There were over 20,000 people at Hillsborough last night to Sheffield Wednesday lose at home to Huddersfield Town in League One and, much as that defeat may have dented the home side’s chances of promotion this season, the overwhelming feeling this week has been that Wednesday have got bigger fish to fry at the moment than the mere attainment of points in the league. It is now two months since Wednesday were last at the High Court, having their debt to HMRC paid off by the Co-Operative Bank in order to stave off a winding up order. This may have protected the bank’s position in the short-term, but Wednesday have managed to find a route back to being before the judge – the amount paid off in September was merely the amount in the petition, so the club finds itself back to square one again.
Against this background the search for new ownership for the club continues, but the club hit a major snag this week with the news that a buyout by Kevin Mundie’s Certified Oilfield Rentals group has hit the buffers. Sheffield Wednesday are back in court on the seventeenth of November, and it seems at the very best highly unlikely that Wednesday will be bailed out by the bank again. If they don’t have new owners by the day of the next winding up hearing, they will have little option but to enter into administration in order to safeguard the future of the club in any sense at all. There have been plenty of chinese whispers on the subject of new ownership, but nothing as yet seems to have gone beyond that and the apparent collapse of COR’s interest in the club represents the end of the most plausible bid to get the club back on its feet. In the meantime, former chairman Dave Allen, now the chairman of Chesterfield, has offered his shares in the club to be given away providing he gets £1.5m of the £2.4m that he claims to have put into the club back, all of which looks like altruism until the dread prospect of him having to accept, say, 10p in the pound as the result of a CVA hones into view.
Perhaps one of the biggest problems that the club has if it is to attract new investment is the fact that the case to heard in two weeks’ time will be their second in three months. Who is going to throw £600,000 into Sheffield Wednesday to stave off another winding up petition with any knowledge of this? It will feel like pouring a very large amount of money onto a very big fire. At this stage, it feels as if there is little more than hope amongst hope that someone will step in and pay this amount of money. In addition to this amount of money, it is estimated that the club will need to raise further £1.5m in order to keep trading until the end of the season. Considering, however, that one of those involved in Mundie’s consortium was Russell Morgan, a former sports agent who was sentenced to sixteen months in prison for 11 charges of obtaining money while an undischarged bankrupt and two of making a false statement last year, Wednesday supporters could even be forgiven for thinking that they have dodged a bullet on that particular deal.
With this in mind, Save Our Owls was born at a meeting held on the 28th of October. A coming together of Wednesdayite, Wednesday Till I Die, the Shareholders Association and Time To Go, Save Our Owls has a four-point manifesto to try and save the club: funding, protest, formal action and publicity. Whether there is time to save the club from entering into administration is a moot point, but once again the intertia of those running the club has meant that a protest group has emerged as the best – quite possibly the only – way of saving its soul. We shall have to wait and see whether they can be successful in thrusting the plight of their club into the media spotlight and whether this can be enough to convince people with good intentions to save the club in the short, medium or long term.
We’re not going to go into any greater detail on Sheffield Wednesday’s plight and would suggest that, if you wish to get further information on the current situation at the club or on what role you can play in saving it, we would suggest that you visit the Save Our Owls website. There is, however, a broader point to made about this sad story. Sheffield Wednesday has been left in this precarious position by years of mismanagement, but there is no reason to believe that a club of its size isn’t a viable club or business. The same goes for every other club in this position. What we are witnessing here, yet again, is a failure of the economic system that the overwhelming majority of football clubs have chosen to adopt. The list of clubs that have found themselves in this position grows longer but, whilst each club has its own tale of woe to tell, this one basic failure is the one thing that underpins them all.
The question could certainly be asked of how many times this situation has to be reached before something material is done about it – before effective regulation to ensure that this situation is reached over and over again. Before, rather thank merely thinking, “there but for the grace of God go I”, supporters organise themselves across their tribal rivalries against a system that has allowed this situation to be reached over and over again. Will it really take the closure of a football club of the size, scale and history of Sheffield Wednesday to force the issue? Should that really be necessary? Supporters of every club will keep their fingers crossed that it won’t be theirs that ends up as the sacrificial lambs, but every time a football club finds itself in this position the game’s Doomsday Clock slips a little closer to midnight. Today Sheffield Wednesday, tomorrow your club – you already know that it’s not half as unlikely as any of us would like to admit, much of the time.
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