Rugby Lions’ dream of becoming a top-flight professional club appears to be over.
The company formed to run the club when Mike Aland took over last year has been wound up with major debts and the squad has disbanded - with several players still waiting for months of wages. Some say they have lost their homes because they couldn’t pay their rent and bills.
The Rugby Football Club (2011) Ltd has gone into liquidation. The extent of the debts is not yet clear, but the sportswear supplier that instigated the process says it is owed £70,000.
Concerns over whether Mr Aland had the funds to match his ambition rumbled on last season. The disquiet has been largely confined to the dressing room – until now.
An insider said: “We really don’t know where in the world the money is meant to be coming from. The story started changing and every couple of weeks it was different.
“I don’t think we really thought it was a serious problem until Christmas, but by then we all had too much to lose. We couldn’t walk away and risk losing what we were owed. “Players have upped and left their homes, come from all over the world to Rugby and brought their wives and not been paid.
“I know players who have lost their homes because they haven’t been paid and couldn’t pay the bills and rent.”
“Some of the players have been paid in full, but it’s thousands of pounds that others are owed. Some have had some money, a few hundred or £1,000, but that’s over the whole season. We are so fed up with it all - just sick of it.”
Rugby-born Mr Aland arrived at Webb Ellis Road in March 2011, promising to take the club into the Premiership and European Cup and even talking about a 30,000-seater stadium with a retractable roof.
He had previously run a building firm in Canada.
World Cup winner Neil Back was hired as coach and assembled a squad that was undefeated all season as it earned the first of several promised promotions.
Mr Aland also announced plans for a club shop, leisurewear shop and cafe/bar in the town centre. None of them have opened. Improvements at Webb Ellis Road were promised but not carried out.
The insider said: “The players were on contracts for more than we would have expected for that division - start and win bonuses and expenses - so of course we all thought this guy must have a lot of money.
“It all started when we came back from Bournemouth after a team-building weekend. Payday came and we hadn’t been paid and we thought there must be a problem.
“We were told the reason was because there was one digit wrong on the transaction, which meant the money hadn’t come through.
“It sounds so ridiculous that I bought into it now, but it’s just gone on and on.
“It was so horrible listening to things people from other clubs were saying and telling them it wasn’t true from what we were being told - but they are true now. It’s so embarrassing.”
A spokesman for the Insolvency Service confirmed the company was wound up on June 25 and the petitioners were Genesis Group International Ltd.
He said: “The petitioner’s debt alone comes to £70,000. It appears they provided the kit for the club.
“We are trying to contact the other creditors, but it is very early days.”
“We have written to the directors and want to question them and investigate their conduct.”
Mr Aland is believed to be the sole director of The Rugby Football Club (2011) Ltd. The company did not own Webb Ellis Road and supporters are hopeful the club can continue.
The Rugby Football Union has taken no action but says it is monitoring the situation.
Mr Aland has regularly issued statements claiming money is on its way. The most recent was on June 21, when he said a major funding package was “just about complete”.
The source added: “It wouldn’t have taken anything for him to come into the changing room after any of our wins and said ‘well done, sorry about the money, but there’s £100 behind the bar for you all’, but he never did.
“I’d like to think he had a real plan for the club and it’s gone wrong, but I just don’t know.”
Mike Aland did not return the Advertiser’s calls this week. Neil Back has not responded to a series of requests for an interview.