Now that Sheffield Wednesday’s takeover is imminent, it is instructive to look in detail at some aspects of the tale. There is no doubt that the vast majority of the cast have been playing games of some sort while the club has sunk further into the financial mire. Chief Executive Nick Parker may have been shaking with anger at some of the when he stood outside London’s High Court last Wednesday. But even he played a game or two in his time.
People such as former director and friend of the current board Mick Wright are doing their best to let the games continue, now that the threat of administration has been averted for yet another bit. And there was a curious little background twist a couple of weeks ago, shortly after the consortium fronted by former Wednesday player/manager/you-name-it Chris Turner began to unravel. The Sheffield Wednesday Shareholders Association had an idea. And on November 2nd they “urgently” proposed the following “solution” to Wednesday’s woes:
“We would like to call on all four major shareholders of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club (Wednesdayite, Keith Addy, Geoff Hulley and Dave Allen) to pool their shareholding and make these available to any investor approved by the Bank and prepared to pay a minimum of £600,000 to HMRC.”
£600,000 was the money being petitioned for by the tax authorities in those long-ago, happier times. And as well as ridding the club of that burden, the Shareholders Association (SA) claimed a number of advantages for its scheme, with Secretary Nigel Short quotably calling it a “win-win for all parties.”
Wednesdayite, Sheffield Wednesday’s Supporters Trust, was quick to respond, within hours promising to undertake the logistically-mammoth task of “preparing for a full ballot of its members on the sale of its shareholding immediately.” And it offered “its full support to the suggestion “that the four major shareholders in SWFC Plc (in conjunction with a further 14% of individual shareholders) should offer their shares in the club, in return for the settlement of at least the outstanding HMRC debt.”
SA’s idea was a good one. Wednesdayite’s immediate support was a good move. But anyone good at those newspaper puzzles where you have to ring the “ten differences between these two pictures” will have done a double-take. The “14% of individual shareholders” were not mentioned in the SA’s initiative. They were tucked away in the extensive list of scheme advantages, with any prospective investor given the “opportunity to purchase shares from shareholders who committed to our prior scheme to co-ordinate shares.”
This was far more than semantics. The Shareholders’ Association was effectively asking everyone to make a brave gesture and take a financial hit. Everyone else, that is. “Their” shareholders could sell, or not, at a later date, if they wished, or didn’t. The SA was also, effectively, valuing the club at £1.5m, if it thought £600,000 could “buy” 40% of it. But there was no suggestion that “their” shareholders should accept such a low bid – and when a club with similar sized-support, albeit a Premier League one, has been sold for TWENTY-EIGHT times that amount while I’ve been typing this, £1.5m is low. So, why were they so keen to give away Wednesdayite’s shareholding?
Wednesdayite has never been universally popular among Wednesday fans. To this very day (November 19th), they are taking stick from individual supporters on their own website for being “a pointless organisation… while our club has struggled on for over a decade.”
And it still suffers the fallout from its predecessor, the Owls Trust, supporting Ken Bates in 2005 over… well… the details aren’t key, they supported Bates. So did the Shareholders’ Association just want to be the sole small shareholders’ voice at the club? Or, was the whole thing was an accidental oversight or a misprint? I’m desperately hoping it’s the latter. Because such division would be a disappointing microcosm of what has gone so wrong at Sheffield Wednesday this century – all power struggle and hidden agenda – and why their takeover has been “imminent” for so long, and why their demise might genuinely be imminent.
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