The Hilton Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon
13 Jun 2009
Chester City were unanimously accepted into the Conference at the AGM in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Meanwhile the Conference's proposal to automatically relegate teams in administration was thrown out. This followed the FA's humiliation of the Conference earlier in the week when the FA overturned the Conference's relegation of Northwich out of Conference North.
Mansfield Town were represented at the AGM by joint owner Andy Saunders.
Clubs buoyant after Conference AGM
The Football Conference have issued a press release following their Annual General Meeting, during which a special thank you was extended to Blue Square.
It reads as follows:
The good news that Setanta Sports had been saved, delighted The Football Conference at their 2009 Annual General Meeting and Presentation Dinner.
After an eventful season when the Competition Rules had been rigorously applied, Clubs left Stratford-upon-Avon looking confidently forward to the new season.
Despite a worrying week, the Setanta Sports crew and presenters demonstrated the utmost professionalism and commitment when filming the Awards Ceremony on Saturday 13 June. The evenings event will be screened on Setanta Sports on Friday 19 June 2009 at 6.00pm.
In a further announcement, Setanta revealed it planned to repeat last season's successful start when a match from the Blue Square Premier's opening day's programme, scheduled this year for Saturday 8 August, would be televised live the preceding evening.
At the AGM and Divisional meetings held prior, Member clubs were advised of a number of changes and initiatives which the Board of Directors had actioned immediately and for next season, including ;
* For financial reasons putting on hold the appointment of a Chief Executive.
* Reducing the Board of Directors from 12 to 9 to streamline meetings and to save costs.
* Outsourcing the Conference Youth League administration and rebranding the competition - the Football Conference Youth Alliance.
* Bringing in the well known Non-League football 'anorak', Steve Whitney to be responsible for the official Football Conference website.
* The freeing up of essential staff time will allow a continuing appraisal and development of all office procedures. In particular, the aspect of financial governance by providing greater monitoring enabling Clubs to effect tighter controls and prudence.
Chairman Brian Lee in his opening address at the AGM reiterated this stance stating unequivocally the position of the Conference, "Whilst we will always endeavour to help any club, each and every individual club needs to operate within its means the rules of the competition, the laws of the land and like any other business honour its debts. Stand alone businesses may not need to concern themselves about paying their debts but when 68 clubs agree to abide by the rules then each needs to accept there has to be level playing field."
He reminded clubs of the utmost importance concerning the "quarterly financial protocol returns" and the requirement for them to be made on time and that the Sub-Committee, independent of all Clubs, would continue to examine all the documents clubs were required to submit. Where evidence was forthcoming to call clubs before the Board he confirmed they would do so and that a fines tariff and other penalties for non-compliance would be implemented. A Player Registration embargo was an option if clubs failed to respond after a warning as indeed was the withholding of central funding. Having said that, he recognised that there is an appeal system in place for any club, or in fact the Conference itself, to challenge any decision made in respect of the Conference rules or articles. The Board was mandated by all 68 clubs to take on the onerous task of policing the system and maintain the integrity of the competition.
It was confirmed that Northwich Victoria and Chester City will start in their respective divisions minus 10 points but Brian Lee was hopeful that at the end of the forthcoming season they would be the only clubs to have suffered loss of points for whatever reason and that all clubs were able to trade within their means.
The 30th Congress weekend of The Football Conference honoured the memory of Jim Thompson who was a leading light behind the formation of the competition.
A Life Membership was bestowed on Phil Ledger (Woking FC) for his dedication and commitment to the competition.
General Manager Dennis Strudwick confirmed the publication of the 2009/2010 Fixture List was anticipated on or before Friday 3rd July.
A special thank you was extended to Blue Square for their sponsorship of all three divisions and the member clubs were advised that though this was the third and final year of their sponsorship agreement, discussions were already underway to extend the contract and continue to cement the excellent relationship which existed.
What's happening at Stratford-Upon-Avon
The weekend saw the Conference AGM in Stratford-Upon-Avon, when the club's entry into the Blue Square Premier was formally confirmed. The Dons' representatives at the meeting were Chief Executive Erik Samuelson and Club Secretary, David Charles.
