Worcester Warriors are due to host their first home of the season against 2020 double winners Exeter this Sunday
Worcester Warriors are due to host their first home game of the season against 2020 double winners Exeter this Sunday

Worcester’s management have told staff that a buyer has been found for the club, reports BBC Hereford & Worcester.

Players, staff and fans have endured a month of worry that Warriors might fold after a winding-up petition from HMRC over an unpaid £6m tax bill.

But staff have now been told that a sale has been agreed and, subject to legal confirmation, may happen quickly.

The new buyers will provide an immediate cash impetus to ensure any shortfall in wages is met.

It will also mean that this weekend’s first home Premiership game of the season against Exeter can go ahead on Sunday.

Warriors staff were told on Monday evening by managing director Peter Kelly that co-owners Jason Whittingham and Colin Goldring should have had legal confirmation by Tuesday – and that a deal could be done inside the next 24 hours.

After fears that they might not even start the season, Warriors began the new campaign with a 45-14 defeat at London Irish on Saturday.

They were wearing last season’s strip, as although this season’s has been ordered and is ready, it has not yet been paid for.

They used a coach to travel to the game, the bill for which was footed by one of the club’s main sponsors, Adam Hewitt.

Warriors, whose winding-up court appearance to face HMRC has reportedly been set for 6 October, also have to pay back £14m worth of Sports Survival Package money, as sanctioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport during the Covid pandemic.

Co-owner Jason Whittingham (right) celebrated winning the Premiership Cup in May with former Warriors director of rugby Alan Solomons
Warriors co-owner Jason Whittingham (right) took over the running of Worcester Warriors in December 2018

In total, their debts are reported to total £25m. But the deal with the as yet unnamed “interested party” would, subject to Rugby Football Union approval, secure their status both in the short-term, enabling debts to catering staff, stewards and suppliers to be paid, and long-term.

Co-owners Whittingham and Goldring have been under pressure to put the club into administration – both from a group of local MPs and a consortium led by former Warriors chief executive Jim O’Toole, who made that a key stipulation of any sale.

But, in an exclusive interview with BBC Hereford & Worcester last week, Whittingham referred to people “jumping up and down making a lot of noise”, while making the point that, if the club do go into administration, creditors – including many local ones – would end up not getting paid.

Whittingham also said that one of the reasons why the money transfer to staff for their August wage payments had taken so long was the automated bank security procedures that have become commonplace for both private and business account holders in recent years.

Analysis – ‘Some transparency still needed’

Trevor Owens, BBC Hereford & Worcester sports editor

There has been no official comment from the club as yet, but it is said that broad agreement has been reached on the sale of the Warriors and lawyers have been working through the details.

Assuming all goes according to plan, it’s claimed the new owners would then deposit funds into the Warriors account.

That would cover outstanding wages and would also ensure Sunday’s Premiership home match against Exeter Chiefs would go ahead.

On the face of it, this is good news but, as always, the devil’s in the detail and staff and fans will want transparency on just who the new owners might be.

How Warriors has changed hands

Worcester began their journey to try to become a force in English club rugby when local millionaire boiler manufacturer Cecil Duckworth got involved in 1997.

He injected the funds which led to a first promotion to the Premiership under coach John Brain in 2004.

But Warriors have never really kicked on from there, have twice been relegated – and have never finished higher than eighth in their 16 years in the top flight.

In that time, Exeter, a club of a similar stature, have won the Premiership twice and conquered Europe.

Long-time benefactor Duckworth reduced his involvement in 2013, when Sixways Holdings Limited took over, under Greg Allen.

Duckworth remained part of the new board as club president, until his death in 2020.

By then, the club had been sold again, to a four-man consortium fronted by Jed McCrory in October 2018, but he left in June 2019, leaving Whittingham and Goldring at the helm.

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