One of the more distressing recent examples of a crisis club has been Northwich Victoria, but next month could see the fans start afresh.
I recently took a trip to watch Cardiff’s council in session (don’t ask). One of the more boring parts (and most of it was boring) was when the councillors stood up and read out the petitions from their local area. “We have 14 signatures asking for double yellows in Canton.” “We have 25 signatures for double yellows in Roath” and so, bloody, on. Similarly, ever since the online petitions website was launched there has been never ending attempts to bring back the death penalty, stop benefits to certain people or create a massive time machine so we can take everyone back in time to enjoy the moral upstanding virtue of the Victoria era (one of those is made up). But occasionally there are petitions that reflect the mood of the nation or community and bring a real issue to a head. The release of the Hillsborough documents for example. Another example, although admittedly less important, is a petition given to the Northwich Victoria Supporters Trust which has triggered a vote on the creation of a breakaway club.
Breakaway clubs are tricky. Get it wrong and you end up with two clubs in a small town like Scarborough. Get it right however and you end up with AFC Wimbledon, or to a lesser extent FC United of Manchester. The important thing to know when you are trying to work out whether a breakaway club will work is the context in which the proposal is brought about. So here is the (very long) context so you can decide.
The first obvious milestone to look at is back in 2004 when Northwich Victoria finished bottom of the Conference and went into administration for the first time. They were reprieved thanks to Hucknall Town’s ground not being up to scratch, Margate’s demotion and Telford’s liquidation. The next season saw them fight bravely against relegation with a ten point deduction eventually finishing 19th but despite this they had to take a voluntary relegation down to the Conference North or face a multiple league demotion due to their continuing financial problems.
This did seem to be the catalyst for the club however as they won the Conference North at the first attempt under manager Steve Burr and reached the third round of the FA Cup against Sunderland. The next season saw the Vics finish in a comfortable mid-table position before the traumatic 2007-08 season.
Owner Mike Connett fell out with manager Burr which led to Burr eventually leaving the club. The club plummeted down the table with two more managers leaving in the process. Dino Maamria was then appointed just as Connett announced his intention to sell the club.
Connett had bought the club in 2004 to take it out of administration and had overseen the move to Northwich’s new stadium, the Victoria Stadium. During his stewardship the club had racked up more debts and he was no longer able to support the club as his business Beconet Ltd was also on the financial rocks.
The club was now in administration and it looked like it would be wound up at the end of October 2007 due to a bill of £350,000 owed to HM Revenue and Customs. In stepped local businessman Jim Rushe who bought the club and from the administrator and stopped the liquation of the club. Northwich managed to complete the season and also pulled off a magnificent comeback to avoid relegation.
This however proved to be another false dawn as in September of that year Maamria was unexpectedly sacked (and he still has no idea why). The club was still rumoured to have over £500,000 debt and it only managed to complete the next season (2008-09) before falling into administration yet again.
Also in January 2009, former owner Mike Connett’s business went into administration and the Victoria stadium (which he owned) was given to administrators Deloitte Ltd (remember that it becomes important).
At the end of the 2009-10 season Northwich were still in administration and were relegated again despite not finishing in the relegation places. This meant that were now in the Northern Premier where they seemingly steadied the ship and had a quiet 2010-11 season in mid-table under Andy Preece’s management.
In the 2011-12 season the club managed to finish 2nd to winners Chester FC but their season ended with yet more demotions as the clubs off-the-field problems came to a head.
Their season started late because of Rushe’s inability to gather the necessary paperwork to show that the club could complete the league’s fixtures. Then, in January the manager Andy Preece left for Welsh club Airbus UK and just a few days later it emerged that their ground had been sold to a neighbouring chemical company, Thor Ltd, and that they had been evicted.
After the administration of former owner’s, Mike Connett, company Beconet Ltd the Clydesdale bank appointed administrators Deloitte Ltd to oversee the sale of the ground when Northwich could afford to buy the ground again. New owner Jim Rushe created a separate company, Northwich Victoria Developments, but in three years they had nowhere near the finance to be able to purchase the ground and therefore Deloitte Ltd were obliged to accept the offer on the ground by Thor Ltd.
This left the Vics homeless for the rest of the season and meant that they had to play their home games at various locations across the North West.
In addition to losing their ground they were also found guilty of not serving their CVA which came from their admin in 2009. This led to a relegation of one more league to the Northern Premier League, Division One South – the lowest division that they have ever competed in.
They did find a new ground, but this was over 40 miles away from Northwich, at Marston Road in Stafford. By this time the fans protests became much more vocal with various protests being held at matches – including the red card protest in their final game of the 2011-12 season against FC United of Manchester – and many fans had said that they would stay away whilst Rushe was still in charge.
Before the season there was a lot of speculation over how many fans would follow them to Stafford. Whilst still at the Victoria Stadium the club was averaging a few hundred fans every game. They now barely reach 100 with only 86 spectators attending the first match.
Rushe has led them down three divisions, lost their stadium and has not been paying his debts. There is absolutely no way this man can run a football club but the FA has not yet banned him as a director. This has unsurprisingly led to one fan, Tony Rodgers, getting enough signatures to force the Northwich Supporter’s Trust to vote on whether to form a breakaway club or wait for the club to eventually die (which one assumes with large debts and little income it soon will).
This is a watershed moment. If a new club is voted through next month then the fan base could be irrevocably split, as there are still some people who are clinging to the old club hoping that Rushe can pull off some sort of miracle. If the new club is not voted through the fan base could be irrevocably split as some fans will see the lack of action as a missed opportunity to stop the name of Northwich Victoria being dragged through the mud.
Rushe has not acknowledged the Trust’s impending vote as he is currently embroiled in a legal dispute to move the club away from Stafford to Flixton in Manchester. Quite why he thinks more fans would travel to Flixton when they are staying away from Stafford isn’t clear but it is probably because he feels he needs to be doing something. Even when it is pointless.
The important thing to remember in all of this is that this vote is democratic and any decision that the Trust’s members reaches will have the majority. Whatever happens it will be because the majority of fans think it is best for the club. And that, at least, is something.