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Northwich Victoria set to attend arbitration hearing with FA and Northern Premier League next month
NORTHWICH Victoria must wait another month for experts trained to solve sporting conflicts to decide whether the team can host opponents at a different ground.
The club will attend a hearing along with both the Football Association and the Northern Premier League on Thursday, October 18.
“We had hoped to have a resolution before the end of September,” said Graham Bean, whose Football Factors firm has prepared Vics’ case.
“However, due to the commitments of others involved, this is the most convenient date for everybody.”
An independent tribunal must make up its mind whether the football authorities were right to refuse permission for Vics to play home matches on a pitch in Greater Manchester.
For now Stafford Rangers, whose ground is more than 40 miles from the club’s now-closed Victoria Stadium, is a temporary base.
Vics are scheduled to play another four matches, including this afternoon’s FA Trophy preliminary round clash with Clitheroe, there before next month’s verdict is known.
The club’s owner, Jim Rushe, asked the league in June to allow Northwich to switch from Stafford to Valley Road, former home of North West Counties League outfit Flixton.
But officials refused, saying the request was made too late – the deadline for a ground share agreement is March 31 in the season previous – for a ground not up to scratch to host matches at a higher level.
An FA appeal panel agreed later the same month.
Mr Rushe addressed the league’s management committee in July, offering to contribute to the costs for teams that would have to travel further to play at Flixton.
Its members were not persuaded to change their mind, saying the FA’s choice to back their original decision had closed the matter.
Mr Bean then applied to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), based in Switzerland, to intervene only for that body to rule last month that it could not.
Invited by the Guardian to explain why, it did not reply.
In the meantime, Mr Rushe agreed a three-years lease with Flixton Football Leisure, which runs Valley Road on behalf of landowners Trafford Borough Council.
He says it would be better commercially and logistically for Northwich, evicted from the Victoria Stadium in January after land on which it is built was bought by a firm based next door, to be based there.
He has spent time, and money, improving its facilities.
No FA inspector has approved any of the changes, although Mr Rushe says he has invited one to visit.
Asked to verify that claim, the FA has not yet replied.
The club has invoked FA Rule K, which permits conflict resolution specialists to scrutinise a decision taken by football authorities.
They can only rule on whether the league and FA’s decision is invalid under English law, or that either of those bodies has not followed correctly its procedures.
Mr Bean told the Guardian he expected a response from both before the end of yesterday, Friday.
Both parties will then exchange papers giving detail of evidence or witnesses they intend to rely upon before October’s hearing, to be held in secret.
It is not known how much the process will cost.
A source at the Northern Premier League has told the Guardian that a five-figures sum quoted by another newspaper is inaccurate.
“It is too early yet to tell what the bill might be,” he said.
He also dismissed a claim that Vics’ league rivals would each have to pay part of the legal costs at the end of the conflict.
Mr Bean added: “The league has had a number of opportunities to deal with this matter without the need to use a legal route.
“They chose not to, leaving Northwich Victoria no alternative but to seek arbitration.
“In fact, it would have been a lot cheaper had they come voluntarily.”
Vics’ owner acted quickly in March to find an alternative host after his first choice, Skelmersdale United’s West Lancashire College Stadium, was rated unfit by inspectors.
He says he picked Stafford because the team were on course to be promoted to the Football Conference, so needed a temporary home fit for a higher level.
However the players, second on the pitch to champions Chester, were barred from taking part in the play-offs as part of the club’s punishment for breaking finance rules.
Vics suffered a forced demotion to the league’s Division One South as well.
Every player left as a result, leaving new manager Andy Mutch to put together a team from scratch this term.