Resignation adds to Wigan's troubles

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The Independent Online
Rugby League

The resignation of a director in a row over where Wigan will play has exposed a further rift at a troubled club. John Martin has quit after four years on the board, accusing his fellow directors of back-tracking on a deal with Dave Whelan, the chairman of the Third Division football club, Wigan Athletic, to redevelop their Central Park ground.

Martin yesterday called on the remaining three directors to resign as well. "I cannot be party to what is happening," he said.

Martin, a close friend of Whelan, backs the plan under which the multi- millionaire would buy Central Park for pounds 4m, spend pounds 11m on rebuilding and move his football club across town to share it.

A meeting of shareholders in January also voted overwhelmingly for that option, rejecting alternative plans for a new ground in Wigan or moving in with Bolton Wanderers at their new stadium in Horwich

But the Wigan chairman, Jack Robinson, now says that the board cannot be tied to that decision.

"It was a consensus that committed the directors to trying to pursue the Dave Whelan option, if it was viable," he said. "But if the terms of the lease were unfavourable, it would be a dereliction of duty for the directors to agree to it."

Robinson said the remaining directors were concerned that the Whelan deal would leave the club short of working capital and earning capacity.

"We have to look at other options," he said. That would mean selling Central Park to Tesco, whose offer stands at pounds 8.75m, and building a new stadium - "along the lines of Middlesbrough's new ground with 30,000 seats," Robinson said - and moving temporarily to Bolton until it is ready.

Martin has proposed a re-financing that would involve four or five people putting in pounds 400,000 or pounds 500,000 each. In the meantime, he wants back the pounds 250,000 he has invested in the club. A further complication is that he runs the profitable Riverside Club at the ground.

This is the latest in a series of traumas at Wigan, which have included the departure of the football manager, Joe Lydon, and the coach, Graeme West, as well as the sale of players such as Scott Quinnell and Va'aiga Tuigamala.

The club remains more than pounds 3m in debt and Robinson appears in court next month, charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice. Charges against Martin, who was arrested with him, were dropped.

The BBC is to televise the Challenge Cup quarter-final between Warrington and Salford on 8 March.

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