Colin Goldring and Jason Whittingham, the co-owners of debt-ridden Worcester Warriors, were accused in the House of Commons on Thursday of lying, as local MP Robin Walker voiced his “personal revulsion” at their behaviour.
During an adjournment debate on Thursday evening, it was promised that Government advisors would be sent into Worcester “imminently” and that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport would pursue administration if it looks to be “the most viable option”.
Walker used a speech to reinforce his view that immediate administration remains “the only way forward” for Warriors and said that Goldring and Whittingham’s previous claim that they had not received help from local politicians was “provable lie”.
However, the MP for Worcester saved his most damning criticism for reports that Goldring and Whittingham had borrowed £500,000 from the family of Cecil Duckworth, the late Warriors chairman, and are yet to repay that money.
Goldring and Whittingham were said to have acquired this sum, half of which was given to former director of rugby Alan Solomons, before Covid hit, some 10 months prior to Duckworth’s death from cancer.
“What is striking, having now discussed the matter with Cecil’s widow, is that the money was borrowed in January 2020, before the impact of Covid-19 and long before the owners had admitted the financial woes of the club and with the intention of making payroll,” Walker explained.
“Within a few years of taking over the club and when one of their backers pulled out, they went to the great founder of Warriors and borrowed £500,000. Since his death, they have refused to engage with his late widow or her lawyers about the status of this debt or to confirm when and how it will be repaid.
“They have asserted that half of the money is not owed, as a promise was made on the basis of a handshake for Cecil to cover the cost of employing the then manager of the club Alan Solomons. The promise was made on a handshake. Although there is no documentary evidence, the family have confirmed they will not contest it. There has been no further engagement with the Duckworth family.
“I cannot express in parliamentary terms my personal revulsion for how these people charged with protecting Cecil Duckworth’s legacy have behaved and continue to behave.”
Walker also suggested that further “undeclared debts” were a possibility. “The fact the loan doesn’t appear in the accounts of the company or its holding companies begs the question as to whether they are abiding by their roles as directors and what other undeclared debts they may have taken on,” he added. “One potential buyer has called for administration in order for there to be a clear undertaking of any financial regularities.”
Worcester meet deadline for Newcastle game to go ahead but face Premiership suspension next week
By Charles Richardson
Worcester's home match against Newcastle Falcons on Saturday will go ahead as planned but the Warriors are set to be suspended from all competitions on Monday.
The Rugby Football Union, before the beleaguered club's Premiership Rugby Cup loss at Gloucester on Wednesday night, set Worcester a 5pm Monday deadline to provide evidence of insurance cover, availability of funds to meet the monthly payroll, and a credible plan for the future.
The general sentiment among club insiders, however, is that there is no chance of that deadline being met by the club's current owners, Colin Goldring and Jason Whittingham, meaning that Worcester will cease commitments in the Premiership, Allianz Premier 15s and cup tournaments from Monday. The club is £25 million in debt and faces a winding-up petition from HMRC over a £6 million tax-bill in October.
The Premiership match against Newcastle at Sixways will go ahead as planned this Saturday, however, the staging of which will once again rely on the goodwill and charitable nature of the Warriors' non-playing staff. Worcester's playing squad have received 100 per cent of their August salaries but non-playing staff have only received 65 per cent. They volunteered to work unpaid for the match against Exeter Chiefs last Sunday and they will do the same on Saturday. In protest at the behaviour of the co-owners, Worcester's Twitter account stopped tweeting 65 per cent of the way through Wednesday night's loss at Kingsholm, in the 52nd minute, and their tweet of the full-time score featured two cowboy emojis.
⏱️ 52m | That's 65% of the match played.
So we are clocking off for the night and heading back to the ranch.
— Worcester Warriors (@WorcsWarriors) September 21, 2022
Regarding Saturday's fixture, an RFU spokesperson said: "Worcester have met all the conditions. We can confirm that the match will go ahead."
The feeling among club insiders is, for Worcester Warriors to secure a professional future, administration is a necessity. There is optimism among those close to the club, too, that if administration were to be triggered then they would be able to continue competing for this season and, perhaps, beyond.
This is due to a "no-fault insolvency events" clause in the RFU's regulations, which states that the governing body "in its absolute discretion may reduce or waive in its entirety any sanction... where it is satisfied that the insolvency event would not have occurred but for...any epidemic or pandemic as categorised as such by the UK Government and/or the World Health Organisation". This clause might come to Worcester's aid should administration be triggered. Wasps, however, who launched their bond scheme in 2014, might not be so fortunate.
However, if Worcester Warriors are sold at the 11th hour by Goldring and Whittingham – with no known offers currently on the table – then that optimism currently within the club would dissipate.