“The UK owners that I am dealing with have got a history in football”

What an under-reaction there has been from Wigan Athletic fans on social media to the Daily Mail’s news. Why is that so?

For weeks we have been waiting for news of fresh buyers for the club. They have been stressful, difficult weeks for us fans, worrying about the continued existence of the club. The lack of consistent news coming from the administrators and the media has hardly helped to ease an atmosphere of unease.

Gerald Krasner’s interview by a Channel 4 reporter did not go well initially. After having previously suggested a preference for a British buyer he over-reacted to the interviewer’s questions about it. The clip from Channel 4 news can be accessed here. The interview with Krasner appears at the 2:35 mark. Lisa Nandy’s comments on the administrators’ slowness of acquiring new ownership can be found at 3:26.

Reports this morning suggest that Frankel and Kalt have now dropped their offer from £4m to £2m following news of these players’ transfers.

Krasner had stated on the Channel 4 news that:

“The UK owners that I am dealing with have got a history in football. That’s why it would be better.”

My understanding was that the administrators are obliged to accept the highest bid and cannot discriminate between bidders. Does Gerald Krasner have the right to select a buyer based on their history in football? Have these potential UK owners been bidding a higher price than the Americans?

As the process of finding a new owner has dragged on so have the costs to be applied by Begbies Traynor. In mid-August Latics shareholders received an 89-page document entitled “Wigan Athletic A.F.C. (Limited): In Administration”. It contained a series of proposals related to the administration process for the club.

The document contained details of the charges that Begbies Traynor would levy and an estimate of the administrators’ fees:

At an hourly rate of some £358 for the duration of the administrators’ involvement is key. Put simply, costs will continue to climb very steeply as long as the process is not completed.

Rumour suggests that 36-year-old Joe Sealey, son of ex-Manchester United goalkeeper, Les Sealey is making a bid to buy the club. Sealey was involved in a bid to buy Macclesfield Town from Amar Alkahdi in January.

The other option working towards Latics’ survival continues to thrive and get nearer and nearer to the half million pound target: a terrific effort.

Meanwhile the preparations for the coming season continue to get better:

 

 

 

Thoughts on a trip to Fleetwood and Ian Lenagan

 

Click here to view the Administrators’ Press Conference.

What has been happening at Wigan Athletic over these weeks? Or perhaps we should say what has not been happening. Trying to get an accurate picture of what is going on is akin to that of finding a needle in a haystack.

The footage from the administrators’ conferences with the press and supporters club did little to clarify that picture.

Prior to that I had listened to Jonathan Jackson and Caroline Molyneux. The love the two of them have for the club shone through during the broadcast, even if the mechanism by which the funds donated by the fans would be used as a back-up to help the club survive did not really crystallise in my head after viewing.

The ins and outs of what we have heard from the administrators and Alan Nixon have left me confused. What is the real case scenario?

But Gerald Krasner had said that the club and the stadium would not be sold separately……….

With my mind in a state of confusion I found Jay Whittle’s interview with Wigan MP, Lisa Nandy:

Nandy’s clarification of events and procedures was welcome after the conflicting information that had preceded it. Nandy backs the Jackson/Molyneux initiative and sees a supporter-run club as an alternative if a buyer is not found. Her reference to the efforts of Warriors chairman, Ian Lenagan, to raise funds for a local buyout of the club was of particular interest.

My mind was boggled but then I remembered that the administrators said that we can at least start the incoming season. Of course, amid all the financial talk one can forget: we have a Carabao Cup game in eight days time at Fleetwood. What a pleasure to think of that, rather than the depressing, worrying stuff about the long-term future of the club.

I watched Wigan Athletic play at Fleetwood in my early teens. Decades have passed since then. It was when Fleetwood were in the Lancashire Combination and Latics in the supposedly-superior Cheshire League.

