There’s no reason why anyone round here should have read the latest set of accounts from Wigan Athletic.
And I only came across it thanks to a piece in The Times; so I haven’t delved into their inner, alarming depths.
And even then it was the headline that stood out more than anything else.
‘Wigan may go bust without Whelan, says their auditor’
No, really? The Whelan in question is, of course, the Latics’ owner, Dave Whelan; he of JJB Sports fame. The family fortune is estimated to be in the region of £190 million.
Which is just as well, given that Wigan reported a £4 million loss for the year ending May 31, 2010. And are sat on a bank loan of £20 million.
The other stand-out line came from a Wigan ‘spokesman’; an Ed Jones.
“The figures don’t look very good, but we are the most stable club there is because of Mr Whelan.” Adding that he thought that Whelan’s contribution to the coffers was now in the region of £100 million.
They are, currently, bottom of the Premier League. Equally, Dave Whelan is 74.
Whether the Whelan family will be quite so bitten by the football bug as the head of the family – Whelan used to play pro football with Blackburn Rovers – is an interesting question as and when it comes to a time when Whelan Snr is not sat at the helm of his beloved Athletic.
You suspect it is his very presence at the boardroom table that keeps Barclays from calling in that £20 million loan and pushing the club over the brink. Just as ‘brand’ Delia helps smooth the Canaries’ relationship with their own bankers.
Just as Marcus Evans does at Ipswich; Simon Jordan did at Crystal Palace; Steve Gibson does at Middlesbrough; the Golds do at West Ham.
But the point is clear. The generation in which UK-based millionaires can keep their local club afloat may well be coming to an end.
And you wonder in his quieter, more reflective moments what Steve Gibson thinks he has now got out of pumping all that money into Middlesbrough over the years. Football has bled him dry.
I would be astonished if any Middle Eastern prince saw the Riverside as somewhere sexy to dump their cash; in the same way that Eastlands had an attraction by way of threatening Old Trafford. Or Stamford Bridge has in rivalling the Emirates.
Certainly as the likes of a Whelan starts to juggle his footballing commitments to the challenges facing the High Street retail brigade in the potential grip of a double-dip recession, you wonder where the next Marcus Evans is going to pop up from. Or the next Delia Smith, clearly.
Norwich have, after all, been seeking such a saviour for years – to no avail.
As have Southampton. And Charlton.
In the end, these bastions of provincial football have little or no choice to rely on one – or two in the case of the on-going generosity of Banham Poultry boss Michael Foulger – to keep their shows on the road as football’s finances defy every reasonable logic. The numbers don’t stack.
And yet evidence of anyone, anywhere even trying to square this oh-so obvious circle is next to nil.
It is to Norwich obvious fortune that they snapped up the services of Paul Lambert; a man whose managerial wit and wisdom has – in every likelihood – fired the enthusiasm of the Canaries’ three, principal shareholders into new and vibrant life after the depths of The Valley some 21, long months ago.
Right now – as the Faithful head back to Carrow Road for the home clash with bottom-of-the-table Preston North End this weekend with that second automatic promotion spot still firmly in their sights – the Smiths and the Foulgers can probably see what they are getting for their money; why they are still there.
Why, some 15 years after riding to the club’s rescue, they keep going round the same old block again and again.
Something, you suspect, that will be hard for a Gibson or a Whelan to fathom if both Boro and Wigan follow the Leeds, the Southampton, the Norwich and the Charlton model and have a dose of League One football to endure before the ship finally rights itself again and sails into warmer waters.
But for anyone whose interest in the national game is not confined to the antics of the Big Six, it does alarm you.
That the only reason a Wigan Athletic of ‘our’ world is deemed to be a going concern – and that’s on a Premiership income for the last six seasons – is the fact that they come with Dave Whelan’s name attached.
And he’s 74.
Clearly to suggest that the JJB Sports supremo is one of a dying breed doesn’t quite sound right. Fingers crossed the old boy has years in him.
But you get the point.