It will probably warrant a mere footnote in most of the newspapers should the worst happen, but it would appear that Swindon Town are closer to extinction than we had at first suspected. The local newspaper in the area this morning reported that any take-over of the club might cost as much £18m – a considerable amount of money for a club in the lower divisions with few, if any, assets. The pessimism around The County Ground is such that many are now openly wondering whether the club will still be solvent for their League One match against Tranmere Rovers next week.
What is amazing about the amount of debt that Swindon Town have got themselves into is how little return they have had to show for it recent years. Massive amounts are owed to people that have “invested in the club” in recent years (a quick note here to people who are hoping for a multi-millionaire to “invest” in their club – people with a lot of money don’t usually throw their money around lightly, and usually look for a return on their investment). We know that Swindon haven’t spent massive amounts of money on their ground (as anyone has that has sat at the still uncovered away end at The County Ground will be able to testify) and they haven’t been conspicuous by their success on the pitch, either.
It’s all a long way from their greatest moment, when, in 1969, Don Rogers swerved through Arsenal’s defence to help Swindon win the League Cup by three goals to one on a sand-covered Wembley pitch. In 1990 they were promoted to the First Division momentarily, before being caught making illegal payments and being demoted with Sunderland taking their place. They made it up three years later under the managership of Glenn Hoddle. Hoddle, however, left for Chelsea during the summer, and Swindon’s solitary season in the Premier League was a disaster. With John Gorman taking over, they became (as noted on here before) the only Premier League club to concede one hundred goals in the season and, since then, they have dropped back down to the lower divisions. Two seasons ago they became the first Premier League team to drop down to League 2, although they bounced straight back up last season under Paul Sturrock.
Meanwhile, though, the crisis backstage was deepening. The club has “survived” two spells in administration but had failed both of the CVAs that it had entered into. It was apparent before this season even started that a take-over was the only way that the club’s medium-to-long term future could be secured. However, The County Ground is owned by Swindon Council, which minimises the amount of money that they can make through match day revenue, and also means that they are less attractive to investors, since they have no assets of any valuable. There are many people that will happily tell you that there is too much money in football, but little (if any) of it makes its way down to the lower divisions. It seems difficult to believe that anyone will show much interest in paying the sort of money that would be required to keep them afloat. They owe the tax man £1.8m and have to pay £900,000 to keep their CVA going. Add to this that they are still losing money on a weekly basis and the aforementioned lack of assets, and the picture isn’t a happy one.
Swindon’s Supporters’ Trust seems to be one of the more clued-up in the game (given events there of late, they have needed to be), so any complete collapse would at least result, in all likelihood, in the formation of a new, trust-run club, but it is doubtful that the club would manage this without folding first. That’s the problem with financial difficulties this major when they occur this early in the season. It becomes all about keeping the club solvent on a day-to-day basis and, whilst Swindon may have been able to keep themselves afloat for a couple of weeks or, at best, a month or two. I can’t see how they’re going to be able to keep their creditors happy whilst being able to pay the bills for the next seven months. It seems almost superfluous to say that the Premier League will look the other way, even though this lot were one of them for a short while. Perhaps some sort of charitable pot with Premier League clubs chucking in £1m a year each (small change to each and every one of them) to put into newly-founded trust-run clubs would be a start, but I suspect I’ll see pink elephants flying over Brighton Pier before I see that happening. As ever, the people that will suffer the most will be the supporters, and we all hope that Swindon will pull through.