Despite having so many school friends who derided Latics as “tin-pot”  I used to love watching them as a non-league club and I built up a resentment towards those who thought everything in Wigan revolved around the cherry-and-whites at Central Park.

I must admit my mindset has not changed so much, despite the academic degrees I have accumulated and having lived and worked in far-flung beautiful countries around the world. To say that I retain a lack of empathy towards the rugby club is an understatement. It is nothing rational: it just is.

I was brought up just around the corner from St Patrick’s, a prolific breeding ground of rugby league players. Ian Lenagan went to primary school there before going to West Park Grammar School in St Helens, which provided him with a base to launch a distinguished career. Lenagan went on to academic success at Manchester and Liverpool universities before making his money in software products for workplace management on a global scale. He was also a successful theatre producer, with over 30 productions before becoming the major shareholder in Harlequins and Oxford United, then becoming chairman of the Football League. Lenagan bought the Wigan rugby league club from Dave Whelan in 2007 and his record speaks for itself.

The rumours of Lenagan trying to buy the DW Stadium this week have provoked a shockwave among Latics fans. Part of their anxiety rests in the problems that English football clubs have had after selling their stadium. But more of it lies in the enmity between football and rugby in the town of Wigan.

Football has had a hard time establishing itself over rugby over the decades. In August 2011 I wrote an article entitled “Is Wigan a Rugby Town” providing stats to show that the football club had better attendances in that era. Latics were in the Premier League and blue and white was starting to challenge cherry and white in the town centre.

Wigan is a small town, albeit in the massive conurbation that is Greater Manchester. Rugby League runs on low budgets and Warriors can excel at being a big fish in a small pond. Latics are a small fish in a huge pond. To spend eight years in the Premier League, reach the League Cup Final, win the FA Cup was a massive overachievement that will probably never happen again.

Part of Latics’ problem is that they have fans from that era who have high expectations, based on the years that were funded by Dave Whelan’s benevolence. It is hard for those fans to envisage a club that is probably never going to reach such levels again. Gate receipts over these years have been poor, despite generous season ticket prices. Attendances were never going to be high in an environment where not only rugby is competing, but thousands travel to Manchester and Liverpool to watch the elite clubs play.

But let’s get back to that perhaps irrational fear of Lenagan and the rugby taking over the DW Stadium.

We have heard that the stadium company loses money year upon year. So why would Lenagan like to take it on?

On the face of it Latics might be better served financially by a rugby takeover of the stadium. Reports suggest that Dave Whelan charged the Warriors 10% of their gate receipts to use the DW. Should Lenagan succeed he would have to deal with a Wigan Athletic on its knees, possibly unable to pay the kind of rent he would need. Why would he want to buy the stadium?

Some things don’t add up.

“We strongly believe that Wigan Athletic is better being locally-owned. As sustainability and ownership of the stadium is equally important to both clubs, we are currently working with our longstanding advisers KPMG and talking to external parties. Our intention is to identify other investors quickly and start due diligence on the football club with the intention of making a bid in due course. We have made the Administrators aware of our interest and hope to explore this with them further over the days ahead.

Wigan Warriors and Wigan Athletic are both local sporting institutions and it is our belief that this is a unique opportunity here to bring the ownership of these two great clubs together under one roof, each operating independently as before, but under a Wigan Sporting Partnership banner. It is envisaged that each club would retain all its training grounds, management and facilities.”

The announcement on July 7 came on the Warriors’ web site. It was light years away from that infamous 80’s interview with the controversial Maurice Lindsay that really stirred things up with the football aficionados of the town:

Lenagan has not adopted such a tone. He has been a breath of fresh air coming from a club that rarely provided it towards its football counterparts. His message in July was positive and conciliatory. But there has been a lack of communication since then.

The administrators today poured cold water on the prospect of somebody buying the stadium but not the football club. But will that position last if no club buyer comes through? Is Lenagan simply looking after the well-being of his own club by ensuring that they can continue to play at the DW Stadium whatever happens to the football club?

