NORTHWICH Victoria owner Jim Rushe has vowed to appeal against the club’s expulsion from the Northern Premier League last night.
He believes the punishment, which includes the team – currently second in the Premier Division table – not being allowed to compete in the promotion play-offs, is too severe.
“I’ll fight this,” he said.
“I’m determined to continue rebuilding the club from the bottom up.”
In a statement issued shortly after Vics’ 2-1 defeat against Hednesford Town at Leek Town’s Harrison Park, the club said it had denied charges made against it for breaking finance rules.
It read: “We vigorously denied them, but were found guilty regardless.”
Vics’ fate was decided at a league disciplinary committee hearing yesterday, Friday, at which Mr Rushe defended the club on his own.
He was told that the firm that pays the players’ wages – Northwich Victoria Football Club (2007) Ltd – had failed to do what was expected when it became a member of the competition.
That includes paying debts owed by the club’s previous incarnation – Northwich Victoria Football Club (2004) Ltd – via a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) agreed in December 2009.
The club was also found guilty of not telling league bosses it had not complied with the terms of its CVA, which was torn up by a judge at a Manchester court in February.
The league published its verdict during the second half of last night’s game, when the visitors led 1-0.
It read: “Northwich Victoria Football Club’s membership of the Northern Premier League has been terminated with effect from the end of the current playing season and the club will not be allowed to participate in the promotion play-offs.”
Substitute Elliott Durrell doubled Hednesford’s lead, after which the Pitmen’s followers chanted to Northwich players – oblivious to what had been public – what their fate would be.
Mr Rushe waited on the touchline at full time, beckoning his players down the tunnel so he could break the news.
They later left in silence.
Co-managers Martin Foyle and Alan Wright found out at the same time, but neither wished to comment when invited to after a 20-minutes meeting with the club’s owner in home dressing room.
Vics were playing at Harrison Park, a venue some 30 miles from their former Victoria Stadium home, because a pitch closer to the town was not available today, Saturday.
The club’s statement added: “We would like to reassure all genuine supporters that we will pursue our appeal to the highest governing body possible.”
In the first instance, that means the Football Association.
The earliest that can be heard is on Monday week, April 23, although the club can request that it be fast-tracked.
Former FA compliance officer Graham Bean, through his Football Factors firm, has been hired by Mr Rushe to fight the club’s corner.
It is possible that the Premier Division play-offs, the semi finals for which are scheduled for the following day, could be postponed until the matter is resolved.
“An update will be issued in due course relative to the qualifying teams and dates of the promotion play-offs which will be impacted by this decision,” said a league source.
The Northern Premier League’s rules are clear; should a club finishing in the top five not be eligible for promotion, then the next best-placed team can take part in the play-offs.
It is not clear what will happen to Northwich if the club’s appeal fails.
Relegated from the Northern Premier League, the FA’s Leagues Committee would decide where to place the club in the non-league pyramid.
If it ends up in the North West Counties League, then it will have tumbled from the top tier of non-league football – the Blue Square Bet Premier – to the fifth level inside three years.
Vics were relegated on the pitch from the Football Conference’s national division in April 2009.
The club entered administration the following month before being expelled from the competition a year later after failing to ratify a CVA that would pay back every penny owed to creditors.
It has been kicked out of the Northern Premier League for a similar offence, the punishment for which is a likely drop of at least two more divisions.