Glentoran have a month to solve their latest financial crisis or risk losing their entire playing staff.
That is the stark reality of the situation the east Belfast club finds itself in after players boycotted training again on Thursday night — the second time this week they have done so.
And now, after going two months without receiving wages, if the situation continues until the transfer window opens on January 1 and players are not paid, there is the very real prospect that they will walk away from their contracts and sign for new clubs.
Something similar happened to Scottish giants Rangers a few months ago, and could well be repeated here.
The Glens have staved off a series of financial threats over the last two and a half years, but never have those difficulties reached this magnitude.
Rather than assembling at Cooke Rugby Club to prepare for this afternoon’s Danske Bank Premiership match against Ballinamallard United, the Glens players stayed at home, taking the only action that they feel is possible. They will, however, definitely report at the Oval today to play the game.
“It has not even been mooted that we wouldn’t play or not make ourselves available for the match on Saturday or any match,” said club captain Colin Nixon.
Amazingly, despite the players asking for a meeting with members of the board in the hope that the matter could be resovled quickly, that get-together was postponed on Thursday night.
The Belfast Telegraph gave chairman Terence Brannigan the opportunity to explain the situation to the club’s concerned fans, but there was no response to a voicemail message left on his mobile phone.
Glentoran have stated that the problem has arisen because of a ‘short-term cash flow issue’ but the same reason was cited during the summer when the Irish FA imposed a ban on the club registering players due to an unpaid tax bill.
How many times do short-term cash flow issues have to crop up before it becomes a long-term problem?
“We understand the position that the club finds itself in with cash flow problems,” said Nixon.
“Players are the same, we have cash flow issues as well.
“For ourselves, the management and the backroom staff it’s costing us money to train and while we are aware of the financial climate and how it is effecting the club, everyone is feeling the effect.”
The Glens have players travelling from all over Northern Ireland. Stephen Carson lives in Coleraine, while Richard Clarke is based in Castlederg. That means round trips of 110 and 180 miles respectively every time they attend training or matches.
This week should have involved two training sessions in the build-up to today’s home match against Ballinamallard, meaning almost a full tank of fuel for each player. Without any money in return they didn’t make those journeys.
“I don’t want to single out any particular players. Each individual has their own circumstances,” said Nixon.
“The squad voted to take this course of action and we are all together in this.”
Where the fans want to see the players being together is on the pitch.
Former manager Scott Young and current boss Eddie Patterson have worked in difficult circumstances as the club battles through tough financial waters.
No Glentoran manager before, however, has had to deal with such a situation as Patterson finds himself in with Ballinamallard arriving at the Oval tomorrow.
He had expected to bring his players together on Tuesday night to get ready for the game, before fine-tuning those preparations on Thursday night.
While the manager was still able to work on his team selection and plans at home, that's where his players were too.
“There won’t be a problem with players being focused for the game,” said Nixon.
“We know our jobs and while the preparation for the game might be slightly fragmented we are all readily available to play and we have worked on systems over the last few months in training.
Fans of Glentoran and other clubs around the league will judge for themselves whether the players are right in the action that they have taken.
The standard professional contract that players in the Irish FA Premiership sign states that: ‘The Player must attend all training sessions at all times and at such locations, as reasonably directed by the Club.’
However, further down on the same document it says: ‘The Club shall pay the Player’s basic wage on the dates and in the manner described in the schedule.’
Both can be deemed to have been in the wrong but then as with anything in life, where there is an action there is, more often than not, a reaction and the Glentoran players have taken just about the last course of action available to them.
The only thing remaining would be to go on strike completely and refuse to play, but that would then have a knock-on effect on the fans, which is something that Nixon and his team-mates are hoping to avoid.
“I’ve spoken to a few fans, they are very concerned, as we all are, but most see where we are coming from,” said Nixon.
“They’ve been supportive and they want the issue resolved as quickly as possible, just as we do.”
Judging by recent events, no-one should hold their breath.
Storm clouds above Oval just won’t lift
By Stuart McKinley
Glens in crisis. Words, or words to that effect, have screamed from the back page of this newspaper so many times that by now such a headline should have been placed in an easy to reach folder in preparation for the next time the club hits the rocks.
For some two-and-a-half years now it’s been one financial drama after another over in east Belfast.
Turn the clock back to July 2010. Players were asked to take a pay cut after wages were paid late and after assurances that it was going to be a one-off, agreements were swiftly reached.
Thirty months later, with players refusing to train after going two months without receiving wages, it seems that nothing has changed — not for the better anyway.
A winding up petition, lodged by the Inland Revenue in November 2010 came as a surprise to the club’s board. Really?
A statement at the time said that the Glens had been working with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to pay a tax bill within an agreed period of time.
To be fair they weren’t the only club in Northern Ireland who owed money to the HMRC at that time. The Irish FA had already stepped in to work with all parties involved, yet the Glens were still chased for the cash.
Thanks to the intervention of First Minister Peter Robinson the £300,000 the Glens owed was paid by a mystery investor who pledged another £150,000 to the club to help them get out of the financial mire.
No wonder the secret millionaire insisted on anonimity.
He’s either trying to avoid being taken to the funny farm for throwing his money into a black hole or else he’s got that much cash at his disposal that David Cameron would be asking him to sort out the national debt.
Glentoran Football Club was supposed to have been saved when the mystery money man stepped in almost two years ago, but the state of the their finances seems to be as bad as ever, if not worse.
There was a further winding up order in May 2011, when sportswear giants Umbro were demanding £65,000 from the club. There has been further financial firefighting and while the club has survived every winding up petition, the question is why have they found themselves in such a position time and time again?
Terence Brannigan stepped in as chairman in January 2011 as part of the deal that saved the club. Two other men, Brian Ambrose, director of operations at Belfast City Airport and Belfast Harbour Commissioner David Russell came in as directors at the same time.
They were meant to steady the ship, get the club on an even keel and embark on a bright new future, but Ambrose and Russell were in situ just six months before stepping down. Brannigan remains, but steady waters seem a long way off.
Whether it’s financial mismanagement, spending beyond their means or the current board paying for the sins of the past and being unable — so far at least — to turn the tide of serious losses is hard to know.
Similar to Rangers, whose financial plight resulted in them having to start again from scratch in the Scottish Football League, previous boards have hardly been innocent. Remember in 2007 when they tried to appoint Roy Walker as manager in full knowledge that he didn’t have the required coaching qualifications? Alan McDonald was then named as boss a matter of days later.
It’s only three months since Newry City went out of business and if Glentoran think they are too big to go to the wall then they may be in for a rude awakening.