Worcester Warriors are on the brink of a player exodus after the squad were informed they were unlikely to be paid their wages this month. Staff and players received a message on Tuesday in which the club’s co-owner Colin Goldring told them he could not access the funds required to fulfil this month’s payroll because of the winding-up petition for unpaid tax issued by HMRC.
The situation at Worcester remains deeply uncertain despite discussions with prospective new investors. If players are not paid on time on Wednesday they can claim breach of contract which the club has 14 days to rectify. If not, those players affected will be free to sign for another club.
The highly rated flanker Kyle Hatherell is already being linked with a move to France and others are certain to follow unless the current gloomy situation takes a dramatic upturn. Time is running out on all fronts with the Premiership season kicking off on Friday week, with Warriors also due to play a pre-season friendly in Inverness against Glasgow Warriors this Friday.
Financial problems have been mounting for some time. Worcester were late in paying their May wage bill and have been losing around £300,000 a month since Covid. The club have been in negotiations with several potential buyers and investors as they seek to convince HMRC they have the ability to come up with £6m in unpaid tax.
Christian Day, the player liaison officer for the Rugby Players’ Association, said the union is increasingly concerned, both for the club and the players caught in the middle. “From the start we’ve tried to give the owners and the club every chance we can to find a solution,” Day said.
“The game wants a club like Worcester to survive. But things are moving very quickly and we feel we’re coming to a point where things have to move one way or another. We know that, sooner or later, we’ll have to give some pretty clear guidance to the players.”
Along with everyone else, Day feels desperately sorry for those whose livelihoods and playing futures are currently up in the air. “It affects the players, the coaches, the staff … literally every person in that club. That’s why we never want this type of doomsday scenario. It really is the last thing we want to happen.”
The RPA is committed to helping all concerned but salary cap restrictions will make it tough for a number of players, in the event of Worcester officially being declared bankrupt, to find another Premiership contract.
Rival Premiership clubs are also watching the unravelling Sixways saga with dismay, with Northampton’s chief executive, Mark Darbon, describing it as “truly saddening” and potentially “a huge loss to rugby in this country if they were to no longer exist”.
One possible idea mooted during discussions last week was a merger with Coventry-based Wasps, who have been having their financial issues. It was swiftly rejected and would be deeply unpopular with fans of both clubs but Worcester’s owners are fast running out of road.
“We are conscious of the short window now available for us to solve the end of month payroll situation,” Goldring told his players and staff. “No doubt you are all anxiously waiting an update on payroll and we wanted to keep you as informed as we possibly can.
“As you will all no doubt know, the club’s bank accounts were frozen shortly after the HMRC petition was issued, meaning we are not able to access those funds to help meet payroll. Therefore we do not have the money at this moment to fulfil payroll tomorrow.
“We … had hoped by today we would be able to confirm the funding is secured, but there are no guarantees until contracts are signed. Until that happens I’m sorry to say the outcome tomorrow remains uncertain. It will be small comfort in the face of the present situation but I can promise we will not give up and will continue pushing the finance raise today and tomorrow. We are giving this everything we’ve got.”
Gloucester have confirmed the signing of Zach Mercer from Montpellier for the 2023-24 season, which means the ex-Bath No 8 will be eligible to feature in England’s Rugby World Cup squad next year.