The Football League are coming under pressure to impose “a serious points deduction” if Sheffield Wednesday are found guilty of misconduct over the sale of Hillsborough.
The Owls, plus owner Dejphon Chansiri, finance director John Redgate and former chief executive Katrien Meire, were charged in November over the way they tried to exploit a loophole in the League's “profit and sustainability” rules – their equivalent of financial fair play.
Sky Sports have reported that “a number of Championship clubs” are demanding serious action.
Wednesday sold their famous ground to Chansiri and leased it back, which is permitted, but there is discomfort about the value put on the ground and the timing of the deal, with the money lodged in the accounts the financial year before it was recorded in Land Registry documents. The deal made the difference between the club exceeded the maximum permitted £39m losses over a three-year period, and not.
Significantly, they have not been charged with breaking the profit and sustainability rules, as Derby County were in January. The sale of the Madejski Stadium to Reading's owners is also thought to be under investigation.
The Owls say they ran everything past the league first, and are contesting what they have called an “unlawful” decision.
There is no precedent for the case, and League rules offer plenty of scope, from a reprimand to a points deduction, financial penalty or expulsion from the league. The maximum points deduction for breaking profit and sustainability rules is 21 points, and Birmingham City were docked nine last year for a breach. The individuals could be banned from the game.
Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson has been the most vocal boardroom voice calling for the League to impose its rules more strictly, and their treatment of Wednesday and Derby suggests an appetite to do so.
The Owls went into Christmas third in the Championship, worried a points deduction might threaten their promotion hopes, but their form since means a big deduction could drag them into a relegation battle, as Birmingham were last season. Their manager then was Garry Monk, now in charge at Hillsborough.
Wednesday are 12th in table 14 points above the relegation zone.
Once clubs are charged, the Football League hand the matter over to an independent commission, who control the timescale as well as the punishments, but all footballing parties will want the matter resolved as soon as possible and certainly by mid-March to minimise potential legal action if a delayed punishment has a bearing on promotion or relegation, and so as not to affect the integrity of next season's competition.