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Last hurrah? One week later, Salford City Reds bizarrely playing in green, but with Martin Gleeson, pictured left - did get on the field. Part-time opponents Swinton gave their share of the takings to their troubled rivals, after a 52-12 defeat to the Super League strugglers

Super League XVIII. Until recently, he said, the original Red Devils were £5million in debt. Three million - owed to Wilkinson and the directors - has effectively been written off and converted into shares dissolved within the club. Much of the remaining £2million is owed to Salford City Council.

The most pressing commitments are to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, with a winding up petition scheduled for 7 January. The club’s bank account was frozen, hence the lack of season ticket sales. Exact details of the amount needed to satisfy the HMRC were masked until the end of the meeting.

Next day, in the aforementioned MEN, Wilkinson was said to have been “...assured by the sport’s governing body that they are in talks with a major investor who is keen to take over the club.” It went on: “Wilkinson admits he has not been told the identity of the potential investor, but has been given assurances by the RFL interest is genuine.”

How had the club got into this mess? “Prior to the economic downturn I could support my club with my businesses,” the chairman continued. “I have to take pats on the back but also smacks in the face when things go wrong. I am doing everything I can to keep us in Super League. We have hurdles to get over and we need something in the short term for us to fall back on.”

Salford’s relegations in 2003 and 2008, at key times in the new stadium’s planning, appear to have burdened the club with loans taken out to keep talented players on a fulltime contracts despite consequent shortfalls in funding. Independent supporters trust

Forever Reds helped by raising £40,000 in 2003, but that was way short of a £150,000 target and a similar drive was not instigated or asked for in 2008.

The club’s board also gambled in 2011, the last season at The Willows, spending an extra £450,000 on recruitment and player salaries - close to the salary cap. It was a year, however, that saw Salford go through three coaches. And ironically two players intended to help change the club’s fortunes, Luke Patten and Vinnie Anderson, have since attached themselves to the winding-up petition. Patten recently posted on Twitter that he was “left with no option”.

Ultimately, though, it is the financial burden of Salford City Stadium that has taken its toll. When, in 2008, original developer Red City Developments went under, Wilkinson said both he and Clague lost £850,000 each. The promised “huge benefits” also went west. Although salvaged

■ As Forty-20went to press, the MENwas linking the club with a potential buyer.

On the same day as the City Reds were due to contest their winding-up order, a meeting was said to be planned between senior officials from the RFL and Salford City Council at a secret location regarding a takeover and major new investment.

The MENnamed Cheshire businessman Lawrence Jones as one possible investor, but the RFL refused to disclose the identity of the “interested party”. Salford are now scheduled to play Leigh on 13 January (3pm).

by Peel and Salford City Council (on an albeit smaller and less impressive scale), rent and a ‘non-negotiable’ service charges paid by the Reds and fellow tenant Sale Sharks at Barton are less than favourable on average attendances of 5-6,000. Wilkinson also admitted that the club’s only remaining revenue streams at the stadium are gate returns - a minimum attendance of 8,000 is needed - and perimeter sponsorships.

So what now? Aside from the RFL’s own reported interested party, an approach to Salford-based ‘white knight’ businessmen Fred Done and Ged Morson was said by Wilkinson to have met with little success. Ideas such as buying a brick for a memorial garden at the stadium for £500 a pop and a possible share issue were floated. But given that the AGM is in February, that plan could come too late for Salford’s survival. Forever Reds will no doubt re-mobilise its members and two supporters even pledged £1,000 each on the night (over £20,000 had been raised in this way at the time of writing).

But what was the amount needed to see off the taxman, John? £150,000? £200,000?

After over 90 minutes in church, as attendees grew restless and the meeting limped to an end, came the question from the gods: “How much, and by when?”

“£600,000,” replied Wilkinson. Possibly even by the start of the season.

It was the gut-wrenching moment when hope met reality. And as the congregation began to trudge away into the wet night, one of rugby league’s early powerhouses was left teetering on the abyss.

January 2013 Forty-20 25

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