Today is a day etched in any diary kept by a footballer. We may still have the several major summer highlights to come – the Commonwealth Games,
the England-India test series, the finale to Wimbledon and the British Grand Prix, as well as the closing stages of the World Cup – but July 1 for a
footballer means the summer is over, and a return to pre-season training.
The next five weeks of work will provide the basis of fitness for the season ahead. Rarely is it seen as enjoyable, although the harder it is, the greater the long term benefits.
As I write, deals for players signing for new clubs at the lower end of the pyramid are being done thick and fast. The reality that June is the last pay packet cannot be overlooked any longer. Players need to be training to have a chance of being in the first team on the opening day of the season but for two cathedral city clubs, even starting the season will be something of an achievement.
Both have a similar population – around 40,000 – and both, if they were an animal, would have been relieved of their suffering long ago.
Hereford United and Salisbury City are both in a mess, although they reached their perilous positions for different reasons. Salisbury may not even see out the week.
As things stand, the Wiltshire club’s key deadline is Friday. Find a six figure sum by then, to pay HMRC, all their football creditors and a bond
demanded by the Football Conference, and they’ll only drop one level on financial grounds, but the odds look long.
The owner has resigned, the manager has joined the youth team set up at Portsmouth, and other clubs have cherry picked ten of the players who could see what was coming. Six will still be in the Conference Premier next season, leaving a club where the team has outgrown the fan base it serves.
Traditionally, Salisbury was a Southern League club. When, in 1997, they left their council owned ground for the Raymond MacEnhill Stadium, they were still at that level. Promotion to the Conference South and then the Conference Premier brought bigger financial demands that the club could not sustain.
There may have been four promotions in the last decade, but they’ve also spent a season in administration. A double demotion in 2010 now looks like repeating itself, and that might be as good as it gets, as folding is a very real possibility.
It could be argued Salisbury overspent from a small budget to compete at a level never previously achieved. but that would not be the defence for Hereford United’s demise.
Amongst my programme collection is one from a game at Edgar Street in 1976 against Southend United. It was in what would now be League 1, and United’s crowds were regularly around the 6,000 mark. Some matches attracted more than 10,000 to a venue made famous by Ronnie Radford in the FA Cup.
As recently as 2009, they were again in the third tier, but only three seasons later the Football League place they were awarded at Barrow’s expense 40 years earlier was lost. The bottom, almost literally, dropped out of Hereford’s football world.
The Football League sponsorship money disappeared, as did many of the fans. Television revenue from the FA Cup staved off the tax man in 2013, but last season was riddled with winding up orders and last ditch appeals for money.
As at Salisbury, players were creditors and so their spirit to avoid relegation on the pitch on the final day – ironically with Salisbury’s help – was remarkable yet now United seem only a step shy of being rudderless too.
They have no manager. The former chairman, having sold the club for £1, has stood down as a director. The new owner has, within a month, left the board himself and then re-joined it.
At least a place in the Southern League has been approved, providing United can side step another winding up order on July 7.
It would be fitting if Salisbury could be on their fixture list again as both try to rebuild football houses that are close to falling down but there are hoops to be jumped through for that to happen. One thing is for sure. Management of their affairs from here on must be more prudent.
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