Chester Fans United, a coming together of the different fans’ groups at the stricken Blue Square Premier club, meet tonight to formally agree their formation. They have a few thousand pounds in the bank, which is enough to get them up and running, but it certainly isn’t enough to save their club and the general consensus now is that they already know it. A new deadline has been set. By 5.30 on Monday evening, Chester City may well have ceased to exist. At this point, CFU’s raison d’etre will become to form a new club, freed from the shackles of the wretched ownership that they have suffered under for the last few seasons or so.
The latest threat to their existence comes from the Football Conference, who have issued a complete player embarago upon the club and the deadline to pay up over unpaid bills to other clubs – a split of gate receipts that was due to be paid to their local rivals Wr**h*m, and has also failed to make any payment to another club, Vauxhall Motors, for a player that they took on loan. They also make reference to, more generally, Chester City’s non-compliance “with the terms of the compromise agreement set by the Football Conference to allow the club to participate in the competition at the commencement of the current season.
One might wonder what the mish-mash of authorities that actually allowed the club to start the season were actually thinking of when they arrived at the decision. The financial situation at The Deva Stadium was clear for anyone to see at this point. What Stephen Vaughan said to them in the course of the meeting that ended up with the club being allowed to play has never been made public. It has even been suggested that the Football League leant on the Football Conference because they didn’t want to see a club dropping straight out and going bust.
When previous manager Mick Wadsworth left the club last month, he commented that, “This place is full of negativity and it’s really difficult. I’ve never known an environment like it”. This was coming from a man that had managed at Scarborough, Gretna and at Carlisle United under Michael Knighton during the 1990s. This sort of a statement, coming from a man that had left his previous managerial position after becoming one of forty people to be laid off because they couldn’t afford to pay him any more, spoke volumes for the depth of the difficulties at the club. Crowds have plummeted again and, even if they were to survive this particular crisis and the other crises that would inevitably follow it over the course of the remainder of the season, relegation to the Blue Square North is surely something approaching inevitable.
It’s possible to argue that Chester supporters should have acted earlier, but the clubs owner’s actions over the last few weeks would seem to indicate that they could have protested all they wanted and for as long as possibly could have and he still wouldn’t have left the club. The rumours continue to circle that John Batchelor, who almost drove York City to the wall several years ago, is circling with a desire to rip up the history of the club and “re-brand” it as Harchester United or Red Bull Chester City. Any Chester supporters hoping that Batchelor might be a knight in shining armour should take a moment to read this, from The Guardian last year:
Of 24 companies of which he has been a director, 14 have been or are about to be struck off the companies register, six have been insolvent, three are still going but he is no longer involved – he says he sold them on successfully – and only one small company in which he is a director is active.One company Batchelor took over – although he did not become a director; his partner, Cheryl Hopkins, did – was Moornate Chemists in Nelson, near Burnley, a steady, solvent, family business selling cleaning products. Within three months, last July, Moornate was insolvent and in administration, after effectively being merged with another company he took over, Besglos, which was also in administration the following month.
David Brown, Moornate’s former owner, says Batchelor promised to pay him £485,000 for the business, in instalments, and did pay him £70,000 up front. However, he has been left devastated, without the business he built up over 30 years, and still owed £415,000 of the price agreed. Batchelor, however, has said he bought and sold Moornate’s factory, making £75,000 for himself.
“He ruins people’s lives and walks away with money,” Brown says. Several former staff of Besglos, and their families, are still struggling to recover, having moved to work for Batchelor on the promise of handsome salaries, then been left unpaid and lost their jobs.
Brown recalls that in one meeting Batchelor told him: “This is what I do for a living: I f**k companies.”
Of course, any talk of Batchelor getting involved is likely to be irrelevant, since Vaughan has shown no intention whatsoever of giving up control of the club and, in any case, there is entirely possible that there will not even be a Chester City Football Club by the middle of next week. Ironically, Chester’s next (and possibly last) match will be an FA Cup match at Barrow on Saturday. Barrow, of course, are the club that Vaughan almost sent to the wall in his previous attempt at running a club, during the late 1990s. It will be interesting to see how quickly they give them their split of the gate receipts for the match. One would imagine that Vaughan will be knocking on the office doors at Holker Street at about ten to five on Saturday afternoon. Even if he gets the money in used fivers, however, it is unlikely to be enough in itself to keep them afloat.
Miracles do happen and they happen more regularly in football, it often seems, than anywhere else. This time, however, Stephen Vaughan has p**sed the Football Conference off (that much is evident from the terseness of their official message on the subject) and in the modern game it seems that you can bend the insolvency laws as much as you like, keep your ownership structure buried under impenetrable layers of holding companies, mess the tax man (and, by extension, the taxpayer) around and treat your supporters with little more than contempt, but if you get on the wrong side of the people that run the game, then you’ve done something very wrong. Chester Fans United deserve our support for getting their act together, and one would hope that they would decide not to throw money onto the bonfire that is Chester City Football Club. It is surely clear that a new club is the only way forward for the supporters of Chester City.
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