So, Steven Vaughan wins and the game of football dies a little more inside. The FA have decided to back the Football Conference and have given Vaughan’s Chester the right to start the new season, in flagrant contravention of rule 2.7 of the Conference’s own constitution and awarded the club a licence to play football for this season. It has been a busy week for the Football Conference and the FA. At the end of last week, the Football Conference announced unilaterally that Vaughan’s Chester would be given the go ahead for the club start the new season, even though the FA still hadn’t ratified that they had an actual licence to play. The FA stepped in at this point and told the Football Conference in no uncertain terms that their match against Grays Athletic would not go ahead until they had granted their permission for it to do so, and the match was called off, as was Tuesday night’s match against Gateshead.
At the start of this week, the Conference put the matter to a vote amongst all twenty-three other BSP clubs, who voted (very much in the way that turkeys are not universally known for their tendency to vote for Christmas) unanimously that the club could start the new season this week. Earlier this week, what was supposed to be a protest at what had been going on at the club drew television cameras to The Deva Stadium, but with a significant number of Vaughan’s Chester supporters having now seemed to decide that this whole debacle was somehow the fault of the FA rather than the fault of their own club, it was not difficult for those sympathetic to Vaughan to turn the protest into an almost embarrassingly pro-Vaughan, anti-FA demonstration, under the pretence of it being “a show of unity for the club”. It’s unsurprising that this came to pass, considering the thinly-veiled threats of violence made against people that may have protested against Vaughan on the club’s unofficial message board, Deva Chat.
The FA and Football Conference have, ultimately, made a decision which is spineless, a cop out and an insult to anybody that believes that football clubs should abide by rules that are in place in the greater interests of the game. The Football Conference’s rule 2.7, the one which was the sticking point when it came to the club’s eligibility to start the season, may as well be abolished right now. That is the grim truth of the matter. There is no point even having a rule designed to stop clubs body-swerving their obligations towards their creditors if, when push comes to shove, the authorities relent and allow these rules to be bypassed. The Conference has broken its own rules, and the FA have sanctioned it. This disregard for the rules – and, man alive, these guys are rigid enough about rules when they want to be – has wider ramifications. Every asset stripper, every huckster, every two-bit who thinks that there may be a couple of shillings to made from picking at a small club’s carcass will have been watching developments at Vaughan’s Chester thinking, “He’ll never get away with it, will he?”, and he has. There is a little less reason for unscrupulous club owners to manage their football club within its means this evening.
What arguably makes this even worse, even more insulting, is that they have admitted as much. The FA have fined the Football Conference £5,000 (suspended for a year) for breaking their own rules and warned them that their rules now have to be reviewed before the end of this season. The Conference, in issuing their own statement describing how they are looking forward to working with the FA to review their insolvency rules, have – in not complaining about it – effectively admitted not merely that they bent the rules to help out a club but that they broke their own rules to allow Vaughan’s Chester to stay in the BSP this season. Goodness only knows what will come out of this “review”. It would be nice to think that the FA would sit down all of the leagues and draw up identical insolvency rules for all of the leagues, from the Premier League down to the amateur leagues, and that these rules will be stiff, with absolute penalties for transgressors. The likelihood of this happening, however, is slim to zero. In the mean time, back in Footyworld, that surreal parallel universe in which the normal laws of physics often don’t seem to apply, life will return to normal. The Football Conference hasn’t upset the Football League, and it will have twenty-four competing clubs this season.
Vaughan’s Chester’s supporters may well be celebrating this evening, but their hard work starts here. The points deduction stands, and the lack of a proper pre-season will hurt manager Mick Wadsworth and his team. Even if they avoid relegation this season, it is still possible that they will be expelled at the start of next summer if their house isn’t in order by then and with a new CVA now being almost if not completely impossible to obtain, it is difficult to see a long term way forward for them with Vaughan in charge. He has no obligation to sell at the moment, though. It now seems likely that the old company will be put into liquidation and that suppliers, local businesses and HMRC (in other words, you and I – let’s not forget that, ultimately, all money raised from tax revenues is our money) will be left without any recompense. Vaughan’s Chester’s supporters have been very, very lucky, and the very least that they owe the rest of us is to work tirelessly until Vaughan is removed from Vaughan’s Chester.
For now, though, he’s still there. The man that sold his shares in Barrow for a nominal fee when the club played Vaughan’s Chester in the FA Cup to a painter and decorator, only to buy them back a couple of days after the match was played. The man that held a minute’s silence at The Deva Stadium for Colin Smith, a gangster shot dead outside a Liverpool gymnasium in 2007. The man that either did or didn’t pay £11,000 per week for “cleaning services” earlier this year. The man that signed the club over to his son at the end of April without making it public. The man that attempted a CVA with himself as the biggest creditor and saw an appeal against it upheld in court. Moreover, he still passes the FA’s Fit & Proper Person test to be a director of a club. In some respects, this at least makes sense, at least logically. After all, if he wasn’t a “fit & proper person” to run a football club, the Football Conference wouldn’t have accepted his application to join their league and the FA wouldn’t have ratified the decision, would they?
The Story Of Steven Vaughan’s Chester This Summer