Hawkeye Sidekick

Opinion: EFL Governance under the spotlight after Wigan Athletic administration debacle

Wigan Athletic: Administration could be the least of their concerns

I have admired Wigan for their sporting prowess for many years now. The Wigan Warriors dominating Rugby League back when I was a young lad in the 80’s and 90’s. The sporting talent of the town seen to a global audience. Edwards, Betts, Offiah, Robinson, Tompkins, Farrell.

Wigan Athletic were at that time struggling, struggling badly in the bottom tier of English professional football until former footballer turned successful local businessman Dave Whelan arrived to the football club and completed the takeover in 1995.

The results progressively improved with the Lancashire club rapidly going through the divisions and with it winning fans for their attacking minded play. Paul Jewell’s passing footballing ethos seen to full effect as the Latics reached the promised land in 2005. The EPL.

The club’s greatest day in 2013 when they upset all the odds to beat a star studded Manchester City at Wembley. Ben Watson’s header from a corner securing the final win but within a couple of days, the club were relegated from the top tier. Roberto Martinez and squad experiencing quite the range of emotions.

Transition

Cue the word ‘transition’ as Martinez left for pastures new. The squad started to leave at a rate of knots. Owen Coyle entrusted with getting the side back to the EPL but his reign was short lived; he was gone by December 2013 and replaced by Uwe Rosler.

Yet another big FA Cup run ensued and a semi-final penalty shootout loss to Arsenal. Wigan faced more heartbreak in the playoffs as they lost to QPR. More disappointment and the club endured a hangover on the resumption of the 2014-15 season.

Rosler was sacked with the club in the relegation zone. Malky MacKay was promptly hired and fired for former club captain Gary Caldwell. You can see where this is going. Relegation. During this process, Dave Whelan resigned as chairman and handover the role to his grandson David Sharpe.

Gary Caldwell came in and settled the ship thanks in no part to the prolific Will Grigg and Reece James. A superb second half of the season saw Wigan win the division and back to the Championship but more woe in 2016-17 season as the side struggled to adapt to the new division. Caldwell was sacked and replaced by Warren Joyce. Results continued on a downward spiral and relegation was confirmed in April.

End of the Whelan era

Enter Paul Cook to the managerial reins of the club. Managerial success with Sligo Rover, Accrington Stanley and Portsmouth. The manager’s record of getting sides promoted continue with the Latics and promotion to the Championship was confirmed in 2017-18 season.

This was the cue for Dave Whelan and family to cut ties with the football club and here is where the Harchester United story comes in. The Whelan family agreed a deal to sell the club, stadium and training facilities to the Hong Kong based International Entertainment Corporation (IEC) in a £22m deal.

It was such a strange transaction. Whelan and his old school Lancashire mindset selling up to a mysterious Asian consortium whose loyal fans and seasoned soccer correspondents in the Northwest region knew little or nothing about the consortium. David Sharpe, Matthew Sharpe and Garry Cook promptly resigned from the board.

False promises and pretenses

Promises were made by the new owners to invest in the club and look to get back to the EPL. However, investment in the squad was drip fed. Paul Cook continuing to look to the loan market to identify up and coming players to ensure the club staved off relegation in the 2018-19 season.

This season has seen more rumblings in the boardroom and the announcement on June 4th was no surprise. Covid-19 and lack of gate receipts. IEC wanted out. Wigan were sold from one Hong Kong-based company to another, both of which were majority-owned by professional poker player, Stanley Choi. It is sounding a little suspect isn’t it?

On July 1st, the bizarre twist came as the ‘new owners’ refused to invest money into the club. Administration. Cue Gerald Krasner looking for potential new investors on BBC, BT Sports and Sky Sports News? It sounded like a comic relief address to the sporting public.

It is a disaster for the club particularly Paul Cook and the squad whose form has been superb in recent weeks. 50 points and standing in fourteenth place in the league. 12 points deduction and Wigan Athletic are looking at a grim relegation battle.

EFL – Where are you?

So many questions on this controversial sell off of the club. The administrators smell a rat. The fact that the EFL have ratified the deal that a club can be moved from one organization to another controlled by the same individual but EFL have turned the other way. One month later, administration. When you consider how they dealt with Bury, what happened with governance in this situation?

What is even more galling is the video that has emerged of EFL Chairman Rick Parry speculating that Philippines betting syndicates are plumping for a Wigan Athletic relegation from the division. The video is rumor mill stuff but it does little for the EFL administrators who if they knew about this betting scheme should have run the rule further on the ownership change.

How the EFL handled the Covid-19 situation by turning the decision making to the clubs was a disgrace. This Wigan Athletic financial deal is an embarrassment. EFL have been caught sleeping on the governance of their own league. Heads should roll.

Turbulent times at Wigan Athletic

Wigan Athletic face a very very uncertain future. The mess of this financial deal has the ability to completely erase the hard work and investment of Dave Whelan, managers, players and backroom staff for twenty-three years. Paul Cook and squad will look to win out as many fixtures this season and hope it is enough to escape the drop but the club governance is in disrepute.

Bury were given their marching order early this season. Wigan Athletic on the brink. Are you telling me that there are not a host of other clubs that are on the brink? EFL’s credibility and their decision making when it comes to club ownership should be front and center here. The media outlets may turn a blind eye here with the playoffs and end of the regular season but expect more financial woes for clubs up and down in England as soon as this season is in the books. Worrying times. Concerning times.