Barrow were close to closure last week, reveals chairman David Sharpe

Barrow chairman David Sharpe has admitted that the club were close to becoming extinct last week due to financial struggles.

The Raiders are the second Cumbrian club to reveal in recent weeks that they are close to going into administration, with Whitehaven’s takeover recently falling through.

Sharpe reveals the club will be setting up a JustGiving page to raise funds to pay off debts as well as paying their players and staff.

In a statement, the Raiders boss said: “Last Wednesday evening Barrow Raiders came within hours of going out of existence.

“Together with the other four remaining directors, too few much too few for the club to prosper, I faced the prospect of the club being no longer able to pay its players and staff caused by a huge black hole in our finances.  It was only due to a fantastic eleventh hour offer by one of our directors that the club is still in existence today and will hopefully finish the season which is ironically one of our best for some years.

“A community icon in the Furness Peninsula was nearly committed to history and yet another part of our culture – what makes us who we are – would have been consigned to memory and eventually forgotten.

“This was the third time in our recent history that the club has been close to closure.  I want to help you understand the background and this bulletin is to explain the current position of the club and the recent history that has brought us to this point.

“I was approached in May 2017 by senior figures within and associated with the club who raised serious concerns about the financial welfare of Barrow Rugby League.  I was asked to return but I was reluctant as I felt I had given enough time to the club and need to devote more time to our business.

“Throughout the following 4 months, I was regularly contacted and asked to return.  Two new directors had joined the board,John Coward and Dave Robinson, and were confident the club had moved forward and asked again for me to be chairman.

“In August, I agreed to come back to help sort the problems. Once back at the club it became immediately apparent that John and David had been misinformed regarding the financial state of Barrow R.L.

“You will be amazed and horrified to know that the club had £7.50 in the bank with wages due and had two winding up orders from the Inland Rev & Customs.  Stunningly, I received a phone call from the receivers who informed me that on 20th September they were changing the locks to Craven Park and to remove anything before that date.  The club also had £50,000 of immediate unpaid bills.  It took courage and determination.

“My first task was to bring people to the board who could commit time and effort to stop the club folding: Keith Holt, Dawn Knowles and Sean Hunter stepped forward for which I thank them.

“The club needed money quickly and before the end of the financial year on November 30th.  Firstly, to start paying back the immediate debt and secondly to prevent a massive breach of the salary cap, that would have resulted in the club losing its promotion.  However, this meant that money that should have been budgeted for 2018 had to be used for 2017.

“In October we started to sign new players only to find out from the RFL that in May 2017 the club had been placed in special measures due to the concern over financial affairs within the club.  This meant the club could not sign any players without initial consent from the RFL and again, it was stunning information, not known to me but, again, we soldiered on.

“These months were horrendous, but through extensive, time consuming efforts, we managed to get the special measures lifted but the RFL set the salary cap at a figure the club had to adhere to.   Funds were limited and restricted even more so by the fact that 19 players had been given two-year contracts with built in wage rises if the club gained promotion to the championship.

“Despite this a squad of 30 players were assembled, the club through Mr Keith Holt’s brilliant efforts, has raised over £160,000 in sponsorship; three times more than in 2017 but has had to meet contract payments substantially higher than 2017 and pay off the large debt of 2017.

“As everyone knows in recent weeks, the club has suffered horrendous injury crisis reducing the squad dramatically with last minute illnesses to two players and a work injury that left us with only 15 players for the Featherstone game with injury and illnesses affecting 14 players.  Gene Ormsby decided he no longer wanted to travel and has stopped attending training.

“Under our brilliant coach and his assistant, despite these unpredicted set of circumstances, the performance of the team has been superb and above expectations with particularly stunning results against Leigh and Toronto at home. Everyone I have spoken to praises the attitude and determination of our gallant band of players: often against all the odds.

“As a result, although the aim at the beginning of the year, was to avoid relegation we are now in a strong position and a stronger position than we expected.

“Steve Neale has joined the board and is already making an impact, however, in recent weeks, John Coward has stepped down from the board but will continue to support and sponsor the club. John has been a really dedicated director and is a great fan of the club.

“The club obviously needs new directors that can commit time, carry out specific duties within the club, help instigate and follow through new income streams. The only way is up and we want to build a capacity so that our great club does not just survive on a day to day basis but is comfortable in this division and then who knows what we can aim for.

“In May/June the club had a seven week period with only one home game.  Cash flow is our main short-term concern.  Remember the club has raised a tremendous level of sponsorship this year but too much of this money has been used to pay of last year’s debts and meet contract payments that increased substantially in 2018.

“If we can maintain our position in the league, we may be in a much stronger position financially at the end of the season.

“However, to allow this to happen and ease the cash flow situation we need financial investment in Barrow Rugby League now!  The club is part of our town’s heritage and if we lose it we will never get it back.

“We need Barrovians living elsewhere (including internationally) and people across Furness and Millom to rally round and stand up for the rugby.

“We accept communication has been limited and it is our intention to now hold a monthly meeting open to all supporters for updates to be given and open discussion to take place.

“This year and in previous years, various directors have heavily funded the club but this can’t continue and we need the people of Barrow-in-Furness to help this wonderful club move forward.  There is a great future but the firefighting has to stop.

“With this in mind we will be opening a JustGiving page and start our campaign: Take One for the Team.

“Simply, we are asking every supporter to bring one new person with them to every game.  If 300 supporters brought one adult each, we would raise £4,500 extra at every home game.  This is an easy way to make a massive difference; hopefully it is achievable for every supporter with a massive impact to the club.

“As well as physical support it must be possible through the JustGiving page to create a virtual crowd who will, by donation boost our attendance revenue.  Please get in touch with friends and family living outside the area and even the country to persuade them to contribute.  Your club needs them.

“Sometimes sports clubs are more important than the result of a game or a league position.  They are about heritage, culture and the blood sweat and tears of a great community.    Barrow Raiders is part of a special cultural heritage we need in our local community but also the ‘expat’ community living elsewhere in the country or overseas to get involved and show the spirit that make our club great!

“To that said if you want to influence the future of the club and have the skills and time to be a director: step forward!  Barrow Town Council if you want to support our heritage: step forward! With a great coach, dedicated players and superb volunteers we have the best of a great club.  We can’t let the raiders die!”