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Daily Telegraph

WIMBLEDON’S future as a professional football club could be decided before the World Cup begins at the end of May. The Football Association, who have been asked by the Football League to decide whether they can move to Milton Keynes, are being pressed to make a decision before the FA hierarchy decamp to Japan.

Should the FA say no, Wimbledon’s owners are planning to put the club into administration.

Charles Koppel, the Wimbledon chairman, told Telegraph Sport: “If they reject our proposal then we will have to look at the future of the club and whether we put the club into administration. It will be up to the administrator to consider whether the club is financially viable and he may decide there’s no option but to liquidate.”

Koppel has already taken steps to make sure the club are ready for either option: Milton Keynes or bust. Although renewal notices for season tickets have gone out, the money that is coming in is being put in an escrow account. This means the money will not be used to run the club but kept in a separate account. This is necessary under the rules of administration. And even if the move to Milton Keynes is sanctioned, Koppel wants to keep the money intact to refund season-ticket holders who do not want to go there.

Wimbledon’s 3,400 season-ticket holders bring in just under £1 million. So far 150 have renewed. The Independent Supporters’ Association voted not to renew season tickets but Koppel dismisses this saying they represent just 10 per cent of the total season-ticket holders.

Although the new stadium at Milton Keynes will not be ready for next season should the FA say yes, Koppel has two temporary sites where he says Wimbledon could play next season. One belongs to the English Hockey Association. The other is the Milton Keynes Bowl, more famous for rock concerts. Wimbledon have been tenants at Selhurst Park, the home of Crystal Palace, since 1991 but have not given notice of leaving.

There have also been talks with Northampton Rugby Club though Koppel denies any deal has been done. He says that the club looked at sites in a 25-mile radius from Plough Lane and their former ground sold to a supermarket chain, but could find nothing suitable.

Koppel admits the club’s move could be seen as holding a gun to the FA’s head: allow us to move to Milton Keynes or we close Wimbledon.

“Yes, that could be the perception. But we’re not holding a gun to the FA’s head. If people had looked at the Wimbledon document properly they would have seen that because we don’t own our own stadium we suffer more than the 91 other professional clubs. Because of that we lose £3 million in income every year that other clubs have.

“From next season we lose the parachute payment of £5.5 million we got for being relegated from the Premiership and it looks as if we won’t get the £3 million from ITV Digital, so that’s a total of £12 million less.”

Wimbledon’s loss this season — £8 million — will be met by the club’s Norwegian owners. Koppel is planning to cut the wage bill of £10.5 million by £2 million by discarding 16 players who have come to the end of their contracts. They include Neal Ardley, Gareth Ainsworth, Dean Blackwell, Ian Feuer, Alan Kimble and Andy Roberts.

Based on an earning of an average of £6,000-a-week, this could cut the wage bill by £2 million. The staff will be slimmed down from 51 to 34 though half of them will be 18 and 19-year-olds in the first year of their professional contracts and therefore at the bottom of the salary range.

Should Wimbledon close down it may also save the £10,000 owed to Peter Hawkins. He needs to play one more match to qualify for that. Koppel is considering six or seven “interesting” applications to replace Terry Burton as manager but they do not include former manager Dave Bassett or Stewart Robson, the former head coach under Burton.

So far the Football League and the FA have been playing pass the parcel with the Wimbledon application. Last autumn, when Koppel made his move, the mood in the League and the FA was of total opposition. Since then and the collapse of ITV Digital, plus much lobbying by Koppel, the mood appears to have softened.

The Football League have already incurred a legal bill of £500,000 fighting Wimbledon and one League chairman said: “I’d let Wimbledon move provided they pay the League’s legal bill. In our present situation we can’t afford it to come out of our pot, which is shrinking by the day.”

© Mihir Bose

      

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