'If season ends now, promote us,' says Rotherham United chairman Tony Stewart as cost of coronavirus to Millers is set to pass £500,000

'If season ends now, promote us,' says Rotherham United chairman Tony Stewart as cost of coronavirus to Millers is set to pass £500,000

By Paul Davis | 08/05/2020

'If season ends now, promote us,' says Rotherham United chairman Tony Stewart as cost of coronavirus to Millers is set to pass £500,000
Tony Stewart

 

CHAIRMAN Tony Stewart has called on Rotherham United to be promoted to the Championship if the coronavirus pandemic brings the 2019/20 EFL campaign to a premature end.

The Millers are in second place in League One and hope to see out the last nine games of the campaign which has been suspended since March 13 because of the deadly Covid-19 outbreak.

However, Stewart, who reckons clarity on the sport’s future could come as early next week, believes his club have already done enough to go up on sporting merit if health concerns prevent the season resuming.

They have completed virtually 80 per cent of their fixtures and have the second-best points-per-game ratio in the division, 1.77, behind leaders Coventry City (1.97).

“We’re quite clear on this,” the owner said. “We would prefer the season to be played to its proper end if it can be, but if can’t then it should be promotion for Rotherham based on the games already played.

“We believe one of two things should happen - either clubs vote on whether promotion should take place or the top two as it stands go up automatically.”

Stewart anticipates the EFL will follow whatever example the Premier League set in terms of seeing out the campaign and expects the picture to become clearer sooner rather than later.

“It’s now getting near the time where decisions are going to have to be made by the EFL,” he said.

“I have made representations to them. They are our masters and we are now waiting for direction from them. That’s what they’re paid to do. They’re the governing body.

“The Premier League are wanting, because of TV money and advertising etcetera, to fulfil their fixtures.

“Their sketchy plan is for training to commence in a couple of weeks’ time with an intention to start playing matches again early on in June behind closed doors.

“I think that we’re probably, at most, seven days from getting some decision that will inform us what the next stage is.”

The EFL’s long-stated wish is for the season to be played out as soon as it is safe to do so, but more and more people - including Millers boss Paul Warne - are increasingly sceptical about the prospects of a resumption.

Rotherham have already suffered a £500,000 loss of income because of matches being called off and staging games without crowds would hit them even harder in the pocket.

The Millers have made no specific announcements on where they have cut costs other than to say that they have taken a number of measures to best preserve their long-term future.

The Advertiser understands these may include an element of furloughing among players and - in line with events at many other clubs - some sort of wage deferral.

Players union the PFA have appointed financial-services firm Deloitte to check the accounts of all EFL clubs, with EFL chairman Rick Parry warning of a £200 million financial black hole from the Championship down to League Two by the end of September.

Stewart accepts that the sport is in the grip of an unprecedented crisis and added: “The Football League and the Premier League have been put in position they wouldn’t like.

“But it is their job, as governing bodies, to make sure they make a fair decision.”

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ROTHERHAM United will take a £1-million-plus hit if coronavirus means no matches are played in front of fans for the rest of 2020, chairman Tony Stewart has revealed.

Football has been suspended since early March because of the pandemic and safety concerns mean it is almost certain to be played behind closed doors for a spell when it finally returns.

The owner of the Millers, who were in second place in League One when the season was suspended with nine games remaining, estimates the shutdown has already cost the club more than £500,000.

“Like a lot of League One and Two sides, we’ve put together cash-flow projections for the EFL to show where the deficits are,” Stewart said.

“By the end of June we will be looking at a shortfall of around £560,000.

“If we play football behind closed doors, players will come back and be paid but no income will come in from fans so all that would happen is that by Christmas the debt would accelerate to more than £1 million.”

The regular season had originally been scheduled to end last Sunday with a visit to AESSEAL New York Stadium by Sunderland.

EFL chiefs have said they are determined to see the Championship, League One and League Two campaigns played to their natural conclusion.

However, the country is still in lockdown to reduce the spread of Covid-19 and there is no guarantee the EFL will get their wish.

There are fears some clubs could be forced out of business, but financial experts hold up Rotherham as an example of how a lower-league outfit should be run and the Millers look to be safe under Stewart’s leadership.

“We’re in a better position than most lower-league clubs to withstand the crisis,” the chairman said.

“At the end of the day, we show prudence at all times, not just in times like now. You have to prepare for that rainy day.

“We’re probably fitter than most. If things continue like this, we will have a sneeze but many others will get pneumonia.

“We run the club right from top to bottom — the board of directors, recruitment, everything.

“We’re always careful to make sure we’re going to be here for the ten five or ten years. That’s why we are where we are.”



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