A TICKING TIME BRUM
£80M worth of debts owed
THE clock is ticking at Birmingham City – but whether it is counting down to salvation or oblivion, no one knows.
However, a day of reckoning will soon come at a club that has been battered from pillar to post – and not just this season, but for the majority of the past decade.
It is three months now since golf bigwig Keith Pelley and former Microsoft salesman Jeremy Dale were unveiled as the latest to step forward hoping to wrest control away from the Hong Kong-listed company that has dragged the Blues to their knees.
But the chances of a takeover before the end of a campaign in which boss John Eustace has battled gamely against the tide of negativity are now receding fast.
Decisions need to be taken – on player budgets for next season, a schedule of works to right a crumbling stadium and repairs to a training ground that had extensive damage when a fire in a room off the club’s canteen rendered the site unusable.
Those now look certain to be left in the hands of the hated custodians.
The club’s owners – to the embarrassment of the Football League their identity still remains unclear – are facing an investigation.
If found guilty, and the investigation remains ongoing, it is likely to invoke serious sanctions.
They would seriously hamper the sale process and deter would-be investors from coming forward as the threat of points deduction remains blindingly real.
To complicate matters still further, the owners are demanding £35million in staged payments from any buyers to satisfy their need to retain their listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
Profit projections for the next three years show the club losing £13m-16m per season – which means that any purchaser needs to prove to the EFL that they have liquid funds of around £75m.
None of which is proving in any way enticing as Pelley and Dale have found out.
Bidders have stepped forward – only to take a sharp intake of breath as the size of the job in hand becomes apparent.
Cash is always at a premium, but set against a backdrop of rising costs and wages the estimated £5.25m bill for repairing the rotting stands is rocketing, adding yet more financial pain.
It is this most potent and toxic cocktail that has set alarm bells clanging. A spokesman for the Birmingham
Trust said: “We’re very concerned – the club’s been in decline for a number of years.
“The infrastructure is decaying, investment has been poor and there are ongoing disciplinary issues with the Football League.
“The debts to the owners total over £80m, the club is significantly loss-making and a majority shareholding in St Andrew’s has been sold off to a third party.
“The EFL have already disciplined the club twice over one aborted takeover. “Trust has broken down irrevocably between the fans and owners.
“We believe the only way forward is for the owners to sell up and Blues fans have launched a ‘sell the club’ campaign – the sooner the better.”
The blaze at the club’s Wast Hills training ground has led to more upheaval – Eustace and his squad are now based at a site near Henley-inarden, left deserted when Premiership rugby club Wasps fell into administration.
On the pitch, at least, the manager has managed to steady the ship. Two more wins from the final eight games should be sufficient for the Blues to stay up.
But, with costs piling up at the door of the Chinese owners, the question remains as to how long they can keep paying the bills.
Investors will swoop to take over a club in administration, but that will bring an inevitable points deduction and will still require significant funding, potentially next season.
It all paints a sorry picture at a club that should be the heartbeat of its city. But it remains stuck on a life-support machine – with no sign of a revival anywhere in sight.