EXPERTS trained to solve sporting conflicts have delayed until next month a decision on whether Northwich Victoria should have been allowed to move home grounds.
A tribunal at Wembley Stadium decided yesterday, Thursday, to adjourn a case involving the club, the Football Association and the Northern Premier League to gather further evidence from each party.
It means that Vics will continue to host opponents at Stafford for the foreseeable future.
“The hearing was adjourned following legal submissions regarding the validity and interpretation of a defence offered by the Northern Premier League and the FA,” said Graham Bean, whose Football Factors firm is representing the club.
“A decision is now due in the middle of next month, but what is clear now is that this is a matter that could be dealt with more practically if the league was prepared to swallow some of its pride.”
Invited to by the Guardian, the league declined to comment.
Yesterday’s day-long hearing was held in secret, with each side forbidden from talking publicly about any evidence or argument used.
Vics owner Jim Rushe asked the league in June to allow Northwich to use a pitch in Greater Manchester that used to be home to North West Counties League club Flixton.
But officials refused, saying the request was made too late – the deadline to have security of tenure [a long-term lease or ground share agreement] for the following season is March 31 in the one previous – for a facility not up to scratch to host matches at a higher level.
The FA agreed at an appeal later the same month.
The Guardian asked the governing body to publish the written reasons for its decision, but did not receive a response.
Tribunal members must make up their mind if the football authorities were right to refuse permission for Vics to move from Stafford, 40 miles from their former Victoria Stadium home.
They can annul the original decision, but it is not for them to suggest a solution.
“At the time [in March] we chose Stafford as a base for this season because the team was in a play-offs position and could have been promoted to the Conference,” said Mr Rushe told BBC Radio Manchester last week.
“No other local ground was up to scratch.”
He believes it would be better commercially and logistically for Northwich, evicted in January after land on which their former ground is built was bought by a chemicals manufacturer based next door, to be based at Flixton.
He says he has improved facilities there too.
No FA inspector has approved any of the changes, although the club says it has invited one to visit.
Asked to verify that claim, the FA did not reply.
Just once has more than 100 people watched Vics play at Stafford this term, with Market Drayton Town the only club in Evo-Stik NPL Division One South to have a smaller average attendance.