WHILE the timing of a statement announcing Northwich Victoria’s latest expulsion came as a surprise – the team was playing a match against a rival for promotion – its content should not.
Not paying creditors, be they related to football or not, is about as serious a rules break imaginable.
Not telling the men that run the Northern Premier League – one of the charges for which the club has been found guilty – makes it even worse.
Vics owner Jim Rushe was summoned to a hearing yesterday, Friday, to offer his explanation, but it was not enough to convince members of a league disciplinary panel not to take drastic action.
They have barred the team, currently second in the Premier Division table, from taking part in the promotion play-offs as well as kicking out the club from next season’s competition.
It appears they were fed up that, more than two years after firms to which the club owes money wrote off close to two thirds of those debts, none have yet received a penny promised to them.
That the club had not declared as much – rule 14.B.4 – made the league less likely to be lenient in its punishment.
It is ironic then that success on the pitch is the catalyst for what has followed.
Northwich Victoria Football Club (2004) Ltd entered administration in May 2009, little more than a month after the team was relegated from non-league’s top tier after a disastrous season.
The club was originally kicked out of the Football Conference as a sanction but was reinstated in the competition’s northern section – albeit with a 10-points deduction – after an appeal to the Football Association.
Manager Andy Preece and his players then reached the FA Cup’s second round the following season, appearing twice in live broadcasts on terrestrial television.
Their reward was a prize pot worth close to £200,000, the promise of which persuaded creditors not to petition to wind up the club.
Instead, in December 2009, they voted in favour of a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) that would pay back 37p of every pound owed to them over a five-years period.
Such an accord was in breach of Conference finance rules, which require every penny to be returned again, so the club was – this time after an unsuccessful appeal – relegated to the Northern Premier League the following summer.
Meanwhile the FA, unhappy that a new firm set up by Rushe – Northwich Victoria Football Club (2007) Ltd – did not have everything in place to take over the old one, held on to the FA Cup prize money.
The game’s governing body did not stop Vics from playing in any of its competitions in the meantime though.
It agreed to pay £170,000, a reduced figure after deductions were made to pay bills owed to opponents from the FA Cup run, to administrator Gary Pettit only in January 2011 on the condition that Rushe paid a £10,000 bond to complete the purchase of NVFC (2004) Ltd.
A further £150,000 was to follow in monthly instalments.
However in February of this year Pettit, an insolvency practitioner for Northampton-based finance recovery specialists Marshman Price, asked a judge at Manchester High Court to rip up the CVA, accusing the club of failing to fulfil any of its commitments.
Specifically, he said that Rushe had reneged on an accord to find £2,500 each month for the club’s creditors.
Unsurprisingly, Vics’ owner’s version of events is different.
He says that Pettit should have paid him a six-figures sum he spent keeping the club afloat for the seven months between it entering administration and creditors approving the CVA.
From that pot would he have paid the monthly sums, he claims.
It is not known how many times, if at all, he asked Pettit since January of last year to return the cash he says he is owed.
No matter, for neither man told the league anything.
Or the players. Or the managers. Or the club’s fans.
The revelation that Vics have not paid their creditors, in turn making invalid the transfer of membership from NVFC (2004) Ltd to NVFC (2007) Ltd, is the reason they have breached rule 2.9.2.
Rushe told the disciplinary panel yesterday that he is not guilty of any of the offences they accuse him of.
He said last night too that he thinks its punishment is too severe.
The club can not adopt both of those positions in the appeal it has promised to lodge, so it is unclear on what grounds Graham Bean – a former FA compliance officer turned nemesis of his former employers fighting clubs’ corners on disciplinary matters – will base its defence.
Meanwhile the supporters face the ignominy of the club they follow being relegated up to five divisions in three years if such an appeal fails.
Only one of those demotions will have been for the football team they follow not being up to scratch on the pitch.
That, more than anything else, is the most sobering fact of this whole saga.