Worcester Warriors have been hit by a winding-up petition from HM Revenue & Customs over an unpaid tax bill, Telegraph Sport can reveal.
The taxman is seeking the Premiership club’s liquidation at a court hearing that could take place within weeks unless they settle a bill said to be in the region of £300,000.
Telegraph Sport has been told Worcester’s total debt to HMRC runs into the millions of pounds.
No Premiership club has gone bankrupt since 1999 but the coronavirus pandemic left some on the brink, with a Government bailout worth tens of millions of pounds seemingly not enough to ensure their survival.
Worcester said: “Worcester Warriors, along with many other businesses and most sports clubs, have found the past two years extremely challenging owing to the Covid-19 pandemic and the rise in the cost of living.
“We retained our staff but lost income during the various lockdowns during which the overwhelming majority of matches were played behind closed doors.
“We returned to normal operations 12 months ago carrying a tax liability to HMRC.
“From the outset, we have worked closely and openly with HMRC on a plan to clear these liabilities and a Time to Pay (TTP) arrangement has been in place.
“The club owners and board are fully committed to preserving top-flight professional rugby in Worcester and have been working on solutions to secure the financial future of Worcester Warriors and to pay outstanding tax owed to HMRC.
“A solution, which would secure the long-term future of the club, has been approved. Unfortunately, there have been unavoidable delays beyond the club’s control to the final tasks required to complete the funding.
“Having kept HMRC fully apprised of the situation we are disappointed that they have taken the decision to issue a winding-up petition.
“The club’s directors are in continuing dialogue with HMRC in an attempt to find a speedy and satisfactory resolution.
“We have also been in communication with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Sport England, Premiership Rugby and the RFU [Rugby Football Union] regarding this matter.”
They added: “We can confirm we are in the final stages of bringing in substantial funding which will sustain as we continue to grow the revenues from our diverse facilities – which we have the advantage of owning – such as our successful conference and events venue.”
An HMRC spokesman said: “We take a supportive approach to dealing with customers who have tax debts, working with them to find the best possible solution based on their financial circumstances.”
News of the winding-up petition comes two months after Worcester were late paying their players’ May salaries.
The club said at the time: “A short delay in paying a small number of players was caused by a short-term cashflow issue that has now been resolved.
“Warriors, like most major sports clubs and businesses, saw income streams severely affected during the various lockdowns caused by Covid-19.
“We appreciate with the war in Ukraine and rise in the cost of living these remain uncertain and challenging times for many.
“As a club and business we are very grateful to the support, understanding and loyalty of our bankers, suppliers, commercial partners, supporters and staff during this period.
“We will continue to diversify the range of activities at Sixways to generate more non-rugby matchday revenue.
“We are also working on plans for a major project to develop the whole Sixways site which we believe will secure the long-term future of Warriors as a sustainable Premiership rugby club.”
Owner's ban from legal profession
The following month, Worcester announced co-owner Colin Goldring had been deemed “fit and proper to own and be director of a sports club” after restrictions were placed upon him working in the legal profession following a failed £8 million luxury car deal involving a foreign prince.
Goldring was also made to pay £13,000 in costs by a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal over something that took place when he was a trainee solicitor for a law firm in 2017.
A dishonesty charge against him was dropped by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
Worcester said afterwards: “All regulatory bodies expressed to Goldring that they were satisfied he was fit and proper to own and be director of a sports club.”
Goldring added: “The legal profession is rightly held to a high standard, and it is regrettable that failings were found at the firm I was working for as a trainee which impacted some work I did for a client.
“The outcome delivered by the SRA acknowledges the lack of appropriate supervision provided to me as a trainee solicitor.
“It cleared me of any allegations of dishonesty or lack of integrity and did not impose a fine or ban.
“The Agreed Outcome that I would not work for a law firm again without the SRA’s prior consent is fair and does not impact my current position.
“The outcome was agreed on the basis I had acted with honesty and integrity. I hold these values in the highest regard and am glad my name was cleared on both.
“I thank Worcester Warriors and the partners and sponsors I have spoken with for their continued confidence in me.”
Worcester’s accounts for the year ended February 2021 are also almost nine months overdue, according to the Companies House website, with the club having only filed their financial report for the previous year in May.
Goldring and Jason Whittingham became co-owners of Worcester three years ago, having bought League One football club Morecambe the previous year.
Warriors, who have never finished higher than eighth in the Premiership, only avoided relegation in 2021 after it was scrapped. They ended last season in 11th place.
Telegraph Sport has also been told Worcester took out a £10m-plus loan last year under the Government’s Covid-19 Sports Winter Survival Package, which saw a total of £88m made available to Premiership teams.
A charge was placed on clubs in a bid to secure those long-term loans in the event they failed to repay them.
The RFU and Premiership Rugby said in a joint statement: “The RFU and Premiership Rugby have been made aware that a winding up petition has been filed by HMRC against Worcester Warriors. Premiership Rugby and the RFU have been in regular contact with Worcester Warriors shareholders and management.
“Both parties have supported the club through the financial challenges of the last few years. We appreciate that this is unsettling for the players, the employees, the fans, and the community in Worcester and we will continue to work with all stakeholders to establish the appropriate next steps.”