As the Premier League was kicking and screaming its way into the world in 1992 amidst talk of a revolution in the way football was played and watched, there was a less seismic but equally historic development unfolding much further down the pyramid. As the First Division clubs packed up their things and left to take up lucrative new contracts in the revamped top flight, Aldershot of the Fourth Division became only the second club in League history, and the last to date, to crash out of business without fulfilling its obligations for the season, crippling debts sending the club to the wall with two months of fixtures outstanding.
The doomed Shots could have been remembered as the first casualty of a new footballing conflict – the mega-rich of the new digitized elite versus the old order of locally focused clubs reliant on loyal community support. That history tells it differently is a testament to the bloody minded stubbornness of fan movements that have shown they are capable of resisting the extra pressure placed on their clubs by a bloated aristocracy. Aldershot were re-born under the tutelage of a small band of supporters and within 16 years had battled their way back to the Football League. This proud young legacy however looks to be coming all too prematurely to an end.
The second coming of Aldershot will be wound up this week unless a deal can be struck with the club’s creditors over outstanding debts. The receivers are making pessimistic noises. With three of the club’s former directors reluctant to come to terms on a reduced payment plan, a happy ending looks unlikely, and the £600,000 raised by a consortium led by chairman Shahid Azeem to buy the club looks increasingly to have been in vain. At last count, the group is still some £50,000 short of the figure necessary for a CVA (Company Voluntary Agreement) to take effect, leaving the club facing a future that may not extend beyond the weekend. With the Conference Premier announcing a new set of fixtures this week the affair has become, amongst other things, a question of timing.
The question mark over the club’s future has been hanging since long before the end of last season, and whilst the Shots only became the responsibility of the Conference authorities upon their relegation in May, in sanctioning their entry to the league the board have failed in their duty to their other members. The non-League’s top flight comprises 21 clubs who have been able to offer guarantees of solvency to begin the season, and one who may not be around come kick-off in August. A deadline or two before the fixture list was drawn up and published could have offered a more stable set of prospects for all concerned.
Because there’s an unfriendly truth about Aldershot’s fall, that applies to almost any club that fails to get things right when balancing the books. The journey that took the club from their lowest point back into the League may be dripping in romance and resolve but it’s also the story of a business that operated beyond its means to pull in rewards that should have been out of its reach. It’s the story of a club that failed to appraise their changing circumstances as they pushed through the divisions and have ultimately paid the price for not making the necessary sacrifices to a playing budget that has proved unsustainable.