This summer has been one of the messiest I can remember. Clubs folding, reprieves, relegations and transfers between divisions have all meant that the situation has got muddier and muddier, and the kerfuffle surrounding Salisbury City just adds to that.
Everything seemed to be going pretty well down at The Ray Mac. A good young manager in Mikey Harris, and a team that was arguably punching above its weight in the top flight of nonleague football. However, that has all now turned to dust as the club currently face up to an uncertain future. And for once, that uncertain future lies on the pitch. No manager, no players and a transfer embargo all put the very future of the club in jeopardy.
Following last season’s solid twelfth place finish, the supporters have had the rug pulled from under them, as they watch helpless while their club is embroiled in scandal before being demoted and then ultimately thrown out of the Conference structure. And it all boils down to one man; former owner Medy Outail Touzar. The Dubai based business man took over the club in May 2014 along with Mark Winter – one of the consortium that has now taken control of the club after successfully taking legal action to remove Mr Touzar from the board. The club allege that Touzar did not put a single penny into the club since taking over, leading to the legal challenge against him.
The club had come out of administration in December 2013 after five years of financial turmoil which culminated in a double demotion in 2010, but have been under a transfer embargo since April over failure to pay creditors. Reports say that players have not been paid for two months, leading to the Conference board taking action.
Their first demotion occured on June 13th, when The Whites were relegated to Conference South for failing to meet a deadline for clearing outstanding debts. This led to reprieves for Chester FC in the Premier, and Hayes & Yeading United in the South. And remember, Hayes & Yeading were already embroiled in controversy as they were already appealing for a reprieve due to the Worksop Town/Vauxhall Motors scenarios!
Then, on July 4th, it was announced that Salisbury City were to be thrown out of the Conference altogether for again missing a payment deadline. The Conference also announced that the South would carry on a club short, rather than go through the turmoil of reprieving clubs again. The club, though, were severely angered and distressed by the Conference announcement. And rightly so it might turn out.
On their official website, the club released a statement on July 4th, stating that the Conference had gone back on their original promises. The club claim that they were told that if they could pay off the debts (in excess of £91,000) and safeguard the future of the club, then they would be allowed to continue in the South. They had the money ready to transfer to the Conference account, but were told at around 3pm that day not to transfer the funds as they would be non-refundable. The announcement then followed that they were to be turfed out – to all intents and purposes – into no man’s land.
The problem for City now is: where do they play their football? With the decision taken not to reprieve a team in Conference South, that means there is nowhere for Salisbury to go. That to me seems ludicrous. Surely it would be better to try and accomodate them somewhere, even if it did mean a second double demotion in four years?
I do, however, understand that it would be extremely difficult to issue reprieves at this late stage in proceedings. The Conference fixtures are out, clubs up and down the pyramid have set budgets and started building squads accordingly, so to start rearranging now would be unhelpful in the extreme. Considering they turned down Lowestoft Town’s request to shift back to the North – where they were originally placed before everything kicked off – then reprieves were never going to happen.
That then, surely leaves only one solution: allow Salisbury City to take their place in Conference South, and thus returning the division to a full compliment of participants? I know that rules are rules, and that they are implemented to try and ensure clubs are run properly, but it does seem City have been treated harshly. They have already – justly – been demoted one division due to unpaid debts, but they are now under new ownership, and they had the monies ready to meet the Conference’s concerns, so why did the Conference then do such a spectacular u-turn?
Again, as is always the case in such situations, it’s the fans who suffer. Yes, the club have been run shoddily in the past and have endured years of ignominy and uncertainty, but it seems as though they are now on a firmer footing under new owners, and yet still there seems to be people not wishing to see the club move on. If the club are not reinstated into the Conference South, then the club could feasibly go out of business altogether. With no games – and therefore no income – for at least the next year, surely the troubled club can no longer operate. Even if they are reinstated, that doesn’t leave much time to assemble a squad and appoint a new manager. Veteran Football League striker and former Weymouth manager Steve Claridge has been sounded out regarding the managerial vacancy, but this would be a monumental challenge for the TV pundit to take on, with the new season just weeks away and no plans in place as yet.
The Conference have virtually condemned Salisbury to relegation anyway now, as even if they are reinstated, building a competitive squad at such short notice would be nigh on impossible, but it’s better that than the alternative for fans of The Whites.