Just when you thought that SW19 was going to fill up the summer months with stretched-out diatribes about pre-season friendlies and transfer rumour mills, comes a bit of proper news.
Salisbury City have been kicked out of the Conference.
OK, it’s in the hands of their lawyers, but basically they’re supposed to settle all their debts and they haven’t done. Therefore, under something called Appendix E, they can’t play in the division. In fact, here’s what this ominously sounding ruling states:
APPENDIX E – INSOLVENCY PROVISIONS
A Club will not be eligible for membership of the Competition for the following season if by the second Saturday in May in the current season it shall be subject to an Insolvency Event. Similarly, a Club shall not be eligible for membership of the Competition for the following season if between the second Saturday in May and the Annual General Meeting of the Company it has undergone an Insolvency Event. Further, a Club will not be eligible for membership of the Competition for the following season if it shall have entered into an Insolvency Event during the preceding season and have exited such Insolvency Event without paying its creditors (including but not limited to football creditors) in full. In the event of a Club suffering an Insolvency Event after the Annual General Meeting of the Company and prior to the start of the new season then the Club will cease to be eligible for membership of the Competition for the new season and the Club will be relegated from the Competition to a level within the National League system as may be decided upon by the Football Association.
Whether they can still go into the BSS remains unclear, although various rumours suggest they’ll have to drop down into the Southern instead.
All of which further tests the collective sympathy of everyone. Yes, it’s bad for the fans etc, and by the sound of it Salisbury have tried to get their house in order. Unfortunately for them, they’re not a special case – it seems like every single season I can remember in the AFCW era, a club has gone out of the division and another has been reprieved. Scarborough, Halifax, Boston, Chester and now the druids. And that’s just the Conference itself.
At some point, the sympathy dries up and it starts getting beyond a joke. That’s why I’m feeling a little bit cold-hearted towards Salisbury right now. The very reason why Appendix E exists is because clubs were spending beyond their means in the first place. On the one hand, we all want the authorities to do something. Then, when they do put such rules down, they suddenly become too draconian.
“Oh come on”, you’re now saying. “When did you start becoming all rules-are-rules? Remember Turvey?”. Yes I do, and that was an administrative oversight that had a vastly disproportionate punishment. Have you noticed that clubs now only get three points deducted for that sort of thing? Not that we get much thanks for it even now.
This however is different because it’s directly related to the ability to compete in a division. We could, if we wanted to, sign up a load of top level League Two players and do what Oxford/Stevenage Borough have just done. The fact that it would fuck us up in a couple of years is irrelevant, and if we were to fall foul of Conference laws that’s our own fault.
Yes, Salisbury have gone into admin, taken the points penalty and tried to get themselves back on track. But at some point, you have to draw a line. Whether you’re Salisbury City, AFC Wimbledon, Luton Town or Raynes Park Vale, if you can’t run your own affairs properly you shouldn’t be allowed to participate.
Salisbury fans may think this is a ridiculous ruling that they’ve fallen foul of. If they want to apportion blame though, they should be targetting those clubs who have taken the piss once too often. Think of the dents to the Conf’s credibility that the whole Chester fiaso did on its own. Think of certain clubs we can name who are a bit less than forthright about where their money is coming from. Why are rules that prevent this sort of thing happening “bad”, yet clubs who cannot run a bath should be given just a little more time?
Why is it bad for a club to be prevented from playing in the Conf without settling with all creditors, yet it’s fine for people like the St Johns Ambulance to get screwed over? At least they provide a worthwhile service, which is something you can’t say about certain people involved in this division.
If AFCW ran its affairs to the point that it couldn’t clear its debts, then we would have no complaint about being back in the Ryman again. Those who remember Hammam and the Nogs (deliberately?) mismanaging WFC would have killed for some strong regulations stopping them. Salisbury may be relatively innocent victims of circumstance right now, and they may have a legitimate gripe about other clubs in similar situations getting off lightly, but clubs should be scared of getting into that position in the first place.
If it was up to me, I’d not only introduce a licensing system into the whole setup, but would also make people who run football clubs personally liable for any shit that happens. No idea whether that’s legal or not, but it would put most of the chancers off. And that would be no bad thing.
All of this leaves a big question mark right now over next season. Will FGR get a reprieve? Whilst that would please many a cider guzzling Womble, it appears that they too have their own problems (reportedly up to Â£1.5m in debt, cutting costs etc). You don’t need to be told of the fallout if FGR find life too difficult in the Conf next season.
If for whatever reason they don’t, or they turn it down, what then? Ebbsfleet to stay up? Woking v Alfreton to have a playoff at a neutral venue? Our opponents on the 24th July are apparently cutting their budget down, so once again we could find ourselves with yet another club who can’t really afford life in the BSP next season. The vicious circle continues.
Of course, we haven’t even had the AGM Cup yet. No doubt there’s another club who are sailing close to the wind that has capsized Salisbury today. Do we kick them out too? Perhaps having just 22 clubs next season wouldn’t be a bad idea – a smaller league but with more stable clubs in it would build up the credibility the Conf loses each season.
One thing is certain though, the Conference once again looks like a mess of a division. It just cannot substain a club like Luton and a club like Histon competing on (technically) equal terms. And one has to wonder about whether broadcasters will once again decide that TV coverage next season isn’t worth it…