JOHN RYAN last night branded the Football League a “disgrace” after pulling the plug on his joint bid to take charge of Doncaster Rovers with singer Louis Tomlinson.
The pair were expecting to have a deal to buy 85 per cent of the League One club ratified today, which would have allowed manager Paul Dickov belatedly to start his recruitment plans.
Those plans, however, were thrown into serious doubt during several meetings with League officials earlier this week.
A tightening up of the regulations surrounding change of ownership – basically, rules over source and sufficiency of funding that previously applied only to Championship clubs were extended to include the bottom two divisions during the League’s summer meeting – was the stumbling block.
And yesterday those discussions came to a head with Ryan and Tomlinson deciding to walk away after being told their offer did not meet the new more stringent standards.
“It is a disgrace,” said angry former Rovers chairman Ryan exclusively to The Yorkshire Post. “An absolute disgrace and a black day for football.
“We are the first people to suffer because of the new Football League rules over what, to them, constitutes a fit and proper person. They are trying to say we can’t fund it. But that is absolute nonsense.”
He added: “I have had 20 years in the game and I would challenge anyone to look at my record and say, ‘He’s not been good for his club’.
“As for me, everything is over now. I am finished with football. Totally finished. The day when something like this happens is the day when it is time to walk away.
“As far as I am concerned, they (the Football League) can take a running jump.”
Ryan and Tomlinson revealed their plans to buy out current major shareholders, Terry Bramall and Dick Watson, midway through last month. It seemed a match made in heaven, two local lads made good with Tomlinson a multi-millionaire thanks to pop band One Direction and Ryan a successful businessman with a successful 15-year stint as Doncaster chairman already on his CV. His previous spell on the board had only ended in November, when Ryan suddenly quit.
Supporters were distraught to lose the man who had led a spectacular revival in the club’s fortunes since the nadir of the mid-Nineties when Rovers were relegated out of the Football League and almost went bust.
On announcing the takeover proposals, Ryan and Tomlinson also launched a ‘Crowdfunder’ initiative designed to raise £2m inside a month.
When the deadline elapsed yesterday, the amount pledged stood at £757,796.
Ryan insisted all along that the takeover was not dependent on the £2m target being met and, instead, he laid the blame for the collapse of the deal at the door of the League.
He said: “We are the first people to fall foul of this new approach by the Football League
“The criteria is set so high now that I can’t imagine anyone will be able to pass the test. Certainly not in the lower leagues, at least.
“I asked the League if we had any chance of passing the test and they simply said ‘no’. I find that ridiculous. Basically, they (the League) are taking into account nothing but pure cash. But what about assets?
“I have assets, Louis certainly has assets. What we don’t have is £5m in cash sitting there, which is what the League seems to want.
“Who has that amount of cash? People have assets and that should be taken into account. How is anyone going to pass in the future?
“Maybe they should ask all the current owners to see if they can pass this new test. My guess is very few would be able to pass.”
The League have been under pressure to tighten up their rules over a change of ownership for some time.
A protracted battle with Massimo Cellino over his attempts to buy Leeds United brought the matter to a head, with the Italian being initially turned away only for the decision to be overturned on a legal appeal.
The subject was discussed at length when the 72 member clubs met in June at the League’s annual summer meeting.
A Football League spokesman said: “In any club takeover it is a requirement for the prospective purchaser to provide a business plan and to demonstrate that the funding is in place to deliver on that plan.
“This is part of the League’s ongoing efforts to ensure the financial sustainability of our clubs.
“In this case, this fundamental requirement has not yet been met. We are in close contact with the club and will continue our dialogue.”
Yesterday’s dramatic collapse of the takeover is a blow to manager Dickov, who has spent weeks lining up a host of signings in readiness for the expected green light being given to Ryan and Tomlinson taking charge.
Several of those players have been in Portugal this week at the club’s training camp but it is now unclear how many Dickov will be able to sign.