Sheffield Wednesday owner Dejphon Chansiri charged over sale of Hillsborough

Sheffield Wednesday’s owner, finance director and former chief executive have been charged with misconduct over the sale of Hillsborough.

General view of Hillsborough, home of Sheffield Wednesday
General view of Hillsborough, home of Sheffield Wednesday

Owner Dejphon Chansiri, finance director John Redgate and former chief executive Katrien Meire could be banned from football if found guilty by an independent panel.

It was already known that the club had been charged with misconduct by the Football League over the same matter.

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The Owls said at the time they will “vigorously defend” themselves, and last month manager Garry Monk made it clear they are bemused by the scrutiny.

Owls chairman Dejphon Chansiri has been charged with misconduct. (Picture: Steve Ellis)

Wednesday are one of a number of clubs to have recently sold their ground to their owner or an associated company and leased it back as a loophole to avoid falling foul of the Football League’s “profit and sustainability” rules, but the only one charged so far. There have also been questions asked about Derby County, Reading and Aston Villa, the latter of whom won promotion to the Premier League last season.

Under the profit and sustainability regulations – the Football League (EFL) version of financial fair play – Championship clubs are allowed to incur losses of up to £39m over three years.

The Owls lost £9.8m and £20.8m in 2015-16 and 2016-17 respectively, but the sale of Hillsborough turned a pre-tax loss of £35m for 2017-18 into a £2.5m profit.

Although the League was making no comment, the timing of the process is thought to be behind their discomfort. The sale appeared in the Owls’ 2018 accounts despite Land Registry documents apparently saying it was not completed for another year. The payment is due in seven instalments over eight years.

Grounds have to be sold at market value in circumstances such as these. The £60m Chansiri’s company paid for Hillsborough compares to West Ham United’s £40m outlay on the Olympic Stadium, and the £27m Reading sold the Madejski Stadium for.

Because no club has previously been charged in this way, second-guessing any possible punishment is difficult. Under League regulations, sanctions can range from a reprimand to a points deduction, financial penalty or expulsion from the league. Had they instead exceeded the £39m barrier for losses, the maximum points deduction was 21 points.

Thai businessman Chansiri, who bought the Owls from Milan Mandaric in 2015, announced last December he was putting the club up for sale, but is yet to find a buyer.

He told a fans forum at the time the Owls “broke the rules a lot: eight figures high”.

Wednesday were placed under a transfer embargo in the summer of 2018, and a “soft” embargo at the start of the last window which meant they had to communicate with the League over their transfer dealings. They spent £400,000 bringing Massimo Luongo from Queens Park Rangers, as well as making free transfers and loan signings. Lucas Joao was sold to Reading for around £5m, but they were able to keep other key players such as Adam Reach, Barry Bannan and Steven Fletcher. They also received a compensation payment thought to be in the region of £4m when manager Steve Bruce left for Newcastle United late in pre-season.

Redgate resigned from the board last year, but remained as finance director. Meire, a former Charlton Athletic chief executive, left Hillsborough in February.

“The communication has been fantastic over the last year, between the club and the EFL,” manager Monk claimed recently. “The charges that were put forward were things which the EFL would have ratified and agreed to at the beginning.

“That’s where the strangeness of it, the surprise for the club, is.”

Monk was at Birmingham City when they fell foul of the profit and sustainability rules.

The Blues were docked nine points in March, but their charge was for a breach of the regulations, whereas Wednesday’s and that of the three individuals is understood to be one of misconduct.

An independent disciplinary commission will now take over the process and its timescale, but for the sake of the integrity of the Championship, the hope will be that it can be resolved this season.

Three years ago then-Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino received an 18-month Football Association ban from being a director or “shadow director” for his use of unauthorised agents and creating a “sham scouting agreement for the purposes of deceiving the FA” when selling Ross McCormack to Fulham in July 2014. It was reduced to a year on appeal. Cellino subsequently sold his shares to Andrea Radrizanni, who took full ownership of the Elland Road club.

Wednesday are ninth in the Championship, two points off the play-off places and 13 above the relegation zone.

Meanwhile the kick-off for February 8’s Championship trip to Barnsley has been brought forward to 1.30pm.