John Sheridan: the right appointment to keep Wigan Athletic in League 1?

I first saw John Sheridan play in March 1987 when second division Leeds United visited Springfield Park for a 6th round F.A. Cup match. Under the management of Ray Mathias third division Latics had knocked out first division Norwich in the previous round. However, on a wind-swept day, in front of a crowd of 12,479, they were beaten 2-0. The Leeds side was workmanlike with Sheridan adding class in the centre of midfield.

A year later, after seven years at Leeds with 230 appearances and 47 goals under his belt, he moved to join Brian Clough at first division Nottingham Forest for a fee of £650,000. Sheridan only made one appearance for Forest before he joined Sheffield Wednesday, where he was to spend seven years making 199 appearances, scoring 25 goals, including a scorcher which helped the Owls beat Manchester United in the 1991 League Cup final. After spells at Bolton and Doncaster he completed his playing career at Oldham Athletic where he spent six years, retiring in his fortieth year. Born in Manchester, of Irish parents, Sheridan made 35 appearances for the Republic of Ireland.

It was at Oldham where Sheridan began his long managerial career.

Stats courtesy of Wikipedia

John Sheridan has not been the kind of manager to take charge at a club high-flying in its division.  His relationship with Oldham Athletic has been remarkable, spending different five spells there, so often steadying the ship. He won the League 2 title with Chesterfield in 2010-11, followed by the Johnstone’s Paints Trophy in 2012, but so many times he was brought in to help a struggling club.

After leaving Chesterfield he joined Plymouth Argyle in January 2013 on a short-term contract until the end of the season. Argyle were two points off the bottom of League 2 and had only won one of their last 16 games. Sheridan helped Argyle to avoid relegation by winning 8 and drawing 4 of their last 19 games.

In October 2015 he took over at Newport County who were bottom of League 2, with only 5 points from the first 10 matches. They got only one point from his first three games, but then went on a 10-game unbeaten run. They finished in 22nd place, nine points clear of relegation.

In February 2016 he joined Fleetwood Town who were 20th in League 1 having lost their last eight games under Uwe Rosler. By the end of the season they finished in 14th place seven points above the relegation zone.

Sheridan has certainly had his ups and downs as a manager. But he has experience of working under relegation pressure and producing results.

There will be Wigan Athletic fans who are less than enthused about his appointment. But given the instability of recent months at Wigan it is important to steady the ship and avoid a further relegation. Sheridan will work on a low budget, his team likely to be a mixture of youth and experienced professionals who have become free agents in the era of Covid-19.

Although the majority of last season’s squad has departed it would be no surprise to see more of them leave over the next couple of weeks as the club continues to cut back its wage bill. Sheridan will then have the opportunity to bring in some of his own players.

John Sheridan may not be a marquee appointment, but he could prove to be just what Wigan Athletic need at this moment in their history.

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.

 

Ready for Brentford? The challenge for Paul Cook and his squad

What a tempestuous week it has been.

A wonderful performance by the Latics team in blowing away Stoke City raised our hopes of at least a mid-table finish, with lots of optimism for the coming season. Then it was all turned upside down by that stunning announcement of the club going into administration. The Wigan Athletic community is still reeling from that news.

Brentford away is hardly the fixture that one would choose following the turbulence of the last three days. They outplayed Latics at the DW Stadium in November to the tune of a resounding 3-0 scoreline. They have won their last four games and still have a chance of automatic promotion.

Latics were on the crest of a wave following the Stoke game on Tuesday evening. Hopes were high that they could go to west London and give the Bees a run for their money. But now we learn that the players, who had deferred 30% of their salaries in the lockdown period, will only receive a fraction of their salaries today. Paul Cook must somehow lift his players to concentrate on the here and now, despite the uncertain futures at the club that they all now face.

Sam Morsy’s rallying call was admirable and we can only hope that captain, manager and coaches can maintain morale in this difficult hour.

The news and social media have been awash with stories about what has happened to the club.

