English football has been “disrespected” by the “tremendous shock” of Wigan going into administration, says EFL chairman Rick Parry.
The future seemed bright for the Championship club when they changed Hong Kong-based owners a month ago, but last week’s revelation of their financial predicament has resulted in a 12-point deduction, which has yet to be officially applied.
The administrators have said the club have appealed against their punishment, but if upheld, it could see them relegated.
New owners Next Leader Fund said they invested “more than £40m” into the club and blamed the coronavirus pandemic for the decision to put it into administration.
In an interview with BBC sports editor Dan Roan, Parry expressed his surprise at what has happened at the Latics.
The former Liverpool and Premier League chief executive also discussed the English Football League’s owners’ test and said the governing body “will get to the bottom” of why the club is now in this position.
Dan Roan: How surprised were you?
Rick Parry: “It was a tremendous shock – a bolt from the blue.
“Normally if a club is facing administration you get warning signs. Generally they don’t pay HMRC, they don’t pay the players, there are problems with creditors and it happens gradually.
“It is really unprecedented for an owner [Au Yeung Wai Kay, the head of Next Leader Fund that took ownership] to put his own club into administration, literally overnight. It is completely unprecedented for an owner who has only just acquired the club for £40m to put his prized asset straight into administration and therefore destroy its value to him.
“It makes absolutely no sense to us – it’s a real mystery, I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”
Roan: Does the EFL need to take some responsibility?
Parry: “He passed the tests. You can criticise them and say they need to be beefed up, but he did pass the test. He wasn’t a complete newcomer because there had been a transition from the previous owner, who had been there two years.
“The previous owner had been putting something like £24m in, and had secured Wigan in the Championship. He introduced the new owner, there had been partnerships, it had evolved. This isn’t somebody who appeared from nowhere.
“Our test, bluntly, is limited, it’s an objective test, there are limited grounds to turn down an owner. It is a test that, by definition, the more foreign owners you have the more difficult it is to apply because of the amount of information that is available.”
Roan: Was the EFL lax in the application of the rules?
Parry: “No – he passed the test, albeit it self-certifications and he provided the assurances. What none of our rules can legislate for is an owner changing his mind.”
Roan: Does this all show that the ownership rules need to be tightened?
Parry: “It’s no use just talking about owners’ and directors’ tests as if that is going to solve all of the problems. You really need to go back to why did we end up with Chinese owners in the lower reaches of the Championship in the first place?
“Why can we not have community owned, sustainable clubs? That goes for all the structural issues that I have been telling anybody who will listen, and most people who won’t listen, for the past x number of months, from the select committee onwards.
“The Championship is a financial nonsense. We’ve got clubs spending 107% of their income on wages, we’ve got the major distortion of parachute payments, we’ve got £400m of owner-funding required – £16m per Championship club. There are owners gambling on getting into the Premier League, it’s unsustainable.
“We need to make our clubs sustainable – we shouldn’t be relying on random foreign owners.”
Roan: Is coronavirus a plausible excuse?
Parry: “If he said it in February, then it would be plausible. What I don’t get is given we are coming out of the crisis and heading towards playing again, why would you buy a club in June and then put it in administration at the end of the crisis? That’s the bit that doesn’t quite stack up.”
Roan: Do you have sympathy for staff members who have lost their jobs?
Parry: “Enormous sympathy. I have sympathy for the town, sympathy for the supporters – we know how it feels.
“It is so horrible for them because they must have been feeling relatively optimistic.”
Roan: How confident are you the EFL investigation will get to the bottom of what has gone on here?
Parry: “We want to and we are determined to. How confident can you be when it is thousands of miles away with limited jurisdiction? It will be challenging.
“We want to try to get to the bottom of this because, on the face of it, the Wigan staff, the fans, the players, the town… English football has been treated with disrespect in this.
“This is something complete out of the ordinary.”
Roan: How much veracity do you give about the rumour someone bet on Wigan going down?
Since it was announced that the club had entered administration, various rumours have surfaced – including one Parry recounted to a fan while being secretly filmed – that Wigan had been the subject of a bet to get relegated.
Parry: “Almost none. It’s highly unlikely because while the betting market in the Philippines is not the most tightly regulated, they are run by some extremely smart people.
“The likelihood that a Philippines bookmaker would take a substantial bet on a club to be relegated is almost nil. It is not going to happen – it is very implausible.”
Roan: Do you regret speaking to this fan?
Parry: “If you say I shouldn’t speak to football fans, or engage, I don’t think I’m going to change that style.
“Do I regret somebody being deceitful and filming without my permission, frankly, yes. Taking a comment out of context? Frankly, Yes.
“We had a 10 minute conversation on the EFL rules, the state of the club. That was a throwaway line right at the end of the conversation in the context of, ‘This is so odd isn’t it? Why on earth can this have happened?’.”