This year's AGM took a slightly different format from the past, with members of the three leagues spending about an hour in separate pre-meetings before the start of the formal proceedings. Each league meeting had a series of suggested topics for discussion and feedback, although clubs could raise any issue they chose.
We decided to anticipate our elevation and attend the Premier pre-meeting where one of the main topics was the Conference rules on insolvency and their effect on clubs. These rules have been the subject of some controversy recently, not least when an FA appeal hearing reversed the Conference's decision and reinstated Northwich Victoria into the Blue Square North, albeit with a ten-point deduction for the coming season.
There was also a discussion about why the existing board was proposing to reduce its size to from twelve members to eight, comprising six Premier League members plus one each from the South and North. The reasons appeared to be a mixture of making the board more streamlined and trying to ensure that there were no vacant spaces due to a shortage of candidates, which had a certain irony given events in the AGM itself.
In the pre-meeting and in the AGM itself, there was extensive discussion about the situation regarding Setanta. Clubs were briefed on discussions to date with Setanta and the Conference Chairman, Brian Lee, reiterated a message he has been propounding for some time, which is for clubs to live within their means. The Conference is clearly taking its own advice, with a review of expenditure to see where savings could be made in the light of the uncertain economic environment.
In the AGM itself, Brian Lee explained that changes to the Football League ground requirements are on their way. While the proposals have yet to be finalised, it seems likely that there will be more stringent rules including:
. a requirement to have a pitch covering;
. higher lux readings needed for floodlights. (We already need to upgrade our lights for the Blue Square Premier and, subject to cost, it will probably make sense for the work to include increased lux levels for the Football League.)
. possible increases in the minimum dressing room sizes, presumably to reflect the trend to increase the number of substitutes and the growth in the number of people in back room teams.
These changes don't affect us yet but we will need to monitor them carefully to make sure we can comply when the need arises. At the same time, it is clear that grant funding is likely to be a lot harder to obtain than in the past, so we will need to find most or all of the funds ourselves.
Next, Dennis Strudwick, the Conference General Manager, announced that the fixtures for the 2009-10 season would be ready no later than Friday 3 July. Work can't start on them until the Football League announces its fixtures on Wednesday this week, since clubs are invited to 'pair' with other clubs to avoid clashes of fixtures and some Conference clubs pair with league clubs. It seemed that he was hoping that the fixtures would be published earlier that 3 July but we must wait and see.
Fans may not know that the Conference fixtures are prepared 'by hand', rather than using a computer program. Dennis was praised for his work, which member clubs appear to prefer to the automated approach used by most other leagues.
After changes to the Conference rules and Memorandum, came the election for board members. Despite the reduction in number of members needed to comprise the board (as mentioned earlier), there were still four vacancies for Premier League candidates since a large number of board members had stepped down,. The AGM papers named four Premier League candidates, thereby making the election look like a formality until, amid some confusion, ballot papers with six names were handed out. Members were then asked to add another name, in manuscript, because one retiring member of the board had made a last-minute decision to stand for re-election.
The result of the vote was that the three late additions to the list were elected, along with Gary Sweet of Luton Town as the sole member of the original four candidates to make the cut. Erik Samuelson was one of the unsuccessful candidates. The meeting ended shortly afterwards.
The remainder of the afternoon, and some of the evening, was a chance to catch up with other clubs. We also spoke to the Setanta representatives about arrangements for league games, gantries etc when the time comes.
The club had two tables at the awards dinner that evening and, as previously reported, we won every trophy for which we were eligible and had four members of the league representative team, as voted for by member clubs. Somehow the programme of the year awards weren't presented but we understand that this will be done at the pre-season meeting for clubs in July.
Conference AGM News...
By Christopher Vessey - 14/06/2009
Saturday was the day many fear with dread, that being Conference AGM day, and a wide range of issues were discussed and decided on, including promotion, relegation and the problems facing the leagues TV company Setanta Sports...
At the annual Conference AGM it was announced that the four relegated sides from the Conference Premier will stay as they are, after Chester City's ownership had changed and therefore had come out of administration.
The Blues had suffered relegation from League Two and were widely expected to be relegated further due to their crippling financial issues, therefore providing a possible reprieve for Woking, who finished in 21st, the final relegation place.
Fortunately for the Deva Stadium club, chairman Stephen Vaughan sold the club to other members of his own family, brought the club out of administration and the new Vaughan owners are expected to financially support the club.
