Wilkinson in as Strafford quits as Sheffield Wednesday chairman

HOWARD Wilkinson was appointed interim chairman of Sheffield Wednesday yesterday following the shock resignation of Lee Strafford.

Wilkinson, who managed the Owls for five years in the Eighties before moving to Leeds United, had been working as an unpaid technical adviser to the Hillsborough board.

Strafford's departure came just days after the collapse of a proposed 20m investment deal with Chicago-based sports company Club 9 Sports.

The Owls are also preparing for life in League One after being relegated from the Championship on the final day of the season.

Wilkinson said: "Lee has been here 18 months, working a lot of hours.

He is a young man with a young family and a career to re-establish and he just felt it was the right time."

Wilkinson will remain at the helm – in an unpaid capacity – until the start of the new football season on August 7 and will play a major role in transfer negotiations over the summer.

Talks with potential investors, meanwhile, are said to be continuing as the Owls, still burdened by debts of 25m, seek a catalyst for financial revival.

Strafford had been in the job for 16 months and, despite injecting none of his own personal wealth, had revitalised the club's commercial activities, boosted attendances, and improved the club's medical department.

He sacked manager Brian Laws after a dismal run of results in December and appointed Alan Irvine as replacement just a week after his dismissal by Preston North End. Although results initially improved, Irvine was unable to prevent the club's relegation.

Wilkinson last night paid tribute to Strafford who he described as a 'true fan of Sheffield Wednesday' whose 'efforts towards rebuilding the club should not be forgotten'.

He also revealed that he had been 'shocked' by his departure and was not interested in taking over as chairman on a permanent basis.

"I am chairman of the League Managers' Association and I don't honestly feel I am the person to take on the wider responsibilities that this job demands," said Wilkinson, who is 66.

"If the job is to be done properly, I don't have the time, but it was suggested that, given the priorities of the next few weeks, I was possibly the best person to deal with them.

"My job at the moment is to try and make sure we get through this tricky period as successfully as possible.

"But I still can't stop asking myself why I have accepted the role. 'Why are you so stupid?' I was a manager and the only people who get nearly as much criticism as a manager are directors, especially the chairman."

Strafford, a lifelong supporter of the club, first developed his relationship with the Owls' board when his internet company PlusNet acted as shirt sponsors following promotion to the Championship.

He was invited to join the board in December 2008 – which at that time had been without a chairman for 12 months following the resignation of Dave Allen – and took on the chairmanship a month later.

In a statement issued yesterday, Strafford said: "Although it was not my aim when I offered to help our club, it has been a huge honour and privilege to be the chairman of our great club.

"It is now time for me to return to just being a fan and, like all of us, I hope that we can see our club back in the Championship as quickly as possible.

"I am proud of what we have achieved in terms of completely revitalising all of the off-field activities of the club."

He added: "It is a disappointment that the investment process has not, at this point, resulted in a positive outcome having clearly been impacted by the threat of, and ultimate relegation to, League One.

Having said that, it is my view that the club can progress on its own two feet without outside investment. I hope the board continues to build on the foundations that have been laid."

Wilkinson, meanwhile, revealed that he had already held several meetings with manager Irvine about squad rebuilding.

Irvine wants a minimum of six new players and has stressed the importance of holding onto the club's best players this summer, including striker Marcus Tudgay and goalkeeper Lee Grant.

"The priority in the short term is to ensure that Alan is given the best possible tools to do the job," said Wilkinson, who will also be involved in talks with investors. "I am there to help him – but the choice of which players and why is for him to make."

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