By Harry Mottram: In a stunning interview with BBC Hereford & Worcester the owner of rugby’s Worcester Warriors Jim O’Toole said the Worcester Warriors Rugby Union Club is confined to history.
The plan had been to accept relegation to the second tier of rugby union’s pyramid in the Championship but Atlas Sports Tech said the conditions were too onerous as laid out by the Rugby Football Union (RFU). Instead Warriors CEO Jim O’Toole and James Sandford of Atlas plan to sidestep that option and instead route link up with Stourbridge RFU who are in the fourth tier of the pyramid. If they can do a deal with Stourbridge then they would be free of any RFU restrictions and could be back in the Gallagher Premiership by 2026. That’s as may be.
Inexplicably for fans of Worcester the club would be reborn as Sixways Rugby – Sixways being the name of the ground in Worcester – which if the Rugby Football Union (RFU) agree to the deal it could mean the team would continue to play at the ground – possibly as a hybrid club in unison with Stourbridge.
Ian Carrotte of Somerset’s ICSM Sports Business that deals with issues of insolvency in the sector said it was not a done deal as Stourbridge and the RFU would have to agree to the plan – and then there were the fans.
He said: “If you look on social media the Worcester fans are incensed with the plan. Ticket holders are already owed millions of pounds, the suppliers are also left high and dry and there’s the small matter of HMRC’s two million quid in unpaid tax, and the £16 million pounds in Covid Sports Survival cash from the Government. When Wasps left North London for the Midlands they may have moved to a top stadium at Coventry they left behind a chunk of their support and a chunk of their cashflow. Fans like continuity.
“When London Welsh went bust they started again at the bottom – and have returned to their roots and are working their way back to the big time. Rangers football club in Glasgow went bust and had to start again in the lower leagues but their fans didn’t desert them. They soon gained successive promotions and are back at the top table. Teaming up with Stourbridge is high risk.”
Atlas Sports Tech is run by the former Warriors CEO Jim O’Toole and his colleague James Sandford. They had been in talks with the RFU but pulled out of negotiations citing the conditions were too onerous. According to media reports Atlas would prefer to build a relationship with Stourbridge using their fourth tier of the pyramid as a steppingstone to the Premiership – to be achieved by 2026. A tie up with Wasps who have also gone bust was ruled out.
BBC Hereford & Worcester’s Andrew Easton reported Atlas co-owner Jim O’Toole as saying: “We and the investors couldn’t accept them as they were too onerous. It would have given the RFU control over key decisions that we as a business will have to take. This decision will clearly upset and annoy a number of people. The sad fact of life is that the Worcester Warriors brand and the Worcester Warriors business is gone.
“We didn’t want to go down to the 10th tier as Worcester Warriors, so the name sadly will disappear. We are rebranding as Sixways Rugby. We’re starting afresh. We believe it is time for a new start. The church has closed down.
“We will invest the maximum we can within the RFU regulations to get the club through the leagues to get to the Championship by 2026. They’ll in effect become our first team in our journey to returning to top level rugby. They will play at Sixways from the start of next season. We’ll be sustainable, not reckless. The ultimate goal is to get back to the Premiership but the gut feeling is that it will be ring-fenced.”
It all remains in doubt as Stourbridge are based 23 miles away and are currently bottom of National League Division Two West and could be relegated.
For information on ICSM visit www.icsmcredit.com or call 0844 854 1850.
ICSM, The Exchange, Express Park, Bristol Road, Bridgwater, Somerset TA6 4RR. Tel: 0844 854 1850. www.icsmcredit.com. Ian.firstname.lastname@example.org