Widnes in administration; club could cease to exist

James Gordon

Widnes have been placed in to administration and face the threat of closure unless investment is found next week.

A proposed takeover fell through after a member of a consortium pulled out, and former chief executive and director James Rule called in administrators on Thursday.

Insolvency practioners Peter O’Hara and Chris Brooksbank of O’Haras held a press conference on Friday afternoon where they confirmed the news.

First team players were paid by the RFL and remain assets of the club for the next seven days, though there have as yet been no approaches from clubs to sign any of Widnes’ squad, which includes high-profile signing Anthony Gelling.

Details of debts at the club have unravelled in recent weeks, including one of more than £350,000 to their landlords, local council Halton Borough Council, while it is believed other debts played a part in the takeover bid falling through.

Their Championship game with Sheffield scheduled for this Sunday was postponed due to issues regarding insurance, and unless a buyer can be found by next Friday, the club could be liquidated.

The administrators say they have spoken to three interested parties, though wouldn’t give details on what is needed to take the club forward.

A Widnes club statement said: “Following the last-minute collapse earlier this week of the proposed consortium that had been set to take ownership of Widnes Vikings and provide the necessary financial investment into the club, the Board of Widnes Vikings has been seeking specialist legal advice.

“The Board has been advised that there is no realistic option available to the club, other than to appoint an Administrator as a priority to help secure the long-term future of Widnes Vikings.

“It can, therefore, be confirmed that Peter O’Hara and Chris Brooksbank of O’Haras will be appointed today. The board wish to convey their sadness and disappointment at this course of action but, having made extensive efforts in recent months to find investment opportunities, we have been unable to avoid this situation.

“The administrators have extensive experience in supporting businesses with the same challenges faced by Widnes Vikings and have a strong understanding of Rugby League. We believe that they are the right appointment for the club and sincerely wish them success in their endeavours.

“We wish the very best for Widnes Vikings, its players, staff, supporters and partners, and hope that this matter can be positively resolved soon for all parties.”

Fundraising efforts by club staff and fans as recently as last weekend have gone towards paying for the medical costs of Adam Tangata, who was injured in the defeat to Toronto.

The administrators also confirmed that there is less than £1,000 in the club’s bank account and that it has simply run out of money.

Three of the club’s directors, Rule, Richard Munson and Brian O’Connor, resigned their salaried positions at the club as of the end of January.

None of the club’s five directors were present at the press conference and the administrator confirmed that he had only had contact with Rule.

Rule has claimed he is “at the end of his tether and suffering ill-health” having received threats to himself, property and his family.

Widnes entered administration in 2007 shortly after losing the National League 1 Grand Final to Castleford.

They were bought out of administration by local haulage businessman Steve O’Connor and would eventually return to Super League via the licensing system, having been turned down back in 2008.

O’Connor still holds an estimated 25% stake in the club despite having resigned his position as chairman some years ago.