Thursday, May 27, 2010

In all of the exciting comings and goings of the promotion and relegation places and as the 2009/10 UK domestic season winds down, one sad story in amongst it all was probably missed by many and that was the plight of Conference side Salisbury City.

Their story couldn't be much different after looking at a global financial giant like Real Madrid yesterday, but this is real football. Football that doesn't let you spend your way out of trouble, mainly because there isn't money there in the first place.

It's been a volatile season for the Club and their fans. It would be easy to attach a cliched rollercoaster tag to their season but that doesn't fully do justice to the hopes that have been raised and dashed as the year went on.

From sitting atop the Conference to a ten point deduction for going into administration to sitting second bottom of the division to finishing a credible 12th. The Club have seen a transfer embargo, reached the semi-finals of the FA Trophy, received the final 'Manager of the Month' award for the season and are now facing a two division demotion back down to the Southern Premier League - a division they haven't been in since 2005/06 when back to back promotions took them to the Conference and one step away from League football.

Formed in 1947 Salisbury have faced their most daunting times of late, lurching from crisis to crisis off the field in recent years, whilst maintaining a strong presence on the pitch during the difficult times.

The 2008/09 season saw the Club desperately try to raise £100,000 to stay afloat. Only a third of that amount was raised, players left and the Club was put on sale for a token £1. It didn't sell and Salisbury went into administration in September last year with debts of around £200,000 to HM Revenue & Customs.

The ten point deduction that followed put the Club in a perilous state but they fought back with good football and pulled themselves up the table to record their joint highest league position in their history.

Off the pitch a consortium took the Club over and an agreement signed with HMRC, meant that Salisbury City's debts would be paid off over the next three years. The Club will also have to give around 25% of any money earned from Cup runs to HMRC. A Companies Voluntary Agreement with HMRC was signed in February to pay their creditors and with this all agreed the Club moved out of administration.

That should have been a happy ending to it all. A line drawn under things, allowing the Club to move on to matters on the pitch. Sadly not so due to Appendix E in the Football Conference rules.

That rule states that any club which suffers an insolvency event during the course of a season must pay all creditors in full by the second Saturday in May. According to the rules, failure to pay all creditors in full would mean that the Club would not be eligible for inclusion in the League for the next season and the FA would need to place the Club in an alternative league.

And that's just what has happened.

Salisbury City have been demoted two division to the Southern Premier League, whilst Forest Green Rovers have been saved from relegation from the Blue Square Premier. All pending an appeal which will be held on June 12th. Frustratingly for Salisbury that day is also the day that the FA members are meeting to discuss amending Appendix E to a new rule of which they would now be fully compliant. Too late for City though. It's a ridiculous situation.

The Directors of the Club issued a statement announcing their appeal that included the following, in regards to their troubles this season:

"During this period all salaries, payments to suppliers and other liabilities have been met in full. We have upgraded the floodlights system as directed by the FA and Football Conference to meet BSP status, paid all football creditors, and also met our requirements under the CVA and all other footballing responsibilities to the Football Conference and FA".

It is appalling that a Club that was so close to the brink can honour their commitments, act in all integrity, not take the easy route out of it all (ala Livingston in Scotland) and fight back, but are yet punished because of some small print.

If their demotion stands then it is a sad day for the honest Clubs and club owners in football. What onus is on clubs to pay off their debts when they are still punished in such a way when they could go bust, reform and have money in the bank. It's a scandalous situation and hopefully the FA will act in the right way and reinstate Salisbury City to where they belong.

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