Northeastern England’s Bedlington Terriers Football Club gained international attention when Robert E. Rich Jr., billionaire owner of the Buffalo Bisons baseball team, sponsored and assisted the Britons to the tune of more than $100,000 just over two years ago.
But the soccer team is now on the ropes, according to a creditor’s court filing alleging that it is owed the equivalent of more than $22,525.
The Terriers, who have a 64-year history in the gritty, working-class community of about 15,000, are on the verge of being “winded up” – a British legal term pertaining to forcing a company’s liquidation – after a nearby company, Trystar Construction Ltd. of Choppington, accused the club of failing to repay a loan.
Under the law in England, creditors can “wind up” a company by petitioning the court and proving that it owes “more than 750 pounds [about $1,126 U.S.] to one or more creditors” and that the company can’t repay the debt. If the “winding up petition” is successful in the court, the company is liquidated, and creditors are paid from whatever proceeds are left.
Media reports in the United Kingdom say Rich intimated through his lawyers that he would remain on the sidelines during the ordeal instead of rescuing the longtime financially floundering club, which competes in red jerseys emblazoned with the Rich’s corporate logo across the front.
“Bob Rich is very supportive and sympathetic. But he’s already told us through his solicitors that he’s not going to get involved,” Ronan Liddane, chairman of the soccer club, recently told the Newcastle, England-based Evening Chronicle. “He’s very neutral. It’s his decision.”
It’s a position that Rich took in a June 2011 interview with The Buffalo News shortly after he contributed more than $100,000 in sponsoring the team, as well as resodding the club’s home field and buying it an electronic scoreboard – the first of its kind in the league of nearly two-dozen clubs and something Trystar apparently seeks in the club’s liquidation.
Rich even brought members of the Terriers to Buffalo in a 2011 expenses-paid trip to visit the area and play in exhibition matches.
Around that time, Rich told team members that he would “give them the tools to help themselves” but that they must be self-sustaining.
“I have pointed out to them all the way along that I am not going to be their fairy godfather; I am not going to be Daddy Warbucks coming in here,” Rich said then.
Dwight M. Gram, Rich Products’ vice president for communications, told The News that the company is aware of Trystar’s “wind up” petition in the U.K. court and the Terriers’ financial conundrum.
“We understand they are struggling financially, and we hope they resolve their issues in a timely manner,” Gram said. “Rich’s will continue to be a lead sponsor for the club through our U.K. operations, as we have since 2011.”
In a recent statement on the soccer club’s website, Liddane stated that the loan was taken by its previous chairman.
“When I took over as chairman, I was assured on three occasions that there was no debt at the club,” Liddane stated. “When this ‘loan’ came to light. I tried to negotiate the situation with [Ritchie Wharton of Trystar Construction Ltd.], but his main focus was on winding up the club and taking the scoreboard, which is not ours, but Mr. Bob Rich’s property.”
Liddane further stated that the club’s “legal team” was negotiating with Trystar and was “confident that the matter will be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction” and that it would continue “playing football.”
The club’s dilemma even reached the floor of the House of Commons last month when a member of Parliament drew attention to the matter and the financial crunch experienced by similar smaller clubs in the U.K.
The Terriers are 19-13-7 in their season that began in early November. They have 15 games left on a schedule that runs through at least April 27, according to the club’s website. The club played to a 0-0 draw at home Wednesday in what a local newspaper called “a drab affair.”
“With an impending winding up order,” northeastern England’s News Post Leader reported in its Thursday article about the match, “it is possible this was the last game for Bedlington Terriers, and if it is, it ended on a dull note.”
A scheduled Feb. 22 hearing on the “wind up” in the High Court of Justice, Newcastle District, was adjourned. The date to which the matter was adjourned remained unclear.