A consortium backed by Southampton's former talisman, Matt Le Tissier, yesterday entered into a 21-day "exclusivity agreement" with the club's administrators with a view to buying Saints and saving them from oblivion.
The Pinnacle consortium has paid an undisclosed, non-refundable fee to guarantee exclusive bargaining rights with administrators Begbies Traynor until 19 June. That gives Pinnacle three weeks to agree a deal to buy the stricken club, and come to agreement with creditors over debts.
Southampton's holding company entered administration in April owing £23.7m to Norwich Union for St Mary's Stadium, £4m to Barclays Bank, £2m to the Inland Revenue and at least £2m to agents and various suppliers.
Saints, who were relegated from the Championship this year, will start next season in League One with a penalty of -10 points for going into administration.
Pinnacle's non-refundable deposit, as well as £400,000 receipts from the fire-sale of striker Nathan Dyer to Swansea, has allowed the administrators to pay Southampton's wage bill for May of around £550,000, and buy breathing space for negotiations.
"The exclusivity agreement will last for 21 days, during which time we will be working hard with the consortium on the technical aspects required to complete the sale, and we will make a further announcement when it is appropriate to do so," said Mark Fry, of Begbies. A spokesman for the consortium, which is believed to involve local property dealers and businessmen as well as Le Tissier, said: "No further details about our [members] can or will be released until their acquisition has been completed. [After that] I am sure they will be only too pleased to share in the excitement of the challenge which lies ahead."
Pinnacle was among four groups of potential investors involved in recent talks with Begbies. Any perspective buyer will look to do a cut-price deal with Norwich Union on the stadium as a matter of urgency.
It seemed for a while that the club's future was in doubt, and it will be again if Pinnacle does not complete a deal. But if talks continue smoothly, League One might actually begin to look like an escape of sorts. And with a young squad comprising players such as the David McGoldrick, the former England Under-21 midfield duo Andrew Surman and Adam Lallana, and the France Under-19 international midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin, glimmers of hope lie ahead for Southampton.
The future looks less bright for Accrington Stanley, however, as they face a High Court date on 10 June after being issued with a winding-up order by HM Revenue and Customs.
The order relates to unpaid tax and national insurance contributions of around £300,000. The League Two club have accepted full liability, and they say the problems are mainly due to difficulties with paying their wage bill as a result of a dip in revenue.
A club statement said: "Although we do not look to make excuses the arrears have occurred due to a number of factors, most notably because of the club's contractual obligations with regards to players' wages despite the fact that levels of income have dropped significantly."Reuse content