A general view of The Raymond McEnhill Stadium, home of Salisbury City
Salisbury City FC are not a team that usually set tongues wagging in English football.
At the end of last season they sat just outside the four fully professional divisions of the national game, having finished in mid-table of the Conference Premier.
But in June, after missing a deadline to clear outstanding debts, Salisbury were demoted to the Conference South, one of two regional divisions that feeds into top division of non-league football.
Salisbury’s predicament arose after a botched takeover by Dubai-based Moroccan businessman Outail Touzar, who acquired 98% of the club in May, taking on outstanding debts of £150,000, before failing to make any investment and allegedly disappearing with £4,000 of fan money.
Supporter Mark Winter reportedly stumped up half the debt but, with the club having twice been in administration in the past five years – resulting in a double demotion in 2010 – the FA refused the club’s appeal against this latest relegation. The FA wouldn't even meet with the club at the arranged time.
The reason? Touzar – who was approved by the FA’s ‘fit and proper persons’ test – is banished by City, apparently impossible to contact, and the panel of delegates who arrived to argue Salisbury’s case were not recognised by the FA as the club’s official representatives.
And after hearing the news on Tuesday, they were not happy.
“Salisbury City are being monumentally stitched up by the FA and Conference which will ultimately lead to the demise of the football club,” opened a remarkable, error-ridden statement released by the club.
“We were due to go before an independent appeals panel at 12pm (Tuesday) to challenge the Conference boards [sic] decision to throw us out of the league.
“Yet barely 24 hours before our case was due to be heard the independent chairman objected to our appeal on the grounds we were not the legal owners and therefore had no right to appeal even though we were due to appear in the High Court 24hrs later and claim ownership of the club unchallenged.
“The FA, who had taken the unprecedented step of hearing and [sic] appeal from two sets of owners because privately they claimed they feared being sued by a fraudulent Moroccan owner whose only contribution to the club was to walk off with £4,000 of fans money, have now cut off all communication with the club and their legal advisers.
“This whole process is a complete farce. There is nothing independent about this process.”
Salisbury’s statement, which can only really be described as a conspiratorial rant, got angrier, making conspiracy theory claims about football’s governing bodies, explicitly accusing the FA of fearing legal action from the absconded owner.
“This is about football closing ranks and conspiring because they feel they are not accountable to anyone else accept [sic] themselves. The Conference board are a total disgrace governed by individuals with clear agendas against this club.
“Twice they entered Into negotiations with us making widespread demands we met including paying down all debts and putting up a £50,000 bond only to pull the plug on us at the 11th hours [sic].”
Salisbury also accused the Conference of harassing their players, and taking to message boards to criticise the club:
“Their general manager, Dennis Strudwick, sent a number of emails to former players criticising the club and their failure to pay down debts. While board member Colin Peake went out on blog sites and forums commenting on Salisbury.
“This is completely unacceptable and totally unprofessional. What these governing bodies have done is prejudice a board of directors whose only interest was to intervene and try and save their beloved football club.
“The Conference and FA can attempt to dress this up how they like but their atrocious, unaccountable actions are a disgrace, they are unfit to govern, they are a total embarrassment to the game they claim to represent.
“It is about time that these people were held accountable for their actions. Who the hell do they think they are?”
No-one was immune from their wrath – not even FA chairman Greg Dyke, who probably has had little input in this affair but – by accident of geography – was given a roasting from Salisbury.
“I wonder how Greg Dyke, the FA chairman, who lives in a small village just outside of Salisbury feels about this?
“Perhaps he should be holding his head in his hands in shame that he presides over an organisation that thinks they are above the law.
“Let's us not forget that while Salisbury were the unfortunate victims of a complete fraudster if the Conference and FA's pathetic and farcical fit and proper persons test hadn't been in operation he wouldn't have been able to take control of the club in the first place.
“What idiots allow an individual to make up a name and only ask him to provide an email address as confirmation he is fit to own a football club? You guessed it the bungling fools at the Conference and FA.
“What they have conspired to do to Salisbury City is disgraceful and against the moral obligation they have to the teams under their charge.”
Regardless of the justification of their ire, you have to feel for Salisbury. Financial problems have beset the club for some years now, and – as previously mentioned – they were sent two divisions down from the Conference Premier four years ago.
But back-to-back promotions found them back in the fifth tier of English football and, in spite of ongoing difficulties and a transfer embargo, they managed to establish themselves in that division, in a good place to build for promotion.
It is doubtful that this mysterious Mr Touzar is fully responsible for their predicament – they were unable to pay their players for two months before his arrival, and had been haemorrhaging cash for years previously.
Whatever way you look at the situation, it is a right old mess. And you have to wonder if rants like this will help the club's case.
- Sports & Recreation
- Conference Premier