Bates battles with club's chairman for stake in Wednesday

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The Independent Football

It has been quite a week for 72-year-olds, although Ken Bates' attempt to buy a stake in Sheffield Wednesday may not give him quite as much pleasure as Des O'Connor's fatherhood.

It has been quite a week for 72-year-olds, although Ken Bates' attempt to buy a stake in Sheffield Wednesday may not give him quite as much pleasure as Des O'Connor's fatherhood.

Less than a month after resigning as the chairman of Chelsea, Bates called a press conference at a Sheffield hotel to question publicly why his offer of a £10m investment in the ailing Second Division club had been blocked by the Hillsborough board.

He claimed Wednesday's bankers, the Co-op, had been prevented by the club's chairman, Dave Allen, from talking to him and announced that in his opinion Sheffield Wednesday were virtually bankrupt.

Bates, who did not rule out replacing Allen as chairman, may have been born in West London but temperamentally he is a Yorkshireman and plain speaking was the order of the day. "What have they got to hide?" Bates said. "Is there a black hole at Wednesday? The accounts are a year out of date. The fact is, the company is insolvent; liabilities will exceed assets by £5m. The board should allow me to see the company's bankers face to face to be reassured that everything is satisfactory. When they allow that to happen, the deal will be done very quickly."

Bates will face stern opposition from Allen, who runs casinos, a greyhound track and a stylish Indian brasserie in the city, and can match Bates for bluntness. "A bloody disgrace" was his reaction to the news that the Wednesday Trust, a supporter-run organisation that owns 9.6 per cent of the shareholding, had backed Bates.

Allen's fury was largely due to the fact that he and two other directors had given the trust the shares when three years ago they bought out the venture capitalists Charterhouse, who owned 36 per cent of the club.

"Now they have turned against the board," he said. "They are a very untrusting set of individuals." Sheffield Wednesday, a club with the largest wage bill in a Second Division they are almost certain to be playing in next year, are on course to declare a total debt of £25m, while plans to sell their training ground to Asda in an attempt to raise £10m have been blocked by the city council.

Allen described Bates' claim that his club was insolvent as "tripe", pointing out that the accounts had passed muster at this month's stormy annual general meeting. He said he would talk to Bates when he received written proposals.

Allen's own plan to salvage Wednesday involves a further slashing of salaries and he doubted Bates' £10m would make much of an impact. "£4.5m is owed to the directors in loans and he will have to buy out our shares, which comes to £7m. And he is saying he will not sell the training ground, so the bank will be interested in how he will reduce the debts."

Allen has loaned the club £2m and pays the wages of the striker Mark Robins, but he charges Sheffield Wednesday £150,000 a year in interest. In contrast, Peter Johnson charges nothing for the £6m he has put into Tranmere Rovers.

Allen admitted the club's accounts were out of date but claimed there was an agreement with the Co-operative Bank that these could be delayed until 2005 "or beyond".

Sheffield Wednesday still boast enormous support. Their average gate of 22,328 is 1,000 more than Sheffield United, who are pressing for promotion to the Premiership, can attract to Bramall Lane.

Nevertheless, should Bates succeed, the future of the manager, Chris Turner, looks bleak. "I don't know of a successful manager who has ever played as a goalkeeper," Bates said, conveniently forgetting the career of Dino Zoff.

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