Ian Lenagan is a bright and talented businessman. The question is whether his motives towards Wigan Athletic are primarily well-intentioned or business- minded.

As an early teen I enjoyed the games at places like Fleetwood, Congleton and Hyde.

The Fleetwood club of those days has had reincarnations, the latest result being Andy Pilley’s Fleetwood Town. I would not be surprised if they beat Latics by a big score next week. But I will nevertheless make every effort to watch the game and stay hopeful. The circle has tuned halfway, Latics falling two divisions from their zenith, Town at their highest point.

I remain nervous about our club’s survival but look forward to the game at Fleetwood in eight days’ time.

In the meantime the Daily Mail reports that what Nixon referred to as the French American team are ready to buy the club. Let’s hope the deal happens soon and it includes the DW Stadium.

A debt-free fresh start for Latics?

Why did Au Yeung Wai Kay waive his rights to the £25.3m “loan”?

We may never know the real reason but there is no shortage of opinions from Latics fans on the social media, with conspiracy theories abounding. But whatever the reason it is great news for the survival of the club.

There remains a £6m debt to be paid off to football creditors and another £4m to non-football creditors. To avoid a 15-point deduction for the coming season Latics need to pay the football creditors in full and pay 25% of the other £4m.

When the change of ownership is completed the administrators will need to be paid off and a figure around £2m could be needed.

There has been consternation among some fans regarding the fire sale that we have seen in recent weeks. Three outstanding youth players were sold off, ifollowed by regular first team starters Kieffer Moore, David Marshall, Antonee Robinson and Joe Williams. Sheffield Wednesday’s purchase of Joss Windass was no surprise, given that he had been on loan there. However, although those players have been released for sums well below their normal market values, the combined revenues will go a long way towards paying off the creditors.

The fire sale may well continue until the ownership issue is resolved. With the debt much reduced than it was a couple of weeks ago the club is now a more attractive package for purchase. However, although five major earners have departed there will need to be more shed if the wage bill is to be commensurate with the division Latics find themselves in.

There have been rumours of other clubs interested in Cedric Kipre and Jamal Lowe. However, it remains to be seen whether the administrators would sell them off in the current buyers’ market or if they would allow the future owners to make such a decision. If a new owner were to come in and continue to fund the wage bill in the short-term it would allow them more time to get better fees for assets yet to be sold off. The administrators have needed ready cash to pay off the club’s debts, rather than following the usual route of transfer fees being received in instalments. Selling any further player contracts by means of instalments would surely provide a higher return and money coming in during the future.

Once the ownership issue is dealt with Latics can expect revenue coming in from the EFL and instalment payments due to them from previous player sales.

It remains to be seen what Latics and other clubs will do about season tickets and televising of matches. Reports suggest that fans will be welcomed back in October but with stadium capacity reduced to 25%.  The capacity of the DW Stadium is listed at 25,138 meaning they would be allowed to accommodate just less than 6,300, a figure close to the number of season tickets they have sold in recent years. However, the new rules are unlikely to include away supporters who pay at a higher rate per game than season ticket owners. Revenues will be relatively small, but at least there will be some money coming into the club.

The UK economy is in recession and football clubs, like other businesses, will be under pressure. More football clubs will most likely go into liquidation over the coming months.

The Swiss Ramble figures for 2018-19 show Wigan Athletic with a lower gross debt – £21m – than most Championship clubs, being dwarfed by the £142m of Blackburn Rovers. Given the recent actions of the administrators that debt is being reduced.

Some clubs are under benevolent ownership, as were Wigan Athletic to a large degree under Dave Whelan. Other clubs have owners willing to allow a club to go into considerable debt in search of a potential Premier League pay off. It is a dangerous path that is being followed by so many clubs.

During the coming week we most likely learn that Wigan Athletic have new owners. Whoever it is they will be taking over a club that has lower debts than many. Following the rocky period that the club has been through in recent months there is a need for stability and a long-term plan sustainability. Let us hope the new owners will be able to provide those things.