This means Lewes, Northwich Victoria, Weymouth and Woking were all relegated. Gateshead and Tamworth were promoted from the Conference North, with AFC Wimbledon and Hayes & Yeading completing the quartet from the Conference South.
Relegated club Northwich Victoria won an appeal against a further relegation to the Unibond Premier and will now start on -10 points in the Conference North.
Kings Lynn's appeal against forced relegation due to ground grading issues was thrown out and they will now ply their trade in the Unibond Premier, therefore reprieving Hyde United.
Team Bath's resignation from the Conference South was accepted after they had learnt they could never win promotion to the Football League whilst playing as a University team, meaning Thurrock were the lucky recipients of a reprieve this time around.
Other changes made were the acceptance of short term loans to be increased from eight to twelve throughtout the season, and the fixtures release date was prompted for Friday July 3rd, although the Conference stated it could be earlier if possible.
A big talking point was the possible financial collapse of the Setanta Sports channel, who provide coverage of the Conference. A package was last night said to be in place to save the channel from going bust, but the Conference warned clubs to be prudent and not budget for the £75,000 a year retainer the station pay clubs for their troubles.
Meanwhile, congratulations must go to Cambridge United manager Gary Brabin, who won the 'Manager of the Year' Trophy for his efforts throughout the season.
Cards resigned to Blue Square South fate
June 15, 2009
PETER Jordan has insisted Woking FC did all they could in trying to earn a Blue Square Premier reprieve before confirmation of their Blue Square South status was rubber-stamped at Saturday's Conference AGM.
The Cards' director was one of a three-man delegation at the meeting in Stratford along with chairman Shahid Azeem and Phil Ledger.
He commented: “We did what we could because we felt we owed it to the fans to try and earn the club a reprieve if we could. We had a meeting with the Conference's lawyer and the directors before the AGM.
"It was decided that Chester hadn't broken any rules because they weren't then a Conference club [when they were demoted with a 10-point deducation]. So we didn't challenge it in the AGM itself having discussed it.
"We are now look forward to taking the club forward with a new challenge.”
Ledger was honoured with a lifetime membership of the Conference having been obliged to stand down from the board of directors after 12 years in light of Woking's relegation.
Chester City in the Blue Square Premier
13 Jun 2009
City voted in
Chester City today were unanimously accepted into the Blue Square Premier League following the AGM in Stratford upon Avon. Tony Allan today said he was delighted with the outcome of today,s vote after all the hard work done over the last few weeks at the Deva Stadium. City will start the season with a 10 point penalty but at last can start to plan for the forthcoming campaign.
Blues chiefs would like to thank the committee including Bill King and Charles Clapham for their full support as we once again start life in the division and look forward to a new start.
Season 2009 -10
by David Holmes
We can confirm that following today's Blue Square Conference AGM, Woking FC will be playing in the Conference South in season 2009/10.
In addition we are delighted to announce that Phil Ledger has been made a Life Member of the Conference for his sterling service over time. Everyone at the club congratulates Phil on this honour.
The Conference AGM takes place on Saturday morning in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Known affectionately (not) as the AGM Cup because it's almost become tradition that relegation positions are affected by decisions as the meeting.
Indeed Woking are interested in possible developments regarding Chester City since they could possibly get a reprieve and not be relegated to Conference South if Chester are thrown out. So much so that BBC Surrey are covering the event and are advertising that they will be reporting from Stratford at 2pm on Saturday in their Sports Show.
Media coverage here when available.
Cards spy an AGM loophole
Woking News and Mail, By Clive Youlton
June 11, 2009
AMBITIOUS Woking chairman Shahid Azeem is prepared to launch a legal challenge against Chester City should the Blues be accepted into the Blue Square Premier, as expected, at this Saturday's Conference AGM.
The Cards' chief is determined to be in a position to exploit any legal loopholes that may arise in his bid to earn Woking a reprieve following last season's relegation to Blue Square South.
Chester, demoted from League Two along with Luton Town, will start the next campaign with a 10-point deduction, with Azeem of the opinion that City should actually be relegated two divisions because of their financial situation.
