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Reworded: In the world of football, five months is considered a significant amount of time. In May, Sheffield Wednesday had a momentous victory as Josh Windass scored a header in the final moments of the League One play-off final against Barnsley at Wembley. It was an intense and exhausting game, but Windass managed to find the strength to run to the corner and slide on the grass, surrounded by jubilant blue and white jerseys.
Then, three weeks before the start of the Championship season, Wednesday were stunned when popular manager Darren Moore walked away citing irreconcilable differences with the outspoken owner, Thai businessman Dejphon Chansiri, a man who doesn’t tend to reconcile differences. The summer’s optimism washed away. Moore’s replacement, Xisco Munoz, failed to win a single game in his first 12 and was sacked last month.
While the club was bottom of the Championship, digesting their worst ever start to a league season, disgruntled fans protested against Chansiri’s ownership. Their frustration over Moore’s sudden departure and Xisco’s disastrous appointment had stirred long-term concerns about financial mismanagement, managerial churn, scattergun recruitment and a lack of obvious strategy.
Chansiri was furious and issued a statement vowing not to invest any more of his money in the club. He defended high ticket prices, hit out at misbehaving fans for accruing club fines, complained he was being treated unfairly and said the protests against him were “a waste of time”.
He stated, “I am not obligated to leave. I am the individual responsible for rescuing and financially supporting the club. It is my responsibility to cover an average of £2m each month in order to sustain the club. Certain fans should show more consideration towards club owners and refrain from being self-centered.”
However, things took a turn for the worse when Wednesday were hit with a player registration embargo due to an unpaid tax bill. In a strange move, Chansiri challenged fans in an intense interview with the Sheffield Star to come up with £2m on their own to pay off the debt and player salaries. Failure to do so could result in the loss of the club.
This was an unusual request – has a club owner ever before asked fans to cover the team’s expenses?
The ticking of the clock brought with it a transfer ban that could have disastrous consequences over the course of three windows if the necessary funds were not secured. Chansiri issued a warning to fans, stating, “If you are not willing to save your club, do not refer to yourselves as owners and me as the caretaker.” This is a sentiment he has expressed numerous times in the past, revealing his annoyance with the idea that supporters hold true ownership of historic football clubs while he is merely a temporary guardian.
Chansiri, in fairness, has poured somewhere in the region of £150m into Sheffield Wednesday since he took over in 2015. He has been a little unlucky, perhaps, losing the Championship playoff final in 2016 with a place in the Premier League’s promised land so close. His personal finances – Chansiri made his fortune in canned tuna – were badly damaged by the pandemic, and the club suffered too.
However, his control of the team has been tumultuous, highlighted by his attempt to stay within financial regulations by purchasing Hillsborough stadium for £61m in 2019. This decision caused controversy and was ultimately unsuccessful as an investigation revealed that the funds from the stadium’s sale should not have been recorded in the club’s financial statements. As a result, Wednesday received a penalty of six points in the subsequent season and were relegated to League One.
Supporters have consistently expressed worries about the management of Wednesday. A sign of a well-functioning club is being able to sell talented players for a profit and continue to make progress. However, transfermarkt reports that Wednesday has not received any transfer fees for the past two years.
The Sheffield Wednesday Supporters’ Trust, established three years ago due to the crisis that resulted in a points deduction, has been feeling disheartened by the perceived wasteful spending without a clear long-term strategy. According to Tom Scott, a member of the trust, there is a disconnect between the owner and the fans in regards to frustrations over spending. The trust is not demanding that money be spent, as the ultimate decisions lie with the owner, but they feel that the money has not been utilized effectively.
Throughout the journey, there have been consistent jabs aimed at fans. The recent outrageous remark, urging supporters to cover the club’s tax and player salary expenses, has been perceived by some as a jab at their devotion.
However, the players received their salaries this week and the taxes owed were also settled. As the interview with the Sheffield Star was just a few days prior, it is likely that Chansiri was aware that these payments would be made. Did he truly require assistance from the fans? His warning to supporters seemed like a tactic to provoke and remind them of his authority – see how dependent you are on me.
Chansiri made it clear that he was not playing games with the fans when he announced that the debts had been paid off. He emphasized that it was a serious matter and stated that he had suggested 20,000 fans paying £100 each as a possible solution. He also clarified that he only mentioned this as a last resort in case he did not have the necessary funds, but luckily it did not come to that.
For the time being, the crisis has been resolved off the field. However, Chansiri remains steadfast in his decision to not inject additional funds into the club. There are also no guarantees given regarding upcoming payments in the coming month.
On the field, there are promising developments under the leadership of new manager Danny Rohl. His style of swift football has already energized fans at Hillsborough. Despite losses, Wednesday exhibited promising signs in Rohl’s first two games in charge before dominating Rotherham last weekend for their first victory of the season. The addition of former Tottenham and England coach Chris Powell as Rohl’s assistant is quite a feat.
Individuals within the club express that Chansiri is enthusiastic about his football venture and holds a strong affection for Sheffield Wednesday, although they may not always understand his reasoning behind purchasing the team. However, recent events have caused concern for players and staff, leaving uncertainty regarding the already tense dynamic between fans and the owner.
In previous statements, Chansiri expressed his willingness to entertain reasonable offers for the club. However, it is believed that no such offers have been made. Additionally, it should be noted that he has a tendency to make empty promises.
Scott expresses his desire for productive communication with the chairman, as it is difficult to discuss the future of the club while in the same room with him.
Fans may feel like they are being deceived by the individual in question. As a follower of a club, one typically invests a significant amount of money, whether it be through attending games, purchasing merchandise, or buying tickets. This investment is a considerable portion of their income. Therefore, disputing the idea that fans do not support their club is a hurdle that must be overcome if progress is to be made. If this issue cannot be resolved, it is difficult to envision a positive outcome.
“I believe that continuously targeting the fans and their devotion will only lead to one outcome.”
Currently, Sheffield Wednesday and Dejphon Chansiri are in a situation where they are mutually dependent on each other.