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Court gives Sheffield Wednesday time to clear tax bill


Owls chief executive Nick Parker makes an angry and emotional plea

By Matt Slater

Sheffield Wednesday have been given 28 days by a High Court judge to find new owners and pay off an unpaid tax bill.

The Owls had been facing a winding-up petition from HM Revenue & Customs for £600,000 - a figure HMRC revealed in court had risen to £1.4m.

The judge said the club was trading insolvently and granted the extension because of exceptional circumstances.

Deputy Prime Minister and local MP Nick Clegg has welcomed the development and vowed to help the club's survival bid.

Liberal Democrats leader Clegg told BBC Radio 5 live: "It's great news that the sword didn't come down in the High Court but it's only a stay of execution and I think everyone needs to work really hard and I'm very keen to help.

"I've been in touch with Howard Wilkinson, the chair, and the Co-op Bank," added the Sheffield Hallam MP.

Clegg cautious over Owls future

"I think what everyone is looking for is just a bit more time - a window of opportunity - so that people who've said they want to come forward and provide the cash to help out the club have got the time to do that."

Former Home Secretary and Labour MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough David Blunkett has also put his political weight behind Wednesday's cause.

"It is vital that those with a genuine interest in investing in the club should come to terms for taking over Sheffield Wednesday FC as quickly as possible," said Owls fan Blunkett.

Wednesday had been hoping to strike a deal with one of four potential new owners on Tuesday but time ran out.

It is unlikely that any further adjournments following this will be granted, so takeover negotiations must proceed with a renewed sense of purpose, not least because HMRC stated in court that because of interest, VAT and fines its £600,000 demand had more than doubled.

A visibly emotional Nick Parker, chief executive of Wednesday, urged investors to come forward and end the club's £27m debt crisis.

"I am very relieved but more importantly I am very, very angry," he said outside the High Court in London.


"This club should not be where it is today. Do not believe 28 days - the real deadline for the club is 1 December when that extra petition comes on board.

"The reason I am angry is because there are people out there who go to the media when they should not. There are people out there who say they have money when they do not.

"The one glimmer of hope I can give to Sheffield Wednesday fans and the community is that there are other people out there who understand how important Sheffield Wednesday is.

"It's now time for those people - they know who they are and I know who they are - to step forward in private and do a deal with the bank and no longer shilly-shally and make excuses for doing it.

"They will not get a better deal by us going into administration and if they were doing that then that would make me very upset."

Rotherham businessman Spencer Fearn and Sheffield accountant John Roddison front one of the four bids for Wednesday.

"We are doing our best to get the best deal for our club, that's all I can say at the moment," said Fearn, whose group has funds available to proceed with a takeover.

Another bid comes from a group led by former Wednesday director Mick Wright, who is one of six current and former club directors still owed money by the Hillsborough club.

The two remaining bids come from a UK-based businessman and a Middle Eastern group.

Little is known of the latter, although they are not the Certified Oil Rentals group that former manager and player Chris Turner brought to the table last month. They lost momentum when lead financier Keith Mundie pulled out for family reasons.

The identity of the UK-based businessman is unclear although it has been strongly suggested that Leicester City chairman Milan Mandaric's decision to walk away from negotiations earlier on Tuesday is not quite as final as was originally reported.

Sheffield Wednesday
Wednesday's Hillsborough home is one of football's most famous venues

The League One side's main creditor is the Co-operative Bank, which is owed £23.5m of the £27m total debt.

The Manchester-based bank paid off a £1.1m tax bill in September, but that was done on the understanding that a takeover was imminent and the Co-op might see some of its money back.

Since then it has maintained a firm line that it wants to help the club but is unwilling to bankroll it any longer.

Wednesday's hearing related to a winding-up petition over an unpaid £600,000 Pay As You Earn (Paye) bill, but the registrar heard the club now owes HMRC £1.4m.

So far, Mandaric is the only bidder to show the proof of funds Co-op wants to see, but he was unable to strike a deal with former Wednesday chairman Dave Allen over the £2.4m he is still owed by the club.

Allen, now the majority shareholder at nearby League Two side Chesterfield, said he is willing to accept £1.5m in staged payments but was made a "derisory offer" by the Leicester chairman and former Portsmouth owner.

Fearn and Roddison's "Wednesday Forward" group is believed to be proposing an immediate injection of cash with more to come as the Owls climb back up the league ladder to the level their fan base and history demands. Wright's plan is believed to follow a similar line.

But if no agreement can be reached in the coming days, administration remains a very real option.

That would make the immediate threat of liquidation go away and provide some short-term stability, but it would also trigger an automatic 10-point penalty from the Football League, with the prospect of further sanctions to come.

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see also
Mandaric ends Wednesday interest
16 Nov 10 |  Sheff Wed
Owls on verge of administration
14 Nov 10 |  Sheff Wed
Mandaric considers Owls takeover
12 Nov 10 |  Leicester
Owls face second winding-up order
09 Nov 10 |  Sheff Wed
Owls investor pulls out of deal
03 Nov 10 |  Sheff Wed
Owls takeover very close - Turner
15 Oct 10 |  Sheff Wed
Wednesday ward off administration
07 Sep 10 |  Sheff Wed
Wednesday given time to pay debts
11 Aug 10 |  Sheff Wed
Wednesday handed winding up order
23 Jul 10 |  Sheff Wed
Strafford resigns as Owls chief
17 May 10 |  Sheff Wed

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