 

Why relegation to League 1 might not be such a bad thing for Wigan Athletic

Wigan Athletic’s wage bill in the 2018-19 season amounted to some £19.4m. The club’s revenue was £11.5m. The figures for the 2019-20 season recently completed are likely to be even more stark, given the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on football revenues.

Were Ian Lenagan and his associates to take over Wigan Athletic we could expect a wage budget somewhere between 10-15% of what was paid last season. Lenegan would run the club within its means, in a stark contrast to what has happened over the recent years.

Stats courtesy of The Swiss Ramble

The Rugby Union’s Premiership has a salary cap of £7m per club whereas that of rugby league’s Super League is of £2.1m.

Clubs in the EFL are about to vote on salary caps for their three divisions. A cap of £2.5m is proposed for clubs in League 1, with £1.25m for League 2 clubs. The figure being quoted for the Championship is £18m.

The caps for the lower two divisions might well be accepted by the majority of the clubs involved, although a club like Sunderland, desperate to get out of League 1 and with a wage budget over £10m might not be happy about it.

Were Latics to continue with even a handful of players who regularly appeared last season and remain under contract there would be no way of staying within that £2.5m figure. We can therefore expect almost all of the current senior squad players to depart. Many of those players will already be considering their next move. It is typical to have relegation clauses in contracts which lower player salaries in the event. However, on the flip side players can have clauses inserted which give a maximum price for a transfer. Reports suggest that Antonee Robinson can leave for £1.5-£2m due to such a clause, whereas he was due to move to Milan in January for some £6m.

Existing players’ wages would be regarded as the divisional average as far as the salary cap is concerned. The average League 1 salary is around £1,800 per week. Latics could therefore keep some of their higher paid players without breaking the salary cap, although the big fall in revenues involved in dropping down a tier makes it unlikely that such luxuries be afforded. The last time Wigan were in League 1 they spent £11.7m on salaries in a bid to get out of the division. They made a loss of over £9m over that 2017-18 season as a result.

For the moment the administrators must bring in as much cash as possible through player sales. Transfer fees are typically paid in instalments, but Latics currently need cash upfront in order to pay salaries and repay their football debts of £6m. If salaries are not paid the club runs the risk of losing players without receiving transfer fees through not fulfilling contractual obligations. Given the situation we can expect players to be sold for fees well below market value or even released for free.

A period of austerity is coming for all clubs in the lower divisions. For Latics the situation is exacerbated by the extraordinary actions of the previous owners. In the long-term it is going to be of paramount importance that the academy is funded as it has been previously. The salary cap proposals exempt players under the age of 21 from the calculations.

The short-term picture for Wigan Athletic is grim as they struggle against the impact of the actions of the previous owners and the pandemic. The first step will be for new owners to take over and steer the club through a difficult 2020-21 season. Avoiding relegation to League 2 would be an achievement.

However, in the long-run the prospect of a club living within its means, producing home grown talent, is to be welcomed in terms of stability. Given the excellence of the academy it is to be hoped that new owners would not only continue to support it financially, but also employ a manager willing to give young players opportunities to a degree that we have rarely seen in recent years.

Building up a solid base in the lower levels of the EFL  over a period of years is essential to the survival of the club. It could well prove a blessing in disguise that the appeal against the 12 point penalty did not succeed. Another season in the financial lunacy of the Championship would not have been easy. But who knows – maybe in time even the Championship clubs will come to the agreement that things cannot continue as they have over these years.

 

 

 

Our thoughts, and those from social media, after another tough day for Wigan Athletic

Supporting Wigan Athletic has been such a rollercoaster ride. The highs have been marvellous: the lows have tested the resilience in us all.

Until the closing matches of the restarted season I had resigned myself to not worrying about what division Latics would be in next season. My main concern was for the survival of the club.