The EFL’s prompt notification that there will be an automatic 12-point deduction did not go down well with Latics fans. Questions abound how their “Fit and Proper Persons” criteria allowed a shady change of ownership leading to administration within a month of Next Leader Fund taking ownership.

The reasons for NLF opting for administration remain unknown although there is no shortage of conspiracy theories being put forward.

Fans have been putting forward their views on the social media and message boards. Some fear for the very existence of the club. Others are concerned that the points deduction will lead the club back to League 1, although there are optimists who believe the team can gather some 13-14 points from the last 6 games to avoid that happening.

In the meantime, Latics must find the funding to help them complete the season, by no means an easy matter with no money coming into the club from the owners and minimal revenues available from playing behind closed doors.

Should the club manage its way to complete its fixtures and somehow gather enough points to avoid relegation it would be a big step forward. A Championship club is more attractive to a prospective buyer than one in League 1. Moreover, the broadcasting revenues and larger away supporter attendances make it financially more viable, even if the club were going to run on a shoestring budget for a period.

My concern is that the very survival of the club is at stake. After following them to places like Congleton, Winsford and Oswestry I can deal with the likes of Rochdale and Oldham should the club manage to get through this sticky period.

It is a stressful and difficult time for us all who care so much for our club. The game at Brentford tomorrow pales in comparison with the mountain the club must climb to stay in operation. However, a win could really lift our spirits and give us a little more hope for what lies ahead.

The social media reacts to the Wigan Athletic administration announcement

Yesterday’s news that Wigan Athletic have been put into administration and that the EFL will deduct 12 points was a stunner. What is going to happen to our club??

My love affair with Latics started at the age of 12 when I went to Springfield Park to watch Latics as a non-league club. That first visit was enough to make me hooked and I have spent practically a lifetime watching them, no matter what league or division they were in.

Sure, I would love to see Wigan Athletic back in the Premier League, but the parameters in football have changed so much since Paul Jewell’s team took us up there. The bottom line for me is to see the club survive. It is not so important what division they are in.

However, we and other Latics fan sites have regularly published our concerns about the debts the club has been accruing in recent years. On June 8 we published an article “An initially challenging time is coming for Wigan Athletic”, referring to the comments of new co-owner Au Yeung Wai Kay. We raised the prospect of EFL clubs being lost in the revenue crunch following on from the Covid-19 pandemic. We talked about the need for a fire-sale akin to that made by Dave Whelan in January 2015 and drastic reductions in the club’s wage bill. But little did we know that that the initially challenging time would come as far as administration.

Let’s take a look at how fans reacted to the shock 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.

Captain Kernow on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

It just doesn’t make any sense, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a club just enter administration. There’s usually weeks and months of foretelling beforehand.

We were taken over three weeks ago where the owners would have had to prove finances to the EFL. They’ve not even got through the first payday.
We’ve invested in player contracts and development facilities this month.
I don’t understand why we would do these things if we were so skint?

I don’t think finishing 13 points clear of the bottom 3 is beyond us, especially on current form. But how many players are actually going to keep on playing?

Leylandlatic4ever on the Cockney LaticForum said:

The situation stinks and I felt physically sick when I read the news this afternoon, especially gutting after the way the lads have performed since the restart.

We have 4 very winnable games in the last six. All of us, no exceptions, must get behind the boys more than ever. The future of the club is quite literally at stake. Get the 12 points back on the pitch and tell the EFL where to stick their deduction.

We are Wigan…never give up, give in or surrender.

Scharnerama on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

The EFL are disgusting, throwing us to the dogs like they did with Bury. Never mind that theres a global pandemic happening which has delayed our season and impacted every clubs finances, and that they deemed our new owners ‘fit and proper’ mere weeks ago, literally less than 1 hour after its announced we’re entering administration, they s…. all over us and say we’re getting hit with a deduction. It would have been some miracle if we got 13 points from the last 6 games anyway, but now we’ve GOT to get 13 points or we’re down, whats that going to do for team morale? Playing under that pressure? If we finish outside the relegation zone this year … -12 points and relegation. Go down anyway? Start lg1 with -12 points. Either way we’re smashed. Maybe it would have been better for this season to have been ended early afterall, although PPG would probably have sent us down anyway.

