Worcester season in doubt as players are offered support amid payroll plight

·3-min read

Worcester’s involvement in the looming Gallagher Premiership season remains in serious doubt after players and staff were told they are unlikely to be paid on Wednesday.

The club’s finances have been frozen by HM Revenue and Customs while they chase unpaid tax and the PA news agency understands that the prospect of the August payroll obligation being met is remote.

Any players with wages still due on Wednesday can serve notice to Worcester to rectify the outstanding payment. If this has not happened within 14 days then the player can terminate the contract, which also takes 14 days, and leave as a free agent.

Worcester could be facing an exodus of players because of their financial crisis
Worcester could be facing an exodus of players because of their financial crisis (David Davies/PA)

The only way a player can depart immediately is because of an insolvency event such as administration or if an agreement with the club is reached. The Rugby Players’ Association are helping to advise squad members.

“The RPA has communicated with the players today and will continue to do everything in our power to support them,” a statement read.

“Things are moving very quickly and we are liaising with all stakeholders to keep across all the relevant information.

“We are ready to support players with enforcing their employment rights, and in all other areas, and especially in the event that they are not paid in line with their contracts.”

A winding-up petition has been issued by HMRC, with owners Colin Goldring and Jason Whittingham looking to find new buyers while hoping to avoid administration.

Worcester’s opening match is against London Irish on September 10 and they face Glasgow in a pre-season friendly in Inverness on Friday. The Premiership launch takes place a day earlier.

The suggestion of a merger with Wasps, who are also facing financial difficulties, was rejected at the Ricoh Arena, but their Premiership rivals have ruled out any attempt at taking advantage of Worcester’s plight.

Wasps have defaulted on repaying bond investors and are looking to refinance their debt but the immediate crisis has eased, resulting in their recruitment freeze being lifted.

It means head coach Lee Blackett can target two new signings – “it will be people who will really make a difference to us” – but he will not be looking to lure players away before Worcester know their future.

“It’s not dog eat dog, there’s respect in the game. We would never do that,” Blackett said.

Wasps boss Lee Blackett will not look to poach Worcester's players
Wasps boss Lee Blackett will not look to poach Worcester’s players (Tim Goode/PA)

“If those guys don’t have a job and there is no club then it’s a different story, but we have too much respect for Worcester as a club to be doing that.”

Wasps’ problems stem from the closure of the Ricoh Arena sports complex during Covid, resulting in a dramatic drop in revenue.

“We’ve had communication from the board. Everyone has got a lot of trust in people here, that they’re going to do the right thing for the club,” Blackett said.

“The players have just got on with their jobs. I’ve not had anyone come to me for literally two weeks to ask any questions. Around two weeks ago a lot of people were starting to ask questions.

“If there’s any news the board will let us know. We carry on as normal. If you look at us we’re like most clubs but a fraction worse during Covid because of the stadium: the sport, leisure, hospitality.

“We relied massively on that and that’s where our revenue as a club comes from. Everyone has taken a pinch, but us a fraction more. The board are positive that the club will function and be competitive.”