Fears grow at Morecambe as players and staff face late wage payments for March
Fears are growing at Morecambe that the relegation-threatened League One side will become the next English club to enter administration after players and staff were told their March wages would be late.
In an email sent on Monday, Jason Whittingham, the sole director of the club’s majority owner Bond Group Investments, warned staff that they would not be paid on time but assured them the delay would be short.
“Due to the timing over the potential acquisition of the club, Bond Group Investments has experienced a delay with incoming funds,” said Whittingham.
“Whilst we are still hopeful that those funds will come through later today, and payroll will happen as usual on (the) 28th, payments may be delayed but we do still fully expect them to made this week.”
Those funds are understood to be another loan from Bond Group at high interest rates but, as of close of play on March 28, it had still not arrived, raising concerns about the Lancashire-based club’s future.
Whittingham bought the club with his business partner Colin Goldring in 2018, 11 years after Morecambe gained promotion to the English Football League for the first time.
In 2021, the club hit a new high when they reached League One via the play-offs, and then defied predictions the following season by avoiding an immediate return to the fourth tier, despite having one of the lowest budgets in the division.
This season, however, has been much harder, on and off the field.
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The first signs of trouble appeared last summer at Worcester Warriors, the top-flight rugby union club that Goldring and Whittingham also owned. On August 17, HM Revenue and Customs served the club with a winding-up petition over unpaid taxes.
Goldring and Whittingham claimed the rugby club’s financial problems would be solved by new owners but that deal was never completed and, by the end of September, the Rugby Football Union had suspended the men’s and women’s teams.
A week later, that suspension became an expulsion. By this point, Worcester Warriors were already in administration, where they remain and it is unclear when they will be able to exit and return to competition.
Goldring and Whittingham initially claimed Worcester’s problems would not have any impact on Morecambe but by the end of August both had left the football club’s board and had put the team up for sale.
The situation deteriorated in October when the pair were disqualified from serving as company directors after failing to file accounts for one of their companies.
That disqualification was meant to start in November but they gained a late reprieve, enabling Whittingham to remain as the Bond Group’s sole director and owner. Goldring, who was banned from acting as a solicitor last May for his part in a bungled luxury car deal in 2018, had resigned as a director in August.
If the disqualification period is ever enforced, the pair would immediately fail the English Football League’s owners’ and directors’ test, forcing them to hand over control of the club.
They, however, would say they have been trying to do just that, as they have shaken hands on a deal to sell Morecambe to Sarbjot Johal, a 20-year-old who claims to have made millions from soft drinks, property and cryptocurrency speculation.
Last month, the EFL said it was still waiting to receive more information from Johal about the source and sufficiency of his funds, and that it had invited him and his advisors in for a meeting.
“No approval on any change of control at Morecambe will be made until the proposed purchaser and club satisfy in full the requirements of the EFL’s regulations and appropriate levels of due diligence are complete,” the league added.
The situation has not changed since then.
In the meantime, The Athletic understands there are other parties interested in Morecambe but they value the club, which made a profit of nearly £400,000 in their 2021 promotion season, at half the amount Johal has agreed to pay.
When asked if there was an alternative plan to Johal’s takeover, Bond Group and the club refused to comment. Johal has not responded to efforts to reach him for comment.
Morecambe are currently 22nd in League One, three points from safety with seven games to play.
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