September 30, 2020

The relegation battle being fought by lawyers

Sheffield Wednesday’s Barry Bannan, Wigan’s Kiefer Moore and Derby’s Wayne Rooney

Another memorable 46-game Championship campaign reaches its conclusion on Wednesday, with 11 of the 12 games having something riding on them.

And while West Brom, Brentford and Fulham battle to join Leeds in the Premier League, it looks like lawyers will have an impact on relegation.

Hull, Barnsley and Luton are the bottom three, but Charlton, Middlesbrough and Birmingham are still not safe.

And above them, Wigan, Sheffield Wednesday and Derby are at risk of points deductions that could directly affect the lower half of the table.

On Monday, the English Football League (EFL) released a statement that tried to clarify the situation.

It has now become certain that long after the final whistle is blown on Wednesday, it will still not be known which clubs are going down.

Wigan

Wigan needed to beat Charlton on Saturday, but the London side scored a late equaliser in a 2-2 draw

The one club the EFL did mention in Monday’s statement was the Latics. It has now been confirmed – in line with regulations – Wigan will incur a 12-point deduction at the end of the season for entering administration. The sanction only comes into force after the campaign is over because, had Wigan finished in the bottom three anyway, it would be carried over to 2020-21.

This would move Wigan from 13th to 22nd, above Barnsley on goal difference. It would mean Luton are out of the bottom three and Birmingham and Middlesbrough are safe.

However, as the EFL made clear, this sanction is “subject to appeal”, which is due to take place on 31 July, and Wigan have appointed leading barrister, David Phillips QC.

The Latics were placed in administration on 1 July, just weeks after the club changed Hong Kong-based owners. The argument is no-one – neither at Wigan nor the EFL – could have known what Au Yeung Wai Kay was going to do and therefore the punishment should be withdrawn.

If Wigan win their final game against Fulham and avoid finishing in the bottom three, even with a 12-point deduction, they could withdraw their appeal. However, if they remain in the relegation zone, the appeal will continue – and if they are successful, it would relegate whoever finishes fourth from bottom.

Sheffield Wednesday

Sheffield Wednesday lost 5-3 at Fulham on Saturday

On 14 November, Sheffield Wednesday were charged with misconduct by the EFL over the £60m sale of their Hillsborough stadium to owner Dejphon Chansiri. Without the sale, Wednesday would have made a pre-tax loss of £35.4m for the 2017-18 financial year.

The charges relate to “how and when” it was sold, and its inclusion in the 2018 accounts when it was sold a year later. Wednesday denied they had done anything wrong and vowed to defend themselves vigorously.

Wednesday’s hearing in front of an independent panel was held in June. Though expected last week, a verdict is still to be announced.

If Wednesday are unsuccessful, punishments range from a financial penalty to a points deduction, which could be as high as 21. Depending whether Wigan’s 12-point penalty is taken from their current total, Wednesday are either eight or 10 points above the relegation zone. They have a better goal difference than Luton, but a worse one than Wigan.

However, as with Wigan, either party would have 14 days to appeal against any decision, with a hearing required within 21 days. It effectively means the case could run for a further five weeks after a verdict is announced.

The actual end of the season from an administrative standpoint is the EFL annual general meeting, which is due to be held in the middle of August.

It means there is now no guarantee the sanction could be applied next season, even if Wednesday were deducted points.

Derby County

Derby lost 3-1 at home to Championship winners Leeds United on Sunday

In January, Derby County were also charged with breaching spending rules. This also related to the sale of their stadium, Pride Park, to their owner, Mel Morris. As with Wednesday, Derby denied wrongdoing and said they were in contact with the EFL throughout the process.

It is understood the Rams’ hearing began on 13 July. They are 13 or 15 points above the relegation zone depending upon whether Wigan’s sanction is applied. They have a better goal difference than Luton but a worse one than Wigan.

EFL

As the EFL explained in its statement, the disciplinary cases around Sheffield Wednesday and Derby are being dealt with by an independent panel. Insiders accept the unsatisfactory nature of the situation but it is being stressed the cases must be heard “expeditiously and fairly”.

Without knowing when the verdicts will be released, it is impossible to know what the speed and status of any appeals will be. Without that, even after Wednesday’s final fixtures, no-one knows who is safe and who is relegated.

One other thing

It is not only in the Championship the EFL has a problem. On 3 July, the organisation appealed against the two-point penalty imposed on League Two side Macclesfield by an independent panel for failing to pay wages on time.

Macclesfield avoided relegation to the National League by less than one point on the points-per-game method, with Stevenage due to go down instead.

On 14 July, Macclesfield said they had been told a hearing would almost certainly not take place until the beginning of August.