What an absolute crusher though. After last nights win and the form we’ve been showing, the last thing I expected today was to fear for the future of the club. Jokes about going for the play offs … But here we are. I’ve no idea what our future holds – or if we actually have one – but thats a fear for another day. All we can do for now is rally and cheer for the squad to go out there and fight for the 13 points we need. ‘Little’ Wigan the underdogs, taking on the EFL for survival. If any team can upset the odds its us, so i’ve not lost faith. But Ch–st, what an absolute mountain we’ve got to climb.

Th10 on the Latics Speyk Forum said:

I think the best thing is the 12 point deduction applying this season. Starting a championship season on -12 would give us no chance of surviving anyway. At least the players can fight for the rest of what could be our last season as a club. If the club does survive then at least next season is a fresh start. Look at Bolton this year, they were down before it even started.
If someone does want to buy the club then who does the money go to? Surely if the owners have run the club into the ground and put it into admin then they don’t get anything. I’m not sure how it works.

Pies’r’Us on the Latics Speyk Forum detailed his previous warnings:

I wrote to EFL in May and then the following to all TV and radio broadcaster, Wigan MP but was ignored..

“END OF THE PIER FOR WIGAN ATHLETIC?

Wigan Athletic have recently been sold and bought by the same person; Dr. Choi Chiu Fai Stanley. He is the chairman and majority shareholder of the last owner; IEC plc, and also majority shareholder of the new owning company ‘Next Leader Fund LP’. This has been approved by the EFL which renders their club ownership process to kiddies TV; ‘The Magic Roundabout’.

Dr. Stanley, has over 20 years experience in financial services and merger and acquisition projects. He also a renowned poker player in the far eastern gambling world through televised poker tournaments.

According to his letter sent to IEC plc shareholders on 8 May 2020 (link below), one of the principle reasons for selling the club and transferring ownership is that it will be financially advantageous to IEC in regard to a previous interest free loan of £24.36 million. IEC have provided a replacement loan via ‘the new owner’ and most importantly; it is interest bearing at 8%. This is now costing Wigan Athletic £37,846 A WEEK! The club have made an average loss over the last two years of circa £8.5 million which equates to £163,461 per week and therefore losses now total circa £200,000 per week.

For context; the present stock market capitalisation (value) of IEC plc is £36.48 million and is engaged in expensive court actions with tax authorities concerning 2 of it’s subsidiaries.

However, the terms require the capital sum to be repaid in 12 months and if the club defaults then the interest rate increases to 20% to which weekly payments on the £24.36 million loan amounts to £93,692 !”

Dr Stanley knows the company cannot pay these figures on their present income and so did the directors of the club and the EFL. So why was it allowed to happen?

Muttywhitedog on the Cockney Latic Forum said:

I’m very shocked to hear this news. Administration is not the end of the world – Leicester & Southampton came back stronger. You are not relegation fodder, and a couple of wins against Hull & Charlton should see you safe and back next season, hopefully stronger for the experience and with an owner who gives a shit.

It does beg questions about ownership though – particularly those without a pot to p–s in, and it seems as Wigan & Sunderland have something in common in that respect.

Good luck.

The Egg on the Cockney Latic Forum stated:

Having a club to support is the absolute priority as you say. Staying in the championship will help that.

We need 3 wins from 6 I reckon.

Dnr on the Cockney Latic Forum added:

Siege mentality, need to gain four or five more points than the bottom three between now and the end of the season to be more that 12 points clear and avoid relegation. Current form would suggest we can do it, but this must shatter the lads. Interesting to see the impact on contracts, players may be able to just walk away.