Sheffield Eagles in race against time to avoid collapse

Sheffield Eagles chairman Ian Swire, left, and head coach Mark Aston.
Sheffield Eagles chairman Ian Swire, left, and head coach Mark Aston.
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SHEFFIELD EAGLES are on the verge of financial collapse and could soon cease to exist unless investment is found fast.

That was the stark reality tonight after the the club - who famously produced the biggest ever Challenge Cup final shock by beating Wigan at Wembley in 1998 - made a brutally honest statement concerning the state of their affairs.

Long-serving chairman Ian Swire had already announced in mid-June that he would leave at the end of the season after the departure of an unnamed investor left the Eagles’ bold plans for a new stadium and ability to afford a full-time playing staff in a mess.

Although the Championship club reached the Qualifiers last season and, indeed, defeated Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, their 2016 campaign has been disastrous.

Despite Sheffield ditching part-time status to try and maintain their challenge for promotion back into Super League, the ploy has backfired badly.

Rather than strengthening their playing standards, they have gone on to endure their worst finish in years, coming seventh, a massive 27 points behind leaders Leigh Centurions, with just eight wins from 23 games.

They are currently consigned to the Championship Shield but tonight club management admitted they will “very shortly be unable to fulfil its financial obligations” and have sought insolvency advice.

Part of the problem has been, since leaving their long-standing home of Don Valley Stadium at the end of 2013, Sheffield have played home matches a different venue for three consecutive campaigns.

First there was Owlerton Stadium, then Doncaster Rovers’ Keepmoat Stadium and, currently, Sheffield Hallam University’s Sports Park.

They do hope to attract new investment but the club statement read: “Sadly, our club is in a rather dire financial predicament at this time – so much so that we are open to all options including facing the very real prospect that Sheffield Eagles RLFC could indeed cease to exist entirely.

“The club performed exceptionally well last season and was in contention for promotion to Super League, which had we achieved it, no doubt would have attracted new investment to take the club to a consistently higher level.

“The club was totally committed to achieving the goal of playing Super League football once again this year, but due to a complex set of reasons including the strong competition in the league we have seen our best efforts fall short.

“Many of you will know that our club went ‘full-time’ this year. While this provides players with a great opportunity of development through the benefits of being able to fully commit to the cause and receiving full time coaching, with it comes significant financial responsibilities for the club.

“As a result of many factors - not least being the loss of a significant investor and the fact that we have been playing ‘on the road’ throughout the season – the club will very shortly be unable to fulfil its financial obligations and as a result of this we have sought professional insolvency advice.

“As it stands today, the club is working incredibly hard to ensure that it can honour all of its financial commitments in order to see the current season through and also to attract investment and funding from the business or sporting community.”

The South Yorkshire club has survived before; they were originally formed in 1984 by Gary Hetherington but - after falling out of Super League following the shambolic merger with Huddersfield Giants in 1999 - rose once more under club legend and current coach Mark Aston in 2000 although have always played second-tier football since.

They are due to host Swinton Lions on Sunday as work off the field continues to find crucial new investment.

The statement continued: “Despite the current situation we are facing, the club have far from thrown the towel in.

“We have been in advanced discussions with several prospective investors who are committed to the future of Rugby League in South Yorkshire.

“While there are external factors which we are working hard to address, the opportunity to build on the great work of the current team is palpable.

“While the club has suffered from the fact that it lost its long-time home, we are in advanced discussions with Sheffield City Council and Legacy Park Ltd about building a state-of-the-art facility to offer not only a home for our Rugby club, but also a sporting facility in the community, office space, a gymnasium, fabulous training facilities and a permanent venue for junior development in both codes of rugby and other related activities.

“We are actively seeking discussions with anyone interested in leading or being a significant part of saving this wonderful club.

“At this time, the club continues to fight with the commitment and leadership of the Board of Directors and the support of its coaches, playing and support staff and of course its incredible fans, without which the club would not even exist.

“It could be a supporter group, a wealthy entrepreneur, a business or a fellow sporting club who writes the next chapter with us here at the Eagles – one thing is for sure, we will do everything in our power to make sure that this wonderful club lives to fight another season and secures its long term future.”