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Northwich Victoria asks Court of Arbitration for Sport to give verdict on Northern Premier League decision
THE start of the Northern Premier League season could be postponed while legal experts decide whether Vics should be allowed host opponents closer to home.
Northwich owner Jim Rushe says he has asked the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to judge whether league bosses have acted unfairly in forcing the club to honour a ground share agreement with Stafford.
He paid 1,000 Swiss francs on Friday to send a file to the Lausanne-based body.
“We feel we have no other choice,” said Rushe.
“That’s why we’ve listened to advice and decided to take the route we have in full confidence that we can finally get somewhere with this matter.”
Graham Bean, whose Football Factors firm is representing the club, has requested that the case be heard prior to the season’s opening round in a fortnight.
If CAS cannot, then it could order the campaign’s start to be put back.
In June, an FA disciplinary panel rejected Vics’ appeal against the Northern Premier League’s insistence that Northwich stick to Stafford – a club with which Rushe reached a deal in March – as its home venue.
The league has since refused, after being invited by the club, to attend arbitration overseen by the FA.
Rushe has signed a three-years lease for Vics to play at Flixton, near Manchester, as an alternative.
However the ground was not up to the required standard for Northern Premier League matches before an FA-imposed deadline at the end of March.
He has since overseen, and paid for, work there to improve facilities.
Indeed, it has been marketed already as Northwich Victoria's new home in an advert for a charity football match later this month.
“Our circumstances have changed,” said Rushe.
“The team was challenging for promotion, so I had to sign a share with a club capable of hosting Conference matches.
“That’s when Stafford kindly stepped in.”
Despite finishing as runners-up to Premier Division champions Chester, Vics were barred from taking part in the promotion play-offs and relegated as punishment for breaking finance rules.
The club was subsequently allocated a place in Division One South by the FA’s leagues committee based on its signed accord with Stafford.
However Vics have not announced admission prices, or attempted to sell season tickets, for matches there.
“My aims are simple; I just want to run Northwich Victoria from Flixton while I continue to work on getting the club back to town as soon as possible,” added Rushe.
The CAS must now decide if Vics have a case.
It will invite the Northern Premier League’s management committee to reply to the club’s complaint, although it cannot be forced to.
Indeed, CAS arbitrators can proceed without its co-operation if they want.
“The Northern Premier League’s board made its decision, which was upheld on appeal by an FA disciplinary panel,” a league source told the Guardian .
“The members of that same group made clear their decision was final and binding.”
The league’s spokesman added that it had yet to receive formal notification that Vics had approached CAS, so could not comment any further.
Stafford have stayed silent, save for an interview now former chairman Mike Hughes gave to the Express and Star in May.
He said: “Northwich have our blessing to go elsewhere.
“We have an agreement, but I told the league that we wouldn’t hold them to it or demand compensation. However if required to, we will honour it.”