Pizza shop owner called up by rugby club amid cash crisis

Burdened by debts totaling around $30 million, a beleaguered top-flight English rugby club has resorted to desperate measures to fulfil a domestic cup fixture.

Included in Worcester Warriors’ squad for a Premiership Rugby Cup match with Gloucester on Wednesday was Mat Gilbert, who retired from playing at the end of last season and now runs a pizza shop, and Jonny Goodridge, a 41-year-old academy coach who last played a competitive match in 2013.

Worcester has started the season in a crisis, with full salary payments to staff and players for August yet to be completed amid growing anger toward the club’s owners, Colin Goldring and Jason Whittingham, who have been accused of asset-stripping the team from central England.

Last month, Worcester was served with a winding-up petition from Britain’s tax authority over an unpaid tax bill of 6 million pounds ($6.8 million). The club’s bank accounts are frozen. Its first home game of the season, against Exeter last Sunday, was given the green light to go ahead only two days earlier because volunteers offered to cover stewarding and medical requirements.

The owners said last week they agreed to the terms of the sale of the club. But nothing has gone through and Worcester is in danger of entering administration — a form of bankruptcy protection.

The Rugby Football Union has said it is working with the club on the situation but expressed concern on Wednesday that the lack of available funds “will not allow the club to be sustainable over the long term,” while also noting that insurance cover is in place until only Monday.

“Therefore,” the governing body said in a statement, “the RFU has written to Worcester Warriors to confirm they will be suspended from all competitions … if the club cannot evidence insurance cover in place, availability of funds to meet the monthly payroll, and a credible plan to take the club forward” by Monday.

Worcester director of rugby Steve Diamond said after the Exeter game that “a line has to be drawn.”

“It’s quite embarrassing for us to call ourselves a high-performance environment and for me to be involved when we are dealing with what we are dealing with. It’s like the old days of professional sport, a bit of shamateurism.”

The 37-year-old Gilbert is one of five guest players named in the matchday squad of 22 by Worcester. He retired at the end of last season — third-tier Cinderford was his final club — after a career that included spells at Worcester and Bath.

Goodridge was formerly a fullback at Gloucester and also had spells at Leeds and Bristol. He now coaches Worcester’s academy backs.

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