LISA NANDY - Demanding answers from the EFL
Exact details of the club’s recent ownership and collapse into administration are scarce, but what has been uncovered – much of it by Latics fans - paints a murky picture of the club being passed between business associates in Hong Kong until the decision was abruptly made to cease funding and plunge the club’s future into doubt.
Suggestions that events have been influenced by a bet on the club being relegated remain unproven but add to the growing sense that the club has been the victim of a major global scandal.
It is disgraceful that the club, which has served our town for 88 years, could end up in the hands of an owner with so little regard for its history, its future, its fans and the livelihoods of its staff. It is the English Football League’s duty to regulate ownership of clubs and subject prospective buyers to a ‘fit and proper’ test before they are allowed to assume control.
Yet the EFL deemed Wigan’s owner to have passed their test, only for him to immediately make the decision to pull the plug. It is disgraceful that the EFL would then compound this failure by immediately announcing that Wigan would be subject to a 12-point penalty for going into administration, making relegation more likely, the search for a buyer more difficult and ultimately punishing staff and fans.
I have written to the EFL to demand answers on what tests they set and how they deemed the new owners to have met them.
I have also pushed for them to withdraw the threat of a 12-point penalty.
I have also contacted the Culture Secretary and met with the Sports Minister to ensure that they are fully aware of the crisis facing Wigan and push them to ensure that this scandal is subjected to a full investigation.
We have made it clear that the government should step in and ensure that the club is given the support it needs to complete the season and secure a new buyer.
Amidst all of this, I have been incredibly proud of - but unsurprised by - the reaction of Wigan’s fans and the wider community.
On hearing the news, the official Wigan Athletic Supporters’ Club started a fund-raiser to help ensure the club can continue in the short term.
They have raised an incredible £125,000 so far, and you can contribute at: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/official-wigan-athletic-football-club-fundraiser
The reaction of manager Paul Cook and the players, led by captain Sam Morsy, has been inspirational.
It has been cruel that this should happen just as they had looked like securing Wigan’s place in the Championship, but I know they will be doing everything they can to ensure that events off-field don’t affect their performance on the pitch.
I have no doubt they will be giving everything they have over the final, crucial, five games of the season.
The business of football outside the top tier has made the future precarious for many clubs with long and proud histories like ours.
Beyond the damage that can be done by an unscrupulous owner, there are serious structural problems within the game that urgently need to be addressed.
In the last year alone we’ve seen Bury FC lose their league status and Bolton Wanderers come within hours of joining them.
Decisions taken behind closed doors – with little transparency or accountability – have made the prospect of Wigan Athletic falling victim to the same fate all too real. We cannot let it happen.