(Wednesday 9th February 2005)
Adams ParkThe unfolding saga of London Wasps' relationship with Wycombe Wandererers will begin a new chapter this month as the two parties meet to decide on the future of the rugby Club at Adams Park.
As a lead in to these talks The Wanderers Board of Directors met on Monday 24th January to discuss what is understood to have been a letter of outline proposals from the Zurich Premiership Club plus a formal request to meet with officials from Wycombe Wanderers.
While no proposals have yet been made public, a significant number of Wanderers fans have been getting edgey over the possibilty of Wasps obtaining an equity stake in the ground. Talk of all-seater stadiums have also inflamed the situation amongst a Wanderers fanbase that seen a history of poor communication and lack of consultation on similar situations in the past. However, Wanderers Director Steve Hayes has been quick. to point out that nothing has yet been proposed and it's a case of waiting to see what Wasps have to say. Hayes said at the Fans Forum On 20th January, "We haven't even touched first base with London Wasps. If what they are proposing is of no interest to Wycombe Wanderers then it doesn't matter if there is seating or not. I'm aware of people who stand and enjoy standing, we are aware of that."
Hayes, who joined the Board following the plc conversion in the summer of 2004, candidly fielded fans questions at the Fans Forum and promised that supporters would be kept informed of the situation, saying "I believe that if we do start getting into conversation and talks with London Wasps, then it's only right and proper that we feed some of that information through to you." Hayes wants Wycombe supporters to air their views through Ian Mather, the Founders' Trust representative on the Board, adding, "We don't want to keep people in the dark, that's for sure." Ian Mather also tried to ease fans fears of some fans by adding "There has been no discussion about seating in any stand. There has been no discussion or proposal about equity sale in the ground, or the Club, or anything else." He also stressed that the Board would communicating with supporters to get their views once a proposal was in place. Any proposal that includes the sale or lease of Adams Park would require majority approval from the Founder Shareholders of the Football Club (approx 500) before going to a vote of 'Ordinary Shareholders' at an EGM. It's also likely that 100,000 worth of those 'Oridnary Shares' will come under the control of the 'Wycombe Wanderers Supporters' Trust' which has been actively seeking membership in recent weeks.
Timescales are likely to be an issue. If anything radical is going to happen then it will need to happen relatively quickly. Wasps have reported that they need to inform the RFU of their intended 'home' stadium for next season by 31st March 2005. It's also been well documented that Wasps want to increase the potential capacity of their 'home' stadium in order to help maximise revenue. They are losing money at a similar rate to Wycombe and also have the threat of a compensation claim from QPR if they do not return to Loftus Road next season.
Wasps plans are also governed by constantly changing ground regulations set by Premier Rugby Limited. The latest regulations are understood to stipulate that Premiership clubs must have a ground capacity of at least 12,500 by 2007 but unlike football there are no legal requirements to make these all-seater, with the regulation advising a minimum seating capacity of just 4,800 by 2007. Adams Park already meets the minimum requirements for next season (2005/6) which states a minimum capacity of 10,000 and a nominal ammount of seats. However, it will be the 12,500 capacity that will be the first hurdle to overcome if an extended stay for Wasps is intended. Debate on capacity increase has sometimes centered around a conversion of the Valley End but chairboys.co.uk understands that this has little priority and focus would instead be put on rebuilding the 'Old' Main Stand to mirror the 5,000 capacity of the Woodlands Stand. This would be coupled with an emergency access road, possibly to the rear of the Valley End. Wanderers are also thought to be looking at increasing the use of the stadium for non sporting events such as rock concerts.
The other popular conspiracy theory surrounding this ongoing debate has been the likelihood of Wasps Chairman Chris Wright getting a stake in Wycombe Wanderers. It was a theory that was firmly ruled out by Hayes at the Fans Forum when he stated "Chris Wright to buy into Wycombe Wanderers is an absolute non-starter. I know Chris Wright from my time before Wycombe and he wouldn't touch Wycombe Wanderers with a barge pole...No chance, it just will not happen." Hayes went on to explain that he thought Wright had got his fingers burnt while at QPR and his unpopularity with Rangers fans had meant he was shying away from football. The conspiracy theories of Wright becoming involved at Wycombe were fueled by reports in December 2004 that he had agreed to sell his shares in QPR. This has since been denied by Wright via an article in the Evening Standard on 2nd February 2005 where he was quoted as saying "I want to make it absolutely clear that no deal had ever been done to sell my remaining shares (in QPR) and that I have no knowledge or involvement with this (new) consortium. Any disposal of my shareholding would, in all probability, be to the current board of QPR, presumably Mr Paladini or the chairman Bill Power, and I have never met or spoken to either of these individuals."
While Wycombe await more discussions with Wasps, it appears that the Rugby Club are doing most of their talking through the media. They leaked a story claiming they were still talking to Oxford United about a possible move to the Kassam Stadium. However, a RFU regulation issued in the summer of 2004 appears to make that a non-starter. The RFU say that Clubs moving to new grounds must play within their own constituent. More recent reports through the business media have revealed they have also employed Driver Jonas as consultants to help look for a site for a new ground. The reports say they are looking for a 12-30 acre site to build a 20,000 capacity stadium and training facility within a triangular area stretching from High Wycombe in the west, Hammersmith and Fulham to the east and Camberley to the south. Wasps Chief Executive David Davies said this didn't mean they were dismissing Wycombe, commenting to the Bucks Free Press "We are undertaking this to make sure that we have got all our arrangements in place. We have to cover all the bases."
It is all adding to the cat and mouse nature of the discussions and with some casual observers believing that Wycombe are in a weak bargaining position because they need the income. But again this has been strongly rebuked by Hayes, who said at the Fans Forum "We have the stadium so I don't think we are in a weak negotiating position at all." Wasps have made it clear they want to stay at Wycombe but quite how far they are prepared to push Wycombe for a compromise on the deal will be extremely interesting.

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