The summer of 2022 will not be one that fans of Worcester Warriors will look back on with much pleasure, having witnessed their club struggle to compete on the pitch (they conceded an average of 37 points per game in 2021/2022) and finding out that they now have financial issues off it too. In new Director of Rugby Steve Diamond’s words, they are in “a dire position”.
How did we get here?
In the middle of August, owners Jason Whittingham and Colin Goldring announced that they were in discussions with HM Revenue and Customs over the threat of a winding-up petition, which came about due to unpaid tax bills, and it later emerged that the amount of tax still to be paid could be around £6m.
Several local businesses are also reportedly owed money by the Premiership club, with the total owed to others believed to total somewhere close to £25m.
There were also late wages to players and staff in the same month, leading to reports of players asking to have their contracts cancelled. Players were later paid their full salaries on Friday 2 September, but non-playing staff were only given 65% of their wages, with 35% still to be handed over, and some staff had yet to be paid at all.
All of this together means that they have been at serious risk of being wound up or going into administration, the latter of which would see them start next season on -35 points and be the first club to enter administration since Richmond in 1999.
A dire position indeed then.
What is the latest?
For now, the owners have managed to steer the club away from administration, with Whittingham and Goldring saying that they have located extra funding and hope to have a deal agreed as soon as all of the relevant authorities, including HMRC, Premiership Rugby, the RFU and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and lawyers for both sides have agreed on the finer details.
They also said that they had previously been looking for more cash to inject into the club, but had been prevented from continuing that work due to positive Covid tests to key people.
On Tuesday this week, Whittingham and Goldring released a statement to say that a deal had been agreed with a potential buyer, as yet unnamed, for the sale of the club and an immediate injection of funds, but that they were waiting for the final contract to be signed off. It is unclear if they would become the outright owner of the club or simply an investor.
The simple fact is that, without that money coming in, this weekend’s first Warriors home game of the season against Exeter Chiefs will not take place, and time is definitely running out. According to Diamond, it would be a “remarkable feat” if the money came in before the stricken club was forced to close down, with a winding-up court appearance set for 6 October.
What about on the pitch?
The situation off the field has undoubtedly affected matters on it, with the Warriors losing 45-14 to London Irish at the Gtech Community Stadium on Saturday and looking miles off the pace. Diamond said afterwards that his players are about a month behind where they should be in terms of their pre-season preparations, whilst pundit David Flatman commented on ITV’s Premiership highlights show that they would not have had any pre-season games and potentially would not have had any contact training, due to the coaching staff worrying about an injury crisis.
There is no way to describe what the players and staff have been through over the last months, and, whilst it was clear to everyone on Saturday afternoon that some of the basics weren’t there, it is hard to be too harsh on them after that result. For them, the best result was simply turning up and playing, and there were positives to take, such as the power of new signing Curtis Langdon, who joined from Diamond’s old club Sale Sharks, and the pace of some of their backs.
However, whilst there is work to do as the season goes on, the question of whether they will have the chance to improve on that performance this weekend is one that no-one yet knows the answer to.