The dispute between City of Liverpool FC and their landlords, Bootle FC, which I discussed last week, escalated significantly on Monday and Tuesday.

On Monday evening, Bootle issued a short statement confirming that “Following a material breach of the ground-share agreement, and despite opportunities to rectify other identified breaches”, they had terminated the deal with City of Liverpool.

Bootle FC statement

Just before midnight, the Purps published a statement of their own, which called Bootle’s actions “ludicrous”, suggested that the Bucks’ trustees expressing sympathy for City fans, players and volunteers was “crocodile tears” and accused Bootle of bullying. City of Liverpool reckoned they had been evicted over £65.42, but said nothing about potential “other identified breaches” of their contract.

City of Liverpool statement

As you might expect, CoL coming out swinging did nothing to calm the situation. By Tuesday afternoon, the Northern Premier League had issued a statement in which they said they had offered to mediate but were powerless to intervene directly and there was an awful lot of mud being slung on social media, including this tweet, which was part of an exchange between a City of Liverpool supporter and a Bootle fan claiming some knowledge of the matter:

Tweet by RedAlan81

Now, I am not a lawyer and social media can be a minefield at the best of times. But, reading between the lines, what I think RedAlan81 is suggesting in his post is that:

  • A contractual payment due to Bootle FC in November 2023 (perhaps a quarterly instalment of the monies due for the groundshare?) was made 42 days late
  • Bootle invoked a clause in the contract which entitled them to charge interest on the monies paid late, which came to £65.42.
  • City of Liverpool were obliged to pay this interest, plus other costs, including insurances and for things like refuse collection and have allegedly not done so.
  • These outstanding items have led to the relationship between the Trustees of Bootle FC and the Senior Leadership Team at City of Liverpool to break down, which has led to the termination of the ground-share.

The sad thing is, we’ve been here before. City of Liverpool had played at Bootle for the first five years of their existence, but in March 2021, City announced they were leaving Vesty Road:

“Relations between the two clubs had frayed against the backdrop of the pandemic and by their actions Bootle made it abundantly clear that we had outstayed our welcome, but prior to this the two clubs had enjoyed good relations off the field and a healthy football rivalry. The feeling was largely mutual as a significant amount of our supporters and volunteers expressed a desire to leave Vesty Road. Consequently, we never opened discussions for a renewal of the agreement and Bootle never offered terms.”

As their 2021 statement goes on to say, City of Liverpool thought they had a groundshare lined up at Prescot Cables. Unfortunately, at that time, Cables had an unwieldy leadership structure and three Co-Chairmen and while I don’t know what happened, I suspect that one or more of these people was in discussions with the Purps but hadn’t properly followed up with the full Board. Either way, City of Liverpool found themselves with a problem, which they described as follows:

“With the curtailment of the season in February, Bootle FC announced publicly on the 3rd March that our Groundshare Agreement had ended. At 9pm that same night we received a phone call from Prescot Cables informing us that they had had a change of heart and had now decided that the Reserves team would be playing on the pitch instead. We were both astonished and angry at this turn of events, which left us with 28 days to secure a groundshare agreement with the suitable grading for the NPL or be relegated. The timing of this phone call / decision has left a very sour taste in our mouths.”

As a result, City of Liverpool signed a two-year agreement with Vauxhall Motors FC, whose ground more than met the ground grading requirements but was on the Wirral. However, after only one season in Ellesmere Port, the Purps were back at Bootle. Quite what had changed in the space of a year wasn’t immediately obvious but Vesty Road was, at least, on the correct bank of the River Mersey. Fast forward eleven months and City of Liverpool find themselves with six home League matches (and a home County Cup quarter final) still to play. Where will those matches be played?

Some might be played at the DCBL Stadium in Widnes, which CoL hired to stage their match last weekend. However, Widnes FC are already using that venue on three of the dates when City are due to be at ‘home’ and the local rumour mill suggests that, to get the Cables game played there, the Purps were obliged to pay out a four figure sum in advance. In addition, to stay at their current level, the club needs to have a new groundshare in place – with the appropriate ground grading – by the end of March.

There are only a handful of non-League grounds in the Liverpool City Region which meet the requirements and City of Liverpool have already left two of them. Marine have AFC Liverpool sharing with them already, a groundshare with Prescot Cables seems impossible and Runcorn Linnets turned CoL down before they went to Vauxhall Motors. So what next? Like East Thurrock United, Hamworthy United and Nuneaton Borough before them, City of Liverpool might find that without a permanent base they can’t survive.