Worcester players turn against owners after statement blaming squad

<span>Photograph: Zac Goodwin/PA</span>
Photograph: Zac Goodwin/PA

Worcester players and staff have rounded on the club’s co-owners after Jason Whittingham and Colin Goldring released an astonishing statement appearing to blame the squad as well as supporters for the club’s plight.

The statement came on another sorry day for Worcester when it emerged that players and staff face losing their jobs next Wednesday with the company that holds their contracts – WRFC Players Limited – likely to go into liquidation due to HMRC’s winding-up order.

The remarkable statement from Whittingham and Goldring came after the club’s captain, Ted Hill, gave an interview to ITV Central in which he said that an “apology is needed from not only the owners, but also from other people high up from the company as well”.

Related: Worcester players left in limbo on their futures after confusion over contracts

In a statement derided as “laughably pathetic” by the club’s forwards coach Nick Easter and criticised by Worcester players on social media, Whittingham and Goldring responded. Addressing “staff, supporters and community of Worcester Warriors” the owners said: “We are thankful to all of the staff that supported the club through Covid in accepting a significant reduction in their salary but sorry that the playing squad could not accept a similar level of reduction and in some players’ instances would not accept any pay cut at all despite our openness at the financial impact this would have on the club.

“We are thankful to all of the supporters who continued to support the club in any way they could, including many that donated their season ticket payment during the lockdown, and to the government for the furlough support that enabled us to keep every single staff member fully employed throughout the pandemic when many club’s and business’ were making redundancies. In doing so the club took on enormous debt like so many others but we felt it was the right thing to do.

“We are thankful to those supporters who turned up week in week out to support the club but sorry that there were not more, nor enough of you on a regular basis to help make the club financially viable despite the significant personal funds we put into the club. We are sorry that we did not have the foresight during the pandemic to cut back on the squad budget but instead remained committed to giving the club the best chance of being competitive.”

The statement was issued on the day players and staff were supposed to receive September’s wages. It is understood those payments were not forthcoming, allowing players to hand in notice of their intention to leave the club. The club has 14 days to make those payments or the players can leave after another fortnight.

Before that, however, WRFC Players Limited is expected to be liquidated when the winding-up order is heard in court next week, which would lead to the contracts of players and staff being terminated. Whereas WRFC Trading Limited has been put into administration, the arm of the business that holds the contracts of the players and staff has not been and though an adjournment to the winding up order has been sought, it is understood it is expected to be rejected.

Julie Palmer of Begbies Traynor, the appointed administrators for WRFC Trading Limited, said HMRC has signalled its intention to stick with the 5 October hearing rather than agree to a delay. Liquidation, therefore, appears likely, though there is still a degree of hope of a two-week extension to allow more time for a buyer to be found for WRFC Trading Ltd.

While some players would be able to find new clubs, and it is thought a number have lined up moves, plenty would not. Those who wish to stay with the club would effectively have to hope that new buyers come in quickly and Worcester are allowed back into the Premiership. The predicament for staff, many of whom are still waiting on outstanding wages from August, is all the more bleak.

The administrators are focusing on talks with more than one potential buyer, working to a deadline of “weeks rather than months” with mid-October considered a key timeframe.

Worcester’s match against Gloucester on Saturday has been called off and next Saturday’s home fixture against Harlequins is almost certain to follow. Worcester then have a free week but should any subsequent matches be called off the chances of the club returning to the Premiership would seem unlikely.

As much as the administrators are trying to move quickly, it is understood that they have been held up because of difficulty in accessing relevant documents because the IT provider, EBC Group, are one of the club’s creditors and the wifi was cut off in early September.