But I got hooked by the wonderful reaction of Paul Cook’s squad. Despite not having received their normal pay for months they played so well, making a wonderful effort to nullify that horrible 12-point penalty. Not having the fortune to get that second goal against Fulham was heart-breaking for players and fans alike.

Today’s decision by an appeal court regarding the 12-point deduction rubbed salt into the open wound.

Like many fans of “smaller” clubs I have become disillusioned with the way football in England has been going. Put simply, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. There was always a “feeling” in the Premier League days that they really didn’t want a club like Wigan mingling with the elite and bloated. Since Latics have returned to the jurisdiction of the EFL that feeling has never gone away. Feelings are what they are: hard to substantiate, but one remains sceptical about the people in power in English, and indeed world, football.

Sometimes the heart can speak more loudly than the mind. The bottom line is that Latics still exist and long may that continue. It is heart-breaking to see staff laid off and players being sold for meagre prices, but other clubs have been through administration and come out of it stronger.

Paul Cook has gone and we can expect almost all of the senior squad to be on their way. The wage bill over summer must be drastically reduced so some players who would normally command a significant transfer fee will be freed from their contracts to get them off the wage bill.

Let’s take a brief look at how fans reacted to today’s news through the message boards and social media.

Our thanks go to the Cockney Latic Forum, the Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk Forum and Twitter for providing the media for the posts below to happen. Thanks go to all whose contributions are identified below.

Th10 on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

It’s what we all expected, an absolute joke.

I really fear for the future of the club now. Only a few weeks till the start of the new season. We don’t have owners or a manager and won’t have many players left. What will the EFL do next when we’re not in a position to start the season? They’re going to destroy the club.

FrancosLoveChild on the Latics Speyk Forum said:

I wont stop loving Wigan, but I have fallen out with the sport, football was/is a big part of me, but as the years go on, you see how the sport is becoming more and more about keeping the big clubs happy for revenue than the integrity of the sport.

Cupwinners on the Cockney LaticForum said

I’m afraid this could be the final nail in the coffin for Wigan Athletic.

We need to find a new owner yesterday with mega deep bottomless pockets. We have no money, no crowd, no match day money, no manager, players leaving daily, TV funding slashed, players fire saled and clauses to allow them to leave cheap or free. Players been sold for nothing.

A new owner? J—s !! , as a business you would have to have your head seeing to take us on. I fear for our future truly fear. We need someone in asap or we will for sure be the new Bury.

Zeb2 on the Latics Speyk Forum said:

I don’t hate the DW/JJB but it will never feel the same to me as Springfield Park did.

All your childhood/teenage experiences are more intensely felt and burned into your memory than what comes afterwards.

The prospect of returning to L1 or L2 if we were at Springfield wouldn’t faze me one bit but is far more concern8ng rattling round a largely soulless stadium …..though to be absolutely fair we have had some cracking matches/atmospheres there as well, it’s just that you generally need 15k plus to generate that at the DW.

Of course we deserve a club, absolutely, it’s just profoundly more difficult for us as a 40 odd year ’League club’ to be located in this area which is a cauldron of English football.

It isn’t the Rugby that’s a problem for me it’s the born and bred Wiganers strutting around in their Utd/Liverpool/Everton/etc shirts (most of whom have never been)….I know Wiganers who are season ticket holders at Bolton, Burnley (fkn Burnley ?) and Blackpool , what’s that about ?

Clubs like Burnley, Stoke, Norwich, even Leicester enjoy the distinct advantage of being substantial towns/cities that are slap bang in the centre of “nowhereinparticularshire” ….draw a 20 mile radius round their grounds and who are they competing with ?….maybe one rival of a similar or bigger size or more likely none at all. Draw a 20 mile radius round Wigan and ….well !

Ideally we should be in a 12/15,000 stadium but we Can’t make that happen unfortunately.

Lets get past this current crisis and press on from there ….Onwards (but maybe not upwards for a bit just yet !)