He cited Boston United as a recent example of a club being demoted from the Football League by more than one division, with the likes of Altrincham saved at the 'AGM Cup' on more than one occasion having finished in the bottom four.
“I'm not a legal expert but if there is the slightest chance of earning Woking a reprieve then we owe it to the fans, our players and those who work at the club to make sure we take it,” he said.
“Clearly, Chester have not been accepted yet and so until they are we don't know what's possible.
“But I will be at the meeting and if there is anything we are not satisfied with and which we believe is outside the rules then we will challenge it.
“It's nothing personal we have against Chester. If they are accepted in accordance with the rules then fine. If there is the slightest grey area though, we can act at short notice and make a legal challenge."
Azeem accepted that Woking are faced with playing at the lower level but wants to do what's best for the club - and retaining Blue Square Premier status is his aim, even if that means another season of struggle.
“I believe that any player and manager would want to work at the highest level they can. We want to stay in the Premier for that reason.
“That would mean the expectations being lower and to be honest I would be more than satisfied if we were able to finish fifth from bottom in the Premier if we can stay in that division.”
The Conference's constitution will once again depend on what happens in the Football League meeting 24 hours earlier, when the likes of Darlington will have their League Two status rubber-stamped.
General manager and company secretary of the Conference, Dennis Strudwick, was not prepared to speculate on any Football League clubs that might be vulnerable, but added: “We are not aware of any challenge by Woking. Chester are not a Conference club until they are accepted by us at the AGM so they have not breached any rules.
“My understanding is we will be accepting Chester warts and all. Their situation is not an identical one to that of Boston. If Woking make a challenge at the meeting we will have to see what sort of challenge they present.”
Big week for Chester City as finances revealed
chestereveningleader.co.uk, 08 June 2009
CHESTER CITY face the most important week of their life this week.
The troubled club's financial position will be revealed to Chester City's creditors and shareholders by administrators Refresh Recovery in a meeting scheduled to be held at the Deva Stadium on Thursday.
The Blues moved into voluntary administration last month after the club suffered relegation from the Football League for the second time in nine years.
The meeting will determine how many bids have been received for Chester City as the club attempt to find someone to take over from current owner Stephen Vaughan.
The Blues are expecting to be officially accepted into the Blue Square Premier League when the Football Conference hold their annual general meeting on Saturday.
But Chester are likely to kick-off their campaign with the handicap of a 10-points penalty after their decision to enter administration.
MUCH EARLIER STORY FROM NON-LEAGUE PAPER:
(NOTE SOME OF THESE THINGS DIDNT GO THROUGH)
Desperate times, they say, call for desperate measures. The Conference (Blue Square Premier) hasn't quite reached desperation yet but, given the amount of clubs in the league who are struggling financially, their latest proposal is certainly one of the most radical to be suggested by football bosses in a long time.
Any Conference club who currently enters into administration at the moment can expect to be hit with an automatic 10 point penalty, which makes the season a struggle, although doesn't immediately mean relegation. Northwich are one side who've beaten a points deduction (although were subsequently automatically demoted for other reasons).
But with the economic downturn, Conference bosses have drawn up a drastic solution to encourage clubs to live within their means. Now, if the plans go through at the AGM in June, any club who enters administration will automatically be relegated the following season.
“Clubs should live within their means”
If the Conference succeeds in getting approval for the proposals, all 68 Blue Square clubs - Premier, North and South - would be subject to these financial rules for next season.
The Conference's chairman Brian Lee hopes the new rules will shock some of its members into sorting out their finances. Speaking at their EGM in Burton, Lee said: ““We are trying to modify our rules and regulations so any club who enters into any kind of insolvency procedure during the season – administration, liquidation or even a CVA – will be relegated.
“My argument is that clubs should live within their means. It was discussed on Thursday – it has to be fine-tuned and needs the agreement of the football authorities, then it will then be presented to the clubs at the AGM in the summer.
“We do not like the deduction of (ten) points, as it currently stands. I think it is a negative and offers an escape route. I think if a club is relegated, it sends out a stronger message.”
As well as the threat of relegation for financial mismanagement, the new rules would include the return of the Approved Player Budget (APB) or, in plain English, a salary cap. The APB was removed last season in favour of a broader solvency test, but the Conference wants the rule brought back.
