Worcester Warriors: The human cost is huge as players and staff at Premiership club on verge of not being paid August wages

James While

Unless a solution in the last play can be found, on Wednesday the players and staff at troubled Worcester Warriors will not be paid and players will be out of contract.

The better players will find new clubs even if payments are phased to sidestep the salary cap. For those who aren’t snapped up quickly in or outside the Premiership the prospects are bleak as quite simply the squad will not be viable as Premiership Rugby concede. Game over.

Sadly, at the time of writing, Planet Rugby were told that it looks as if the race is run in terms of administration. With a 14 day notice and a subsequent 14 day cooling off period, October 3 is the likely day of reckoning, but without cashflow, it now appears unlikely that Worcester will be able, at the time of writing, to fulfil their Premiership fixtures.

Players and staff will not be paid

So how did we get here? Social media is awash with comments as to the motivation of the current owners who may or may not have more formal questions to answer from angry creditors in the fullness of time, but for being asleep at the governance wheel, the Rugby Football Union and some at Premiership Rugby certainly do have questions to answer.

It’s beggars governance belief that with a DCMS loan of £14m and CVC investment of over £6m, somehow the till is empty and quite how the current owners thought VAT payments of £1.8m could be side-stepped even if much of the paye debt of £4.8m relates to wages paid during Covid is another mystery.

Jim O’Toole seems to have a US backer who presumably has been convinced by the answer to the question as why the Belfast man should be trusted when his brief tenure at the Worcester helm was cut short and produced little on and off the pitch. Local sponsors are known to being underwhelmed by the prospect of the Belfast “sports consultant” taking the helm once again and by calling for the club to go into administration, O’Toole has shown contempt for those community creditors who have supported the club in recent years despite the evident mis-management.

He may of course be right in that administration might be the only way to construct a deal and to get the assets cheaply in a fire sale and DCMS will have no option but to roll-over if this is the case – but if O’Toole thinks he can re-build the club without the goodwill and support of the community he is wrong.

A source within the club told Planet Rugby that the “owners want to avoid O’Toole’s plan to put the club into administration which would have dire financial consequences. They are looking to sell to someone who is willing to take on the debt. They have now recognised, albeit belatedly, that they cannot cling on to the club and that they have lost the staff, players, sponsors, supporters and local politicians.”

Word is that there are two other suitors hovering around the injured carcass, but as yet no figures or promise are yet to be seen, something common to O’Toole’s approaches, which appear to have more bluster than financial substance.

Of course this isn’t just about the players.

There could be 250 staff out of work and they will also struggle to find new jobs. The human cost is huge. The Duckworth family left a legacy of possibly the best facilities in the Premiership with enough land to help build off-field income streams with assets such as a state of the art conference and events suite, whilst CVC’s financial input looked to engineer a more profitable game for all. To build on that legacy, Worcester don’t need another high risk option leading at the helm, but a leader who understands how to create long-term value by doing things the right way.

Praise for boss Steve Diamond

In all this mess, there has been one person whose behaviour has been exemplary. Steve Diamond has kept the squad together, fit mentally and physically despite the distraction. He has filled the communication vacuum to staff, neither offering false promises nor criticising the current owners however easy that might have been to do. He has shown great leadership which has been sadly lacking locally and at HQ, being selfless with his time and energy when surrounded by too many people looking to fill their own boots.

Even if the US firm’s prime motivation is to get assets on the cheap, they might decide that appointing Diamond as joint head coach and CEO, as he occupied with Sale Sharks, would make a statement that they understood rugby values. As Diamond admits, he may not be the sharpest tool in the box, but he does understand how to run a rugby club, is a far shrewder operator than other potential candidates – and for a club crying out for selfless leadership, he understands that there is no I in team.

Whatever happens at Sixways, if there’s a rugby future the management team of Diamond, with his outstanding cohorts Nick Easter and Mark Jones, need to be retained. The experiences they’ve shared in adversity with their team is something that will bond this group together forever – let’s just hope that they have a chance to deliver their learning in anger on the field of play when they meet London Irish in a fortnight’s time.

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