Worcester City – a club in freefall

It’s only four years ago that Worcester City were slaying giants in the FA Cup – a 2-1 away win against Coventry City at the Ricoh Arena.

That was followed up by a draw away to Scunthorpe United. The replay was at the home of Kidderminster Harriers, the game ending with an historic FA Cup penalty shootout – United winning after 27 spot kicks.

With the background of a newly dismantled stadium and multiple failures to get planning permission on several sites for a new ground, it was far from plain sailing at the club.

However that seemingly did not matter back then, as a results on the pitch continued to improve under then-manager Carl Heeley.

With plans accepted last year for a ground to be built on Parsonage Way, the owner now claims it may take the club becoming “amateur” to fund it.

Decimation of funds

The away end was packed on a sunny day in Coventry back in 2014; when me and several friends were lucky enough to be present.

A former Manchester United youth player who had been in the same side as Danny Welbeck  as a junior, Sean Geddes, got both goals for Worcester on the day.

This was all new to many of those who had watched City in their previous iterations. Players deemed to have an experience of higher levels of football were often preferred to local lads as the club continued to live outside of its means.

In fact only a few years ago did former striker, Mark Owen, begin to look for local talent to incorporate into the first team – setting up a footballing programme incorporated into the local Tech College.

Relegated three divisions last season due to financial mismanagement, City now play their football at the home of new league rivals, Bromsgrove Sporting, in the ninth tier of English football.

So where has all the money gone? After a successful cup run which saw their home replay against The Irons shown on BT Sport, you’d expect the club to be in good shape.

However, City Owner Anthony Hampson told the Worcester News newspaper recently that the club could go “fully amateur” by next season.

Lee Hughes has moved onto Halesown Town

Lee Hughes had been co-managing with John Snape this season

Now playing in the Midland Football League, Hampson believes next seasons playing budget will have to be axed to fund the proposed stadium in Parsonage Way.

There will be about £150,000 left at the end of this season. If everyone works together, we could scrape to phase one. It is a much smaller club now and will be run in a far more realistic way.”

Hours before this news, former co-manager and player Lee Hughes quit the club. Taking on a playing role at Halesowen Town, the former West Bromwich Albion and Notts County striker seemingly made his dash for the exit.

New money in non-league football

In truth, Worcester City have always been a fairly small club which often overachieved by retaining their almost football league status for 25 years and having the odd good cup run.

Salford City and Billericay Town having budgets which dwarf that of Hampson’s, and it is true that competition in the leagues have become somewhat skewed.

‘Des Lyttle, was signed back in 2005 and was rumoured to be pulling in over £1,000 a week’

City have attempted to counteract that over the years with high-profile signings such as Elliot Deeney, brother of Watford striker Troy, and the aforementioned Geddes.

Also, former Nottingham Forest and West Bromwich Albion defender, Des Lyttle, was signed back in 2005 and was rumoured to be on over £1,000 a week.

Which is the kind of unrealistic deal that has contributed to where the club see themselves today. This may be a good argument as to why they should have invested more into the local community.

After all, the county has recently produced players such as Joe Lolley (Huddersfield Town), Nathan Baker (Bristol City), Harry Hooman (ex-Cheltenham Town) and Bobby Dale (Cheltenham Town) – fortunately in those cases other clubs got involved.

Hampson and the cost of ambition

Many fans see serial mismanagement as the main problem, evidenced by past failed attempts at negotiating a deal with Worcester Warriors owner Cecil Duckworth to head the club. It currently has little hope of any large-scale investment.

Worcester City owner Anthony Hampson

Hampson also claimed in the Worcester News that the hole left in revenue from last season, leading to eventual relegation, was due to the large wage bill of the previous campaign. His assessment of Carl Heeley is that he stretched the club too far.

“I think Carl should have cut the budget much sooner after the cup run did not materialise. The manager has to accept what the deal was at the beginning of the season. He knew what it was but held on to the players. From there, it is quite difficult to cut back.”

Losses of £290,000 for the year ending May 2017 showing a huge spike from the previous financial year in which losses were reported at £150,000.

Worcester City vice-chairman, Colin Layland, also told the Worcester News: “It hasn’t helped us playing away from Worcester, paying another club while trying to compete in National League North. The playing budget and overall expenses would have been higher at that level.”

However when questioned on who then decided the budget he said: “It was a board decision after consulting with the manager.”

Whether the board or former manager decide to publicly take responsibility for the state of matters, remains to be seen – Heeley so far has stated that he will not speak until he has “fully digested the comments” made by the owner.

Photos courtesy of Worcester News