Celtic Crusaders on the Run?

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celtic_crusaders.pngNews of the Celtic Crusaders financial woes – with the club now facing an uncertain future after being served with a winding-up notice by HM Revenue and Customs (HRMC) – was only marginally less predictable than England’s flop in the Four Nations.

For all the relative success of their second season in Super League, the move to Wrexham was always fraught with danger, with the Wrexham AFC soccer club itself in a parlous financial state and both outfits owned by the Wrexham Village Ltd.

A quick look at the Companies House records shows the Crusaders’ accounts as overdue and the company, whilst active, has a status of ‘Pending Strike Off’. Indeed a compulsory strike off was suspended on September 21st.

As for Wrexham Village, Ian Roberts remains a listed director but Paul Retout’s directorship is listed as ‘Appointment Terminated’ (19 July 2010). Retout is the only registered director of the Crusaders (as listed by Companies House).

None of that means the club is going under, but it does show a lamentable lack of management and organisation; highlighting perhaps the hand-to-mouth state of finances that bedevil the Crusaders and Wrexham AFC.

Indications in press reports from the area, which suggest that any funds from the Wrexham Village development destined for Wrexham AFC have already been received, paint an even blacker picture.

So, it was only momentarily heartening to read the Wrexham Leader quoting Crusaders’ chariman, Ian Roberts as saying:

Rugby league is staying in Wrexham”.

A blunt statement born – we can only hope – of more than stubborn pride, especially since the club put out an equally terse statement this week.

The club appreciates the concerns of supporters but we are not currently in a position to comment any further on matters. The club will make a further announcement regarding all the issues in the near future. We hope to clear these issues up as soon as possible and we thank fans and supporters for their patience.

The HRMC’s case against the club is due to be heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on November 10 and the club’s unattributed and brief statement was little comfort to the people of Wrexham and the wider RL community who can only wait and wonder.

Whilst we have become accustomed to soccer clubs playing brinksmanship in this way and escaping in the nick of time, it is much harder to see a sugar-daddy courting the Crusaders; only Euro Millions lottery winners need apply.

Whether the Crusaders and or the RFL can negotiate a settlement with HRMC and the RL Players Association remains to be seen; but even if they do, the finances to sustain the club are hardly apparent.

The consequences of the Crusaders demise, should it happen, coupled with England’s habitual defeats in Australia will likely have major ramifications on the game’s future.

The development of the sport outside of the M62 commuter belt is essential if England are ever to be competitive on the world stage. Richard Lewis and the RFL know that. That is why they cannot let this and similar expansion ventures fail without a fight. The quality and depth of sporting talent produced from the game’s current population base is simply insufficient to match up to Antipodean opponents for whom playing rugby league is simply a higher priority.

Yet, I cannot believe we were still hearing ‘the gap is closing’ statements in the run up to this series. It’s been closing for 30-years and still we cannot come close to winning a meaningful series agains the Australians.

So with the Crusaders wobbling and the future of the Harlequins hardly more certain, the game would seem to be close to sounding the retreat and battening down the hatches. Certainly there are many in the game itself who would welcome Super League swapping Wrexham and London for Leigh and Widnes.

If that happens we should just put up the ‘Gone Fishing’ signs, and form a northern division of rugby union’s premiership instead.

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  • **** UPDATE ****
    The Crusaders announced late Friday that they had “paid what was owed” and that they expected the HMRC winding-up order to be dismissed. No comment was made about the missing pension contributions or possible litigation by the RLPA (Ian Bridge)