The Football League look set to be fielding a very large curve ball in the next few days as Southampton hovver on the brink of administration – an event which could yet have a huge impact on Norwich's own survival chances.
Shares in the Saints' parent cmpany – Southampton Leisure Holdings PLC – were suspended at 7am this morning as the club announced to the Stock Market that it was unable to publish its half-yearly accounts as it is required to do under AIM rules.
That, according to the Southampton Echo this morning, is merely the fore-runner of a full descent into administration something the paper claims is “expected within the next 24 hours”.
Where that leaves the Saints in terms of the ten-point penalty imposed by the Football League on club's that fall into administration during the course of a season will now be a matter for fierce debate.
Two points will certainly need to be clarified before Southampton are seen to have their current Championship tally of 40 points docked to 30 – thereby making themselves and Charlton dead certs for League One football next season.
One, whether the fact that it is the parent company – Southampton Leisure Holdings PLC – and not the football club itself that is going into administration allows Saints to wriggle off the hook points-wise; two, the fact that Rupert Lowe and Co have let today's dramatic events unfold after the new, deadline of March 26 ensures that the Football League now has to make a decision as to whether to dock the St Mary's club the ten points this season – or next.
Clearly for the likes of Norwich, Nottingham Forest, Plymouth et al, the decision is simple – you do it this season.
Southampton might hope that the League see it differently – and let the club start next season ten points adrift at the foot of the Championship.
It is a crucial point that Canary chief executive raised on MyFootballWriter recently as he vowed that Norwich would not be going into administration on the back of that extraordinary level of season-ticket holder faith.
“The new rule that the Football League have is that prior to the fourth Thursday in March – the 26th – you take your points deduction in your current season,” explained Doncaster, likely to be making a very firm point to the Football League Board this morning.
“After that date then the Football League Board retains the discretion as to whether to apply the deduction of ten points to this season – or next season. So if the board take the view that you are already down, they might choose to apply the deduction to next season.”
Whether they might also take the view that Southampton deserve a chance to fight for their lives this season and, therefore, hand them the 'hit' of a ten-point deduction over the summer is the $64 million dollar question.
Likewise the distinction that Lowe and Co will be desperate to draw between football club and parent company; that somehow the two are not the same.
As far as the Echo was concerned this morning, that was the big hope.
“If Southampton Leisure Holdings PLC is placed into administration but Southampton Football Club is not, then the team ? currently battling against relegation from the Championship ? may not be docked ten points by the Football League,” claimed the paper, presumeably being well-briefed by someone on high at St Mary's.
With the Championship members of the Football League Board being obliged to refrain from voting on one of their own, the decision on Southampton's fate will therefore rest with four people – Lorraine Rogers of Tranmere Rovers, Tony Kleanthous of Barnet, Peter Powell of Colchester and the Board's independent director, Ian Ritchie.
Football League chairman Lord Mawhinney would then, presumeably, enjoy the deciding vote.
“Confirmation that the club's shares had been suspended came in a statement released to the London Stock Exchange at 7am this morning,” the paper revealed.
“The statement read: “The Company (Southampton Leisure Holdings plc) is currently in discussions with a number of parties concerning the injection of additional finance into its business.
“Unless this funding is secured, the Company will be unable to continue as a viable business for the forthcoming 12 months and is therefore unable to publish half yearly report to 31 December 2008 by 31 March 2009, which it is required to do under the AIM Rules.
“Under the AIM Rules, a company that does not publish its half yearly report within 3 months of the period end will have its shares automatically suspended.
“The Directors expect that the Company will not be able to sign-off its half yearly report for the six months ended 31 December 2008 until the completion of a re-financing.
“As noted above, the Company is not in a position to publish its half yearly report to 31 December 2008 by 31 March 2009 and, as a consequence, its shares will be suspended from trading on the AIM market of the London Stock Exchange plc, pending publication of its half yearly report for the six months ended 31 December 2008.”
The belief that all was not well behind the scenes has long been reflected in the Leisure Holdings' share price on the AIM.
Yesterday it dipped another 5% in value to just 9.5p per share – it has lost 26.5p over the last 12 months. Or 73.61 per cent of its value. Two years ago and Southampton Leisure Holdings PLC shares were trading at a high of 64p.