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Why we had to sell Ritchie
SWINDON Town chief executive Nick Watkins has stressed that the club were perilously close to a major financial restructure, which could well have ended with administration, before the sale of Matt Ritchie to Bournemouth.
With majority shareholder Andrew Black unwilling to finance the Robins any further and the sale of the club to a consortium led by Banbury United owner Jed McCrory still subject to Football League ratification, money was required to cover the running costs incurred at SN1 else run the risk of serious financial ramifications.
Town issued a statement yesterday explaining that a joint decision was reached by the outgoing board and the prospective new owners to ensure the long-term health of the club, although manager Paolo Di Canio was unaware of the situation, and Watkins explained in detail why Ritchie was sold.
He accepted that administration had been contemplated in private but stressed that the hierarchy at the County Ground were always confident they would be able to sell the controlling stake in the Robins. The new owners of Swindon are believed to be buying up around 75 per cent of Black’s 98 per cent shareholding.
“(If Ritchie had not been sold) then I think the dogs of administration would be straining at the leash right now. The club would always try to play it down because we always believed our salvation was in our own hands and we could avoid the financial cliff that we were faced with,” he said.
“The club was put in a situation recently when the principle shareholder Andrew Black said he wished to withdraw funding from the club.
“We were then in a very compressed timeframe required to try to seek new investors for the club. Had we not been successful in finding new investors I think every one of you would be aware that the club potentially was faced with a major financial reconstruction, and that could have led to administration.
“Luckily we were successful in identifying new owners to take over the majority shareholding of the club but there is now a short period of time between the transaction and the Football League agreeing to the owners and directors tests.
“During that time there is a requirement to fund the club and it was agreed between the current shareholders and the prospective new shareholders that the way to achieve that was to accept an offer from AFC Bournemouth from Matt Ritchie.
“The final say was between the current owners and the prospective owners. It was a joint decision.
“I understand the concern that the fans would have of letting a player of Ritchie’s calibre leave to go to Bournemouth, who are challenging too. But the decision has to be the well-being of the club and the financial well-being of this club was secured by the sale of Matt Ritchie to Bournemouth.”
The fee received for Ritchie – believed to be in the region of £500,000 – is considerably lower than the headline amount of £900,000 Bournemouth are understood to have previously tabled for the former Portsmouth man.
However, Watkins said that the offer accepted on Wednesday was structured in a way in which its immediate benefit to Town was too good to turn down. Swindon inserted sell-on and promotion clauses into the winger’s contract at Dean Court, although the finer details remain unclear.
Di Canio, meanwhile, gave his backing to the prospective new owners of the Robins, delighting in the fact that the new consortium have the game of football at heart.
“I know that they have proved and they have showed all the credentials to take this club, which is already an important thing,” he said. “We were very close to going under administration, this is what I saw, what I discovered.
“The fact that we can avoid this is a fantastic achievement. In the future we will maybe discover something more.
“It’s true that they are not Swindon Town fans but it is true that they are not horse racing fans - they are football fans. You can have the two situations - Swindon Town fan but not really fanatical football support or not a Swindon fan but willing to invest money because they love football.
“In three months we can get up and they can have a big advantage on this because this is business. That is normal.
“Which is best - to have not a Swindon fan who gives stability, goes through the plan and we can see in the next few years or a Swindon fan through and through who after a year and a half runs away?”