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SWINDON TOWN: 'We had to sell Ritchie to keep the club alive'
SWINDON Town chief executive Nick Watkins has stressed that the club were within hours of potentially becoming insolvent before the deal to sell the Robins to Seebeck 87 Limited was reached.
With no further funding forthcoming from ex-majority shareholder Andrew Black and no money available from new chairman Jed McCrory’s consortium until the takeover was complete, Watkins says Town would have been unable to pay wages had Matt Ritchie not been sold to Bournemouth on January 30.
The money raised by the winger’s sale, which caused widespread dismay amongst fans at the time, effectively kept Swindon alive until McCrory & Co were able to finalise their deal – which received Football League approval on Thursday.
In an open and honest interview with the Advertiser, Watkins – who has been retained for now by the new owners of the club – once again emphasised that Ritchie’s sale was the only realistic chance the powers-that-be at the County Ground had to ensure the takeover of the Robins could take place.
“The thing to remember is that the timescales we were given to secure new ownership for the club were incredibly compressed, when you think that January 4 was when we started on this journey of finding new owners and trying to save the club from administration,” he said.
“The opportunity was appealing to a number of different consortiums but the timescales for some were too tight and they couldn’t get their ducks in a row, they couldn’t get the due diligence done in time, they couldn’t assemble the troops they needed to assemble to get the deal over the line.
“When Jed’s consortium signed heads of terms and moved towards the preparation of the sell and purchase agreement, one or two of those interested parties fell and way and said ‘we’re not going to get into a contract race here and if things don’t work out then we will revisit’.
“We gave them access to the data room but at the end of the day Jed McCrory’s crew were able to marshal their troops and get this deal over the line. The clock was ticking, we know how very close it came to midnight when we had to sell Matt Ritchie just to keep the club alive while we got this deal over the line.
“I can say here and now that the club was moving to a state of being insolvent because there were no funds coming in from the current owners and there were no funds available from the new owners because they hadn’t completed the transaction.
“It wouldn’t have been a question of administration but even to the point of salaries not being paid in January and the club not being able to function. It was that serious and therefore, at the end of the day, we all regretted having to take the action we’ve taken to let Matt go but it was the one offer we had on the table.
“It was a tangible cash offer and that cash allowed the club to continue in a solvent state until this consortium took over.
“We can certainly say that the club has moved into new and safe ownership. It lives to fight another day and we all hope that that day and the days beyond will allow the club to continue and flourish both on and off the field, and continue to provide entertainment and enjoyment for the people of Swindon.”
Though Watkins was understandably unable to comment on the new board’s policy regarding the redevelopment of the County Ground, he did suggest that McCrory’s partners have the relevant experience within the property sector to benefit the club.
He said: “It’s far too early (to talk about redevelopment). They have studied all the plans we’ve had to date with keen interest and they have got people on the board, or they have got with them who are not necessarily on the board but are involved behind the scenes, who are successful property people.
“I would imagine they will be there for pursuing the property opportunity with some degree of alacrity.”