Chester's players on strike, could other clubs follow?

Whilst much is being made of the financial disaster that is Portsmouth at the moment, with them being on owner number four for the season, and he’s pretty much said he doesn’t want the club, having become owner by default due to an unpaid loan by the former owner, the Portsmouth fans are concerned about the future of their beloved club. However, things could be much worse. Ask a Chester City fan.
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Chester is a city that has been around since at least Roman times, where it was called Deva (the club play at the Deva Stadium, the only ground to be in two countries as it spans the England-Wales border)), it is about 20 miles south of Liverpool. The club has been in existence since 1885 and has produced players like the legendary Liverpool striker Ian Rush, Arsenal stalwart Lee Dixon and Michael Owen’s father Terry.
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Tonight (Tuesday 9th Feb) Chester City, who play in the Blue Square Premier, the division just below League Two, were due to play Forest Green Rovers, a Gloucestershire based club. However, the game was called off two-and-a-half hours before kick-off, due to Chester saying they could not fulfil the fixture.
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Chester City are in dire financial straits, with the club having only temporarily avoided going out of existence last month. The club has been in bad shape financially for years, the parent company that owned it went bankrupt at the end of last season, with reported debts of about £7m. A new parent company was formed and after some deliberation from the league, the club was allowed to participate in the conference this season.
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Things started to unravel once again, club owner Stephen Vaughan became the first person to fail the ‘fit and proper persons’ test and so had to relinquish control of the club. He was able to transfer ownership of the club to his son. In about 8 months of trading the club has managed to accrue reportedly between 200 and 500 thousands of pounds worth of debt, a truly staggering amount for a club with low overheads.
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The attendances, which have already been reduced when Chester were relegated from the league last season, have taken another battering by a fans boycott of the club in protest of the ownership.
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It’s still unclear as to what happened (all this only happened about three hours ago at the time of writing) but there are reports that the coach company that were due to take the Chester team ordered their driver not to drive until the company had been paid in full.
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Also, there is the real possibility of the players having gone on strike. Chester’s players have not been paid for three months before receiving one week’s salary before last Saturday’s game. The players had twice threatened strike action this season, only for the games to be postponed due to weather anyway. It looks like this time the strike may have gone ahead.
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From the scrambled bits of information that’s been released, it looks as though Chester met with the Football League this morning, seeking some payments that would have been used to pay the players, that the club felt they were entitled to (relegated clubs receive ‘parachute payments’ that are supposed to ease the financial shock of relegation). These payments, it seems are awarded at the league’s discretion and they have decided to withhold tese payments until Chester gets it’s finances in better order.
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Many players have already jumped ship. The club has lost many of its players because League rules state that players who are not paid for a certain length of time have the right to terminate their contracts, an option which some players have exercised.
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The immediate future for Chester isn’t bright anyway, the club were given a 25 points penalty at the start of the season for the financial problems and the team hasn’t really been able to make an impression on the battle to stay in that division. They are still in minus points for the season. The club recently parted company with manager Jim Harvey, a hugely experienced and successful manager at that level, who seemed to represent the best chance the club had of staying up.
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Chester are due to play Wrexham this weekend, which is a derby and a notoriously heated one too. The fixture always requires a large police presence and the police are reportedly demanding payment up front to police the game. Without police, the game cannot go ahead on safety grounds, meaning that would be two consecutive fixtures Chester have not been able to fulfil.
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There is also the real possibility of the club being expelled from the league due to these unfulfilled fixtures (it’s rule 8.6 of the Football Conference). Even if the league is lenient, the club still have to go to court on March 10 to show that they are capable of paying off their debt to HM Revenue and Customs (the UK tax agency), to avoid being wound up.
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Fans are divided on what’s the best way forward. Some say that the club should fold and then be reborn. Other clubs have done that in the past. Others say that the best possible move is for someone to buy Vaughan out and manage the club’s finances properly.
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Either way, it’s not only a very sad situation; it’s a scenario that may well be played out for other clubs up and down the country. It looks as though Portsmouth have managed to avoid a winding-up order, but this could so easily have happened to them too.