Dave Tomlinson, chairman of the Vodkat North West Counties League, has hit out at the manner in which the League has been treated by the FA over the acceptance of Chester FC into the National League System.
In Tomlinson’s opinion, both the League Management Committee and member clubs can feel insulted by the chain of events which led to the FA Appeal Board’s decision to instruct that Chester FC be placed at Step 4 of the Pyramid.
Tomlinson called for the FA to look again at how applications from new and “re-formed” clubs are handled in future, and gave a detailed insight into the sequence of events that unfolded, once it became known that the newly formed Chester FC were looking to join the National League System.
Tomlinson explained: “The league received notice from the Football Association that the Leagues Committee had recommended that Chester FC be placed at Step 5 within the National League System (The Vodkat League Premier Division).
“The league requested clarification as to whether this “recommendation” was a recommendation or an instruction. If it was a recommendation, the Management Committee’s opinion was that the Member Clubs would be allowed to decide whether to accept the recommendation at the League’s AGM. This was confirmed by the Appeals Board.
“If it was an instruction, the Member Clubs would have to accept that decision. No response to the request for clarification was received from The Football Association.
“The League also requested permission from the Football Association to increase the Premier Division to twenty-three clubs for one season and to relegate three clubs at the end of that season. Once again clarification was requested as to whether this was required, if it was a recommendation or instruction. Again no response was received from the Football Association.
“Chester FC were then asked to attend a meeting with representatives of the Management Committee on Wednesday 8th June to discuss the FA recommendation, to ascertain the club’s position, and for us to state the League’s position.
“League representatives at the meeting pointed out to Chester FC’s officials that certain derisory comments and articles had appeared in the media about our league. We were assured that these comments were not the view of the Chester Board, who just wanted to be playing football at the highest level possible.
“Chester FC paid the League application fee by cheque, and confirmed that they would be affiliating to the Cheshire County FA.
“At the end of the meeting the League Management Committee believed Chester FC had accepted, and were pleased, that they would be in The Vodkat League for season 2010/11.”
A week later on Tuesday 15th June, Chester FC requested that the League submitted a request to the FA Appeal Board regarding confirmation of the number of clubs in the Premier Division. This request was made and activated on the same date.
An email was received from the Football Association informing that the information would be made available to the Appeal Board Chairman and that a decision in relation to Chester FC had in fact been made on Monday 14th June but would not be released until Friday 18th June.
This Appeal Board decision was not released until Friday morning 18th June at approx. 11am, and Tomlinson says the decision was greeted with some disbelief by the League Management Committee.
Tomlinson explained: “The FA Appeal Board made a number of statements including that Chester FC’s appeal was upheld, Chester FC would be placed at Step 4 in the Northern Premier League Division One North and the appeal fee would be returned to the Club. Also the board acknowledged that as the National Leagues Committee had recommended to the NWCFL (The Vodkat League) that Chester be placed in that League, the League would be within its rights to accept or reject the recommendation and could place Chester FC at Step 6.
“The general feeling amongst the Management Committee is that Chester FC blatantly misled the Management Committee by stating that they had not appealed against the recommendation to place the Club at Step 5. Also I feel that the delay in issuing the decision of the Appeal Board was misjudged by The Football Association, as both the Management Committee and Member Clubs were left in the dark and left little time to organise a response to Member Clubs at the Annual General Meeting which was just one day later on Saturday 19th June.
“As Chairman of the Vodkat League, I have no objection as to the step in the Pyramid in which Chester FC were placed, but the process that was followed and the way in which that decision was reached begs several questions, which need to be answered for future reference and avoidance of doubt.
“As far as we are concerned, which was also confirmed by the Chester FC representatives who were interviewed by members of our League Management Committee, Chester FC had not appealed to the FA about the decision to place them at Step 5. They had only requested clarification of how the decision to recommend them a place at Step 5 was made.
“They were quite categorical in stating that they had not appealed, and that it was the FA who had interpreted their request as an appeal. We as a League asked Chester FC on more than one occasion if they had appealed, and on each occasion we were told they hadn’t.
“However, if the FA as stated have “returned the appeal fee” to Chester FC, it would appear that an appeal was made and the only conclusion to be drawn is that we as a League have been misled by Chester FC.”
Looking at the wider implications of this decision, Tomlinson believes that one of the main points that need clarifying is how clubs such as Chester FC are viewed and treated in future.
He said: “What is the difference between a re-formed club and a new club? Is a re-formed club one that takes over all aspects of the previous club including any debt ? If so, Chester FC should have been relegated two divisions below their previous position. If they are a new club, they should have started at the bottom of the National League System.
“Chester City failed to complete their fixtures in their league. They were kicked out of the Conference (Step 1) and their record expunged. They were wound up in court. Indeed this particular course of action was one for which the body which set up the new club was calling for, as they would be able to set up a new club without any debts.
“Chester City would have been starting the coming season in the Conference North. The decision of the Appeal Board places Chester FC two divisions lower than this level, into the Northern Premier League Division One North. In other words Chester FC are picking up from where the old Chester City left off, and are not being treated as a new club.
“There is an FA regulation that states a club can be placed at a level of football appropriate to their playing ability. But how can Chester FC be placed at a level of competitive football appropriate to their playing ability when they have never played a match? I have looked for possible reasons and can’t find any.
“Geographical location should not have been a bearing on the decision as the Vodkat League cover much the same area as the Northern Premier League First Division North.
“Stadium facilities in our league have been previously proven. Vodkat League Clubs can cope with large attendances – our clubs hosted FC United of Manchester games for two seasons, and a good number of our grounds are now capable of holding crowds of several thousand spectators. So it can’t be a decision based on doubts about our ability to host Chester FC games.
“And as far as the size of the club is concerned, Chester FC’s economic means are unproven and only projected in their business plan.
“Most importantly, I believe this decision sends out the wrong message to clubs who spend beyond their means. i.e., `Go for it boys. If you go bust, the worst thing that can happen is that you have to change the club name and drop two divisions`.
“If the FA consider that this is an acceptable course of action for a club to take, and continue to condone this behaviour by welcoming back various “phoenix” clubs at arbitrary levels of the Pyramid, then I fear for the future of the grassroots game in this country.”