is astonished that a person who has been banned from English club management – because he failed the FA director’s test – can apparently join and run a professional football club in Malta, as is the case at Floriana FC.” The club finished the season in seventh place in the twelve-club Malta Premier League, with Vaughan Junior still its chairman.

Let us be absolutely clear on this matter: Stephen Vaughan Senior cannot act as a director of Oldham Athletic Football Club, and neither can he act as what is known as a “shadow director” of the company, either. He became the first existing football club owner to fail the FA’s Fit & Proper Persons Test – and while it might be something of a scandal that there aren’t more people on that list than there should be, it is entirely appropriate that Vaughan should have symbolically become the first owner to fail even this flimsy test – and the fact that Alan Keeling, currently described as “a spokesman for the consortium” by the BBC, told BBC Radio Manchester that negotiations have been ongoing for a number of months whilst no supporters seemed to have had much a clue as to what was going on there may be a statement that gives away more than it was intended to. He should be explaining to Oldham’s supporters exactly why an individual with such a bad reputation, and one cultivated over such a considerable period of time, and concerned supporters are best directed to those of any of the clubs listed above for opinions on the Vaughans.

In the meantime, we will wait and see what further developments might be on the horizon with regard to this story and will, of course, continue to report on it as and when updates become available. Considering how well known Vaughan already is to the FA, the Football League, the police and the Insolvency Service, we would fully expect various different authorities to taking a very close interest in what might go on behind closed doors at Boundary Park this summer, whilst chairman and majority shareholder Simon Corney, who rescued the club in 2004 and about whom there has never been any hint of impropriety, may also find himself with questions to answer from his club’s supporters regarding this state of affairs. It may all come to nothing, of course. It should, certainly. But vigilance on the part of the club’s supporters is certainly the best advice that we can offer at present.

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