Talking football: Where next for Wigan Athletic?

Well the time for talking is almost over.

Thursday, 11th October 2018, 11:18 am
Updated Thursday, 11th October 2018, 12:23 pm
David Sharpe and Jonathan Jackson

Nearly a year since the takeover of Wigan Athletic was first mooted, the finishing line could be within sight.

Well the time for talking is almost over.

Nearly a year since the takeover of Wigan Athletic was first mooted, the finishing line could be within sight.

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A 126-page document released earlier this week stated the ‘Long Stop Date’ – deal done – as November 15, 2018.

For a figure of just over £22million, Wigan Athletic – lock, stock and barrel – is about to become part of International Entertainment Corporation.

On the face of it, IEC have got themselves a bargain.

As well as the football club, they’re also picking up the DW Stadium, the Training Centre at Euxton, the Academy base at Christopher Park, and ‘Sharpeys’ restaurant.

But I guess after putting in circa £750,000 a month just to keep the club going in recent months, the Whelan family have decided enough is enough, and to cut their losses.

Which of course they’re more than entitled to do.

After 23 years at the helm – during which Latics fans have literally lived the dreams of most of their counterparts up and down the country – they’re passing on the baton.

And there’s sure to be emotional scenes to come over the next few weeks as the official handover takes place.

But what’s next for Latics?

Well there are a few clues in that 126-page document released to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

First of all, as expected, Joe Royle and his son Darren will be moving in, as the ‘two high-calibre individuals (who) will allow the club to mitigate the relegation risk by leveraging their expertise in the football industry and also enhance its chances to be promoted’.

It was heartening to see Paul Cook, Jonathan Jackson and Gregor Rioch mentioned, along with various other members of the senior management.

The name of David Sharpe – and indeed Garry Cook, who has helped broker the sale – was conspicuous by its absence.

However, it’s understood that was because both – like David’s brother Matt – are members of the board and not ‘employees of the club’, unlike CEO Jackson, who is named and on the Board of Directors but is also an employee as chief executive and a member of ‘senior management’.

It isn’t necessarily a hint he won’t be part of the new structure, but does leave the current chairman’s future unclear.

Let’s just hope there is a role in the future of Latics for a bloke who has answered most of the doubts and criticism thrown at him when becoming the youngest chairman in world football three years ago.

It was interesting to note IEC’s plans for the future of the club, which will centre around ‘developing a strategic and effective player recruitment model and player trading plan (to) increase the possibility of football success and increase profitability on player trading’.

In short, identifying and developing players to be sold on for profit.

Particularly interesting, given IEC has ‘no specific plan for any further (financial) commitment...(except) from time to time to invest moderately and commercially feasibly to enable the club to be promoted to a higher level of operations’.

So no massive influx of cash in search of the Premier League dream, as some fans were hoping for.

At least that rules out the possibility of boom and bust!

As part of this long-term plan to generate income through player trading, it’s heartening to hear of plans to ‘develop the club’s academy from a Category 3 to a C ategory 2, which will allow the club to access greater funding from the Premier League’.

Indeed, some fans would argue this is something that should have been prioritised when Latics were members of the Premier League, with Roberto Martinez having been desperate to sew the seeds almost a decade ago.

But there was always a striker, a midfielder, a defender, a goalkeeper who was deemed a more pressing need at the time.

The plan to hopefully ‘increasing match day revenues from concourse food and beverage, hospitality and ticketing’ may ring alarm bells to some supporters, although it must be pointed out Latics are very much low-end of the spectrum at the moment.

But it’s hard to disagree with the vision to ‘develop the off-season usage of the stadium to host music concerts and other sporting events’ – although that would potentially impinge on Wigan Warriors’ schedule.

Speaking of the Warriors, IEC clearly regard them as ‘a valuable tenant’, whose potential loss as a tenant is viewed as a ‘significant risk’ – putting to an end any speculation as to their long-term future.

On the whole, IEC calls the takeover ‘a good opportunity to diversify the income stream of the company and broaden its revenue base’ which Latics fans will be pleased to hear.

Of slight concern is mention of a ‘bank loan of not less than HK$350million (around £34million)’...although it’s not exactly clear what this is for.

That, and much else, remains to be seen.

One thing’s for sure – things are about to change around here.

Time will tell whether it’s for good or for bad.

A poll yesterday on Wigan Today found 28 per cent of Latics fans were excited about the takeover, with 26 per cent worried, and 46 remaining on the fence.

Let’s hope in years to come the 26 per cent don’t have reason to say ‘I told you so’...