AFTER weeks of waiting Swindon Town have new owners after Seebeck 87 Limited’s takeover of the club was officially given the green light by the Football League yesterday.
The Jed McCrory-backed company has acquired the majority shareholding in Town from Andrew Black, buying up 99 per cent of the total shares in the club. It was originally thought that Black would retain a 15 per cent holding.
The group will provide the necessary funds to secure Town’s immediate future and prevent serious financial problems at the County Ground.
Black, Russell Backhouse and Sir William Patey all stood down from the board of directors on Thursday, with Steve Murrall, Callum Rice and Gary Hooper replacing them. Chief executive Nick Watkins has been retained by the new owners.
Murrall is an operations expert with a background in the pharmaceutical industry, Rice is the sole shareholder in The Angel Hotel in Bourne, Lincolnshire and Hooper is a former professional footballer who has held the post of commercial manager at QPR and Brentford.
In a statement released by the club yesterday, McCrory spoke of his delight at finally completing the deal and taking charge of the club.
He said: “This is a tremendously exciting time to be taking charge of Swindon Town Football Club. We are aware of the responsibilities we face taking custody of a club with the heritage of Swindon and we take these responsibilities very seriously.
“Following the resignation of Paolo Di Canio and members of his backroom staff, we have now begun the search for a top class manager and coaching team. We will not rush in to any decision, as we must select the right team to preserve our status at the top of the league.
“Once these new appointments are made, we will also seek to further strengthen the squad for the rest of the season. We will endeavour to keep fans as up to date with news as appropriate.
“On behalf of my fellow directors and football fans, I am delighted to announce this agreement, and I look forward to seeing many of the fans at the County Ground through the rest of the season, one that I hope will bring Championship football back to Swindon.”
The arrival of McCrory & Co has prevented a financial catastrophe at Town.
Black had been prepared to put the club into administration had a buyer not been found inside an alloted timeframe after making the decision that he was no longer willing to bankroll the Robins.
Advisors, understood to be from business rescue specialists Begbies Traynor, were put on standby to restructure the finances in SN1 towards the end of last month, despite the club only being on the market since January 4.
Several consortia were initially interested in taking the club on, with Black, Andrew Fitton, Sir Martyn Arbib and Jeremy Wray willing to write off around £9.5million of unsecured debt in the club’s holding company to make that possible.
However, the speed at which any deal needed to be done made due dilligence nigh-on impossible and many backed out, leaving only Seebeck 87 Ltd.
On the evening of January 29 a fax was sent out across the Football League notifying clubs that all of Swindon’s playing staff were for sale at around half their true market value and a firesale could well have resulted before the end of the transfer window but for the new owners’ involvement.
Had an agreement not been reached between McCrory’s group and the old board at a meeting in London that Tuesday evening the club could be in a very different situation today.
As it was, contracts were exchanged between the respective parties on January 30 and, although Matt Ritchie was sold on the same day to free up the money needed to carry Swindon through the state of flux between the old regime and the new, Town were able to hold onto the rest of their prized assets.
It has since emerged that the sale of Ritchie was essential at the time to ensure the club did not run the risk of becoming insolvent.
McCrory and a handful of potential investors watched the 1-1 draw with Hartlepool on February 9 and secured proof of funds and passed all the relevant fit and proper persons tests last week.
Given Swindon’s recent financial history - two administrations since the turn of the millennium - the Football League requested a meeting with the incoming consortium to discuss their three-year model for the club’s coffers.
The at-the-time prospective owners travelled to Preston to speak to the authorities on February 13 and held extremely positive talks with the League.
Various elements held up the process of getting the deal rubber-stamped, including the need to resubmit paperwork and illness at the Football League, while most recently an issue revolving around an unpaid fee for a loan player had to be resolved before the powers-that-be would finally give the takeover the go ahead.
Had Swindon entered administration it is understood that the League would have been likely to hit the club with a more sizeable penalty than the mandatory 10-point deduction, with demotion and even expulsion from the league a possibility.
Town fans need not worry about that now, however, and a new era has begun at the County Ground.