As the non-league season gears up for its climax so, inevitably, do the lawyers, as the annual courtroom battles begin that could have a significant say on the relegation places in the Blue Square Premier. From a point of business-as-usual two weeks ago, suddenly the teams scraping over the final two relegation scraps from the non-league top tier are watching the situations at Grays and Halifax with interest, with the latter team throwing another twist into the battle for the bottom four.
Halifax have struggled both on and off the pitch in recent years with debts constantly hanging over the club. The Shaymen entered into administration at the end of the 2001/02 season when they were relegated from the football league for the second time in ten years, and are still paying off the CVA they entered into when they came out of administration.
But Town’s financial problems have never really gone away and this week they filed for administration for the second time in six years. The move came after former chairman Ray Moreland issued a winding up order against the club over an unpaid loan of just £7,944.86. This was the second winding up order issued against the club this season. In the autumn the consortium propping up the club paid off the £100,000 debt owed to the Inland Revenue, and there’s still many other debts in the background that are causing concern for the club.
Halifax have never been one of the glamour clubs of the English game, with their glory days coming in the early seventies with several decent finishes in the old Third Division (now League One), but the rest of their history has largely been spent in the basement of the football league, narrowly avoiding re-election and relegation several times. The inevitable came in 1993 when the Shaymen were relegated to the Conference and, after avoiding relegation again, Halifax managed to bounce back, winning the Conference in 1998. But Town’s return to the league was a brief one and, amidst mounting financial difficulties, they were consigned back to the non-league in 2002.
One blessing for Halifax has been a committed and active supporters trust. The £10,000 they raised for the club went a long way to keeping Town afloat over the 2002 close season, and earned the Trust a place on the board, and the club’s financial situation would be much worse had it not been for the £50,000 the Trust committed towards paying off their CVA.
The Shaymen came within a whisker of a third spell in the football league in 2006 when they saw off a strong Grays side 5-4 in the Conference play-off semis before narrowly losing 3-2 to Hereford in the play-off final. But last season saw more turmoil and the club avoided relegation on the final day of the season.
Meanwhile, it’s now been 16 months since a consortium led by David Bosomworth and former Bradford player Bobby Ham launched their protracted takeover bid. The pair have been keeping Halifax afloat and helped stave off the Inland Revenue’s winding up order earlier this season, but Moreland’s claim was a step too far and the decision was taken to place the club in administration again. In a statement from the administrators, Begbies Traynor, they recognise the small nature of the debt but “the debt has resulted in other short term financial demands being placed on the club, with the consortium being left with no alternative but to file for a notice of administration to protect the club.” Halifax are now up for sale but, strangely, this should make it easier for Bosomworth and Ham to purchase the club, something they’ve so far been unable to do because of the myriad nature of the club’s shareholdings and debts.
If, as seems likely, the application for administration is approved on March 26th, then Halifax will be hit by a ten point penalty, which plunges them firmly into a relegation battle, just two points above Weymouth, who currently occupy the final relegation spot, and eight ahead of a resurgent Northwich, who are unbeaten in four.
On the surface, it may seem like a strange decision to apply for administration and risk relegation at this stage of the season, but not only does this give the Shaymen breathing space, it should resolve the long-standing ownership issues. One other reason may be rumours that have surfaced in the local press that if the club took the decision next season they would be hit with a 25 point penalty, relating to the financial problems and ongoing issues over the redevelopment of their ground, The Shay. Work on the ground is unfinished and unless the work is completed soon, Halifax could be at risk of demotion over inadequate facilities.
Already some fans are questioning if they’ll need to reform the cub as AFC Halifax, lower down the football pyramid, while others are wondering what may have happened if their rumoured flirtation with fan-owned website MyFootballClub.co.uk been successful. Whether this latest bid to solve the club’s financial problems is successful is unclear, but it has the backing of the Trust and Bosomworth and Ham’s consortium should be able to carry on providing the money necessarily to keep the club afloat for the time being.
Meanwhile, relegation rivals Altrincham, Farsley Celtic, Weymouth, and Northwich will be keeping a close eye on Halifax and Grays’ troubles. Grays have until Wednesday to pay the outstanding wages of jailed footballer Ashley Stestanovich, and with chairman Mick Woodward refusing to back down and insisting the club will lodge another appeal before that deadline, there’s a very real possibility the Essex club could be suspended from all competitions.
With Crawley also still far from stable off the field, there’s an improbably but not impossible scenario that only one team could be relegated from the Conference South. With a similar scenario happening at the end of the 2003/04 season, when no teams were relegated from the Conference, finances and politics could well dictate who starts in the Blue Square Premier next season.
Also See: The Strange Case of Ashley Stestanovich.