With news of Jeremy Wray’s departure as chairman of Swindon Town and replacement with Sir William Patey, Ron Smith asks whether this change at the top is really a shock.
In July, Paolo Di Canio’s greatest supporter, Jeremy Wray lost the Interim’ part of his job title, on Friday 12 October, he lost the ‘Chairman’ part too. And, according to a club statement, it was done so ‘at the specific request of the club’s majority shareholder, Andrew Black’.
Speaking after his removal became public on Monday, Wray said: “When I agreed to take over as Chairman it was on the understanding that the Board would confirm the appointment of Paolo Di Canio as manager and would commit to a three-year plan to support him, his management staff and players in the attempt to achieve promotion back to the Championship.” Reading between the lines it seems that the ‘understanding’ to back Paolo Di Canio’s and Wray’s ambitions has been broken down somewhere.
Wray departs after overseeing a year of success by winning League Two and cup runs aplenty for the first time in years. Given the meaningful progress the club has been making supporters are rightly questioning why has a ‘fantastic chairman’ gone now?
The former chairman has been fighting Di Canio’s corner one too many times in the eyes of the rest of the board, who have noticed significant truth in the chorus ‘Paolo Di Canio, he does what he wants’. With 39 permanent and loans players joining in total, then a significant number paid off with a year left to run on their contracts plus those who failed, couldn’t settle or fell foul of Paolo’s disciplinary regime; the backing of the board was always crucial. For this is also a turnover of players that few would see as sustainable, and it seems that Andrew Black agrees.
Is it really a surprise that Wray has been dismissed only a week after his manager spilled the beans in a post-match press conference at Bury? Evidently frustrated by having his hands tied, the Italian revealed all about the transfer embargo, when perhaps a complicit manager – I’m thinking Maurice Malpas – would’ve kept chosen silence on such ‘behind the scenes’ matters.
It now appears that all or part of the £2m investment secured from multi-millionaire backers Black and Sir Martyn Arbib in July failed in its objective to circumvent the newly implemented Salary Cost Management Protocol (SCMP) and so prevent the Football League introducing the embargo.
After the AGM, Wray explained: “Very simply, the wage cap constraints that we are under means that the money we put into the club has to come in as equity, it cannot come in as loans because we have to use 65% of our turnover plus any funds that we put in directly as equity. That is what is available for the playing budget. We’ve gone out and said that we’re trying to put together a playing budget that gets us to the Championship and it’s necessitated putting funds directly into the club.”
With equity funding likely to be excluded from allowable turnover under the Football League rules, Wray may have paid for this miscalculation with his position as chairman. Without the ability to artificially inflate turnover, Town’s board now find themselves with a frustrated manager gesticulating to the stands, using the press to pressurise his board, and perhaps broken promises all round.
Whatever has happened behind the scenes, it’s evident that Wray’s affinity with supporters and honesty will be big shoes to fill for Sir William Patey (now known as SWP). As a senior diplomat he’ll be no short of experience appeasing the many and often conflicting interests, but can a diplomatic mission to Iraq or Afghanistan really prepare him for one of Rome’s most infamous sons…
With Sir William immediately confirming his task will be “to secure new investment to support the programme of ground redevelopment and to co-ordinate the execution of the Club’s longer term strategic plans” he’s clearly focusing on the long term sustainability option, not necessarily coming out in support of securing funding now to allow Di Canio to rebuild his squad.
Crucially SWP adds a caveat. “I look forward to working with those who share the same ambitions for the Club both on and off the field and relish the opportunity to take on this challenge.” With Di Canio already stating Wray’s departure has “changed the dynamics” at the club, the key question moving forward is whether the current manager shares SWP’s ambitions?