7 August ~ The first round of fixtures in League One today includes the curious pairing of Sheffield Wednesday and Dagenham & Redbridge. For Dagenham, League Two play-off winners in May, a visit to Hillsborough marks the latest staging post in their rise from non-League. For Wednesday, back in the third tier following relegation from the Championship, the pressure to achieve at least a play-off position is added to their continuing off-field trauma. Can Alan Irvine’s revamped side deliver?
In the summer the club released six players, among them the often infuriating Leon Clarke and the injury-prone Francis Jeffers, while eight, including Clinton Morrison, Nicky Weaver and Gary Teale, arrived. Encouraging changes that suggest the team may strive for the top, or at least top six. Yet following a winless pre-season (discarding the two routs against local sides Hallam and Stocksbridge) and the sale of the excellent keeper Lee Grant to Burnley, realities of life in at this level will likely prove difficult – Nottingham Forest and Leeds found the division tough. And the last time Wednesday were in League One, five years ago, they only narrowly escaped through the bottleneck of the play-offs, this after a determined season-long fight.
Worse still for the Owls are their financial problems. Much of the £1 million raised from the sale of Grant will be used to cover a £550,000 unpaid tax bill. Only on Thursday was an agreement reached with Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs over payment of this liability, cancelling both the winding-up petition that had been placed and subsequent Football League transfer embargo, while the crippling debt – over £25m – forces the sales of the best players, disrupting any attempt to build a cohesive team. In recent years Madjid Bougherra, Chris Brunt, Glenn Whelan and Richard Wood have all left for decent fees, little was directed back to the manager’s transfer fund. Investment is desperately needed.
Recently the Owls received a bid from American sports management company, Club 9. In exchange for majority share of the club, along with £400,000 per annum in "management fees", the investors promised an immediate £3.5m, a further £2m next season and a reduction, by around 20 per cent, of the club’s debt. This offer was rejected by the Wednesday board – at least £5m is required “on day one”, they say – though reports indicate Club 9 are to rebid and meet this demand. Whatever happens next in the unending takeover saga supporters can at least now look forward to the new season. Tom Whitworth