Although financial crises are nothing new at non-league level, it's telling that this season a number of Blue Square clubs have sailed close to the wind. Weymouth may still fold, while Lewes have come close to administration along with, if rumours are to be believed, Oxford United.
Many other teams try to run full-sized squads without having the finances to back up the team. Northwich, Grays, Salisbury, Ebbsfleet, Mansfield and York have all faced financial problems this season, while Cambridge and Crawley have had well-documented problems in past seasons.
Dropping down to Conferences North and South, Burscough, Fisher Athletic, Bognor Regis Town, Stafford Rangers and Dorchester Town are all struggling financially, with the latter shedding players like they're going out of fashion after asking the team to take a 30% pay cut.
It's worth noting that, for some of these clubs, the current regimes aren't to blame for their current cash problems, but it's still a significant percentage that are suffering financially and the Conference has clearly had enough.
The proposals have drawn a largely positive response from non-league teams. Alex Rowe, the chairman of Torquay United, who worked under an APB in their first season in the Conference, gave a cautious welcome but warned it would only work if all clubs agreed to abide by the rules.
“If everybody plays by the rules, it's fine,” said Rowe. “What is not acceptable is people who will throw money at players and then can't pay the person who drives the team coach. That's not acceptable, and it's not fair.
“Having a salary cap concentrates the mind on your business plan and making sure you generate the biggest turnover possible.
“We certainly found it inhibiting at times last season, but I'm not against it in principle and we would hope to manage it better next time.”
Slightly less enthusiastic has been Boston United's chairman, David Newton, who has more reason than most to worry about the rules. Boston have suffered twice at the hands of the Conference. First they suffered a double demotion because of their finances when they were relegated from the league in 2007.
Then last season, when the Pilgrims were weeks away from exiting their CVA, they were demoted from the Blue Square North to the Unibond Premier because they were still in a CVA.
Writing in the Non-League Paper, Newton agrees that overspending clubs need to be punished, but warns that a one size fits all approach could hurt as many clubs as it helps.
“The punishment needs to fit the crime,” says Newton, “and I certainly don't think the majority of clubs who go into administration or CVA deserve that.”
Nonetheless, Newton seems very much in the minority when it comes to the Conference's plans and it seems the Football League is thinking in much the same way. At this end of this season, it's possible chairmen of the 72 league clubs could be asked to vote in favour of a salary cap from the Championship downwards.
The cap for each division could be based on average gate receipts for the respective leagues in the hope that curbing the spending of clubs would reduce the chance of teams going into financial meltdown. At the very least, it's hoped a cap would avoid a repeat this season's points deduction scenario, where Luton, Rotherham and Bournemouth all started the season on minus points.
The salary cap will not be popular with all clubs, but with financial experts warning that the recession is likely to be long, deep and painful, it suggests the authorities are looking for ways to head off potential financial crises that could kill a handful of clubs in the coming years.
The rules are the rules
Indeed, when it comes to financial dealings, the Conference has already shown it isn't afraid to implement tough financial rules. They have been judicious in regularly auditing club finances, have been ahead of the League when it comes to a salary cap and haven't been afraid to issue transfer embargoes.
The results of this due diligence is starting to be seen across football. Many of the clubs promoted from the Conference have adjusted to life quite comfortably in League Two with Exeter, Dagenham, Morecambe and Aldershot all coping well.
Meanwhile, eight non-league terms made the third round of the FA Cup with two progressing to the next stage, while those teams relegated to the Conference can't expect an easy ride back to a League place.
The deal with Setanta has also given non-league clubs plenty of television exposure (it's easier to catch a Blue Square Premier game on the TV than it is a League Two fixture) and has allowed clubs access to another pot of money they would normally have had access to (although there is still an issue around the late and inconvenient nature of the scheduling of non-league Setanta games).
The Conference has not always had the best of press for off-the-field, and the multiple points deductions for four clubs fielding ineligible players hasn't helped. And you have to go back to 2004 to find the last year that all the clubs who finished in the relegation spots went down, rather than earning reprieves after less well run clubs were demoted.
But the Conference has been striving to make itself more professional and the stronger regulations send out a message to high-spending clubs that they mean business. If it forces more teams to reassess their finances in a bid to stop them going to the wall, then this can only be another step in the right direction.
Latest | June 2009