BUSINESSES promised more than two years ago part payment of a debt owed to them by Northwich Victoria Football Club have not had a penny.
Those firms agreed in December 2009 – seven months after the club had entered administration – to write off close to two thirds of every unpaid bill in return for receiving the remainder in monthly instalments over the next five years.
They are still waiting for their money.
In February an insolvency expert hired by the club’s owner Jim Rushe asked a judge at Manchester High Court to rip up a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) – a binding legal agreement about how the debt would be paid back – accusing the club of not fulfilling its commitment.
“We were left with no alternative,” said Gary Pettit, from business recovery specialists Marshman Price.
“It is with deep frustration and regret that we have had to take such a course of action, but the directors of the club have always been aware that this would happen if they did not comply.”
In papers sent to Companies House at the end of February, he said that Mr Rushe had reneged on an accord to find £2,500 each month for creditors.
He blamed protracted negotiations for a delay in taking action.
“Lengthy discussions have been ongoing between myself, the directors of the company and my solicitors,” he wrote.
“[Mr Rushe] sought to claim payments were not due and pleaded ignorance as to his obligations.”
Not surprisingly, Vics owner’s version of events is a different one.
He says that Mr Pettit’s responsibility as the club’s administrator – a position he accepted in November 2009 – had been to make the payments.
Mr Pettit brokered a deal a month after his appointment with the club’s creditors, who were persuaded not to petition to wind up Northwich Victoria Football Club (2004) Ltd – the firm that paid the players’ wages at the time – after the team reached the FA Cup second round.
Vics’ reward was a prize pot worth close to £190,000, cash those companies owed money thought the club could use to pay part of its debts.
Mr Pettit says there is only £30,000 of it left.
According to his report, Pettit’s firm is claiming£54,000 as fees while a further £16,000 accounts for lawyers’ costs for a drawn out battle with the FA to release prize money earned on the pitch in that FA Cup run.
A round sum of £50,000 has been allocated as trading expenses, which the Guardian has learned is repayment of a loan made to the club by a third party while it was in administration.
As a result, neither man has done what the other claims to have expected.
“Talks are ongoing between us,” said Mr Rushe.
“It would not be wise for me to say any more until those discussions have reached a satisfactory conclusion.”
Mr Pettit had threatened to close down the club after dissolving its CVA, but changed his mind following a summit with Mr Rushe in Northampton a fortnight ago.
“We had what can only be described as a very positive meeting,” said Vics’ now former administrator.
“Jim knows what he must do and if he can meet that requirement I’ll recommend to creditors that the CVA continues, but of course nothing can be guaranteed.”
It is not known what the two men agreed, but Mr Pettit says a deadline has been set.
The Guardian understands that he must ask a judge – and justify why – to undo the CVA’s dissolution or propose another at a newly-convened creditor’s meeting.
“Should Mr Rushe meet his obligations then I can ask creditors to relinquish the failure notice,” added Mr Pettit.
“If they decline, then the CVA will be treated as having failed.
“Even if the majority of voters sanction the survival of the CVA, any creditor can challenge the decision.”
It is not known what, if any, sanction the club faces from football authorities if a solution is not found.
The game’s governing body is watching though.
“We’re aware of the notice to terminate the CVA and are considering this development in relation to the application of football’s rules,” said an FA spokesman.
The Football Conference, which kicked out Northwich in the summer of 2010 as punishment for the club’s failure to pay its creditors in full by a league-imposed deadline, is another interested observer.
Vics, on the pitch at least, are targeting a return to that competition’s second tier after staying at the Northern Premier League summit for most of this season.
A 1-0 win at Chasetown last night, Tuesday, leaves them placed second in the standings behind Chester, who they meet on Monday.
“I can’t give a definitive reply to any question about a club’s application for promotion until all of its circumstances are known,” said Dennis Strudwick, Conference general manager, in June 2010.
“Any new member will have to comply with all the rules, including payment of any creditors.
“My understanding is that Northwich will be required to be compliant with its CVA, if such a condition still prevails, but I would not wish to pre-judge any given situation.”