Northwich Victoria controversy
Northwich Victorias historic Drill Field, one of
the oldest football grounds in the world, is about to be demolished.
The club, founded in 1874, is making plans to build a replacement
stadium on a nine-acre site in the village of Wincham, just over
two miles from the town centre.
Following a planning
inquiry, over 100 houses are to be built on the Drill Field, netting
the club about £2.25 million.
The board of directors and the majority of supporters are in favour
of the move to Wincham, but others have bitterly opposed the plan,
believing that the club is heading for disaster and with over £1
million in debts they claim that the dream will turn into a nightmare.
The controversy has been well aired in the letters columns
of the local press during the past two years, but the protestors
case has never been truly clarified.
Here we put a series of Questions and Answers to those who oppose
the sale of the Drill Field:
Q Why do Northwich Vics have to sell the Drill Field?
A It really goes back to 1992 the directors had got the club
into such a mess by
signing over the Drill Field to developers who had loaned the club
£150,000. Originally there had been a legally binding convenant
to maintain the ground as open space for recreation. The directors,
without a mandate from shareholders, had quietly removed this convenant.
Q The agreement with the developers at that time was eventually
settled, the ground was saved and the £150,000 paid back
how did that come about?
A With interest, £167,000 had to be paid back. A group of
supporters and local benefactors subsequently settled the debt.
Fund-raising brought in £42,000 in a year and £85,000
was put in by 18 individuals. We were one week away from losing
the Drill Field.
Q Were the 18 individuals eventually repaid?
A Yes, or at least those who were not directors their loans
remain on the books. A Drill Field Trust was set up and supporters
paid in £10 a month and by 1999 all the individuals, other
than directors, had got their money back.
Q So the Drill Field was saved, but was the convenant put back on
A That was the intention and that was what we were promised by the
directors but it never happened, despite an agreement signed by
the chairman, Mr David Stone. In 1993.
Q Things seem to be going in the right direction in 1999. The club
built new terracing,, the Danebank Stand. It was a major undertaking
how was it financed?
A Through a grant from the Football Foundation/Trust but mainly
through the auspices of the then chairman Mr John Stitch who was
a great benefactor. He loaned the club around £300,000 towards
Q That was a lot of money is the club still paying it back?
A It is complicated but the agreement through the Drill Field Trust
was to pay back Mr Stitch at £1550 per month, with interest,
over a set period. Sadly Mr Stitch died and though a life insurance
settled part of the debt, the club was left owing Mr Stitchs
family around £135,000.
Q Surely this is now due - how does the club intend to repay this
A It is the catalyst as to why the directors set off on a course
to sell the Drill Field, to repay the debt to the Stitch family
and to ensure, at the same time, that they can individually claw
back any money personally owed to themselves, a figure of around
£40,000. All this will come out the sale of the Drill Field
once the developers hand over their cheque.
Q Mr Stitchs son, Rod, became chairman of the club, but then
resigned from the board. Why?
A It has never been explained but one assumes that he could hardly
sit in the chair and deliberate on the club having to pay back such
a large debt to his family who remain as the major shareholder.
Q Is the club badly in debt?
A Yes, critically. Between 1993 and 1998 the club made small profits
year on year, but from 1999-2002, four financial years, losses amounted
to £485,000. The business has been badly managed and lives
beyond its means.
Q Didnt shareholders vote in favour of selling the Drill Field?
A Yes, about 80% were in favour at the meeting, but the mandate
was for a sale figure of £2.4 million, or greater. The club
is not going to get £2.4 million and the directors refuse
to publicise the precise figure. They wont even tell shareholders.
Q Do you think the local authority, Vale Royal Borough Council,
should have done more to help the club remain at the Drill Field?
A The council loaned the club £50,000 some time ago and this
is still to be repaid. Perhaps that is why the council put forward
such a weak case to oppose the development. The bottom line is that
the council have long wanted to rid the town centre of the Drill
Field. It is part of their much-vaunted Vision for Northwich. Every
piece of land is disappearing under bricks and mortar and not a
single councillor ever lifts a finger, or raises an objection. The
Drill Field is part of footballing history, but they just turn a
blind eye. Councils in other towns and cities have been extremely
pro-active in helping their football clubs. There is not the will
at either office or councillor level in Vale Royal they are
just not interested.
Q The club now intends to build a new 6,500 capacity stadium, the
Victoria Stadium, at Wincham. How much has the land cost?
A It is approximately 9 acres and it is costing about £500,000.
Q When will the new stadium be ready?
A The club has been given a deadline by the Conference League of
May 2004 which seems untenable even if they had sufficient funds
to build it.
Q The club is currently playing at neighbours Witton Albion.
Isnt that expensive?
A It is said to be costing about £750 a match, so the debts
they accumulated over their last four years at the Drill Field will
be even greater. There will be little money left to build a new
Q What is the current average attendance?
A About half of the 1300 which the then club chairman said, three
or four years ago, was needed to break even at the Drill Field.
He made an appeal in the local press for additional support because
the situation was so desperate. If it was desperate then, what is
it now they are having to pay rent to Witton Albion?
Q Has the board presented a business plan to shareholders to show
the full building costs and income/expenditure forecasts for the
first few years of trading at the new stadium?
A No nothing. One might think that the commercial planning
is shambolic it isnt because there is no commercial
planning. The shareholders are as much in the dark as everyone else.
Q The club is intending to apply for a grant from the Football Foundation
towards the new stadium. Will this materialise?
A It is very unlikely that they will get anywhere near what they
are requesting. They received a big grant to build the Danebank
Terrace at the Drill Field and the national press is currently awash
with the financial problems of the FA which is the main financier
of the Football Foundation. There couldnt be a worse time
to apply for funds.
Q Opponents of the Drill Field sale have been accused of being dinosaurs,
standing in the way of progress. Is that fair?
A It is ridiculous. In principle we have never been against selling
the Drill Field if the price was right. If the club was getting
£5-£6 million for the ground it would make sense, but
this current deal is crazy.
Q Surely £2.25 million plus a possible grant from the Football
Foundation will enable the club to build their new stadium?
A Of course it wont
.it is simple arithmetic. They have
audited debts of over £1 million, plus they have to cover
losses during the current season and next season playing at Witton
Albion. The chairman has stated they can build a new stadium for
as little as £1.8 million, but even that would leave them
between £750,000 and £1M short. It is interesting to
note that Macclesfield Town F.C. recently managed to build just
a stand, not a new stadium, for £1.8 million
Q Can Northwich Victoria survive?
A On this hare-brained course, No.
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