"We have genuine fears for the future of the club" – West Brom groups deliver letter for Guochuan Lai
Albion supporter groups have united to submit an open letter to controlling shareholder Guochuan Lai about his running of the club.
The letter has been penned by supporter group Action for Albion and the club's minority shareholders, Shareholders 4 Albion and is backed with the signatures of several other groups, including The Albion Assembly and West Bromwich Albion Supporters Club.
It states Lai as 'morally and legally responsible for protecting and sustaining our historic and beloved club'.
The letter addresses supporters' patience but demands answers of "an extremely worrying" overall picture. They make reference money owed, including the £5million Wisdom Smart loan, now guaranteed by WBA Holdings, as well as the historic Jeremy Peace loan, currently being investigated.
The groups confirmed their "genuine fears" for the club's future and asked for urgent communication from the chairman and controlling shareholder and called for a meeting between Lai and fan groups and minority shareholders.
The letter arrives shortly after a club statement covered the loan's new guarantee, as well as other figures and a latest assurance from Lai the funds will be repaid. The full financial report is yet to be published on Companies House, but leaked snippets have portrayed a future cashflow concerns.
The letter, hand-delivered to The Hawthorns by S4A chair David Baker and AFA founder Alistair Jones yesterday, reads: "Dear Mr Lai. We write to you collectively as supporters of our beloved football club. As the custodian and majority controlling shareholder, you are morally and legally responsible for protecting and sustaining this historic community football club. Many generations of families have supported our great club, spending many thousands of pounds of their hard-earned money following Albion passionately, through good times and bad. Our club has hundreds of thousands of supporters.
"As a business, our football club is also a vital part of the local economy, securing the employment of many people both directly and indirectly.
"As loyal supporters (i.e. your customers), we deserve answers. We have been more than patient, and, whilst acknowledging the impact of the pandemic and more recently the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, we deserve to be told the truth about your intentions for the club both now and into the future.
"Leaving aside breaches of legal deadlines, you have promised, and failed, on three separate occasions to meet your own subsequent promised payment dates to repay the £4.95m you borrowed in March 2021 from the football club plus all interest due. Your latest promise of repayment ‘early in the New Year’ has clearly passed.
"The overall picture at the club is extremely worrying. The club is currently owed (including all interest due) an eight figure sum, including the above loan borrowed on extraordinarily favourable and uncommercial/not 'arm's length' terms. As a business we have had no choice but to borrow £20m on commercial terms including a high interest rate (not publicly revealed), for the club to continue to operate.
"This situation cannot continue. As we are sure you are aware, it is extremely difficult to compete as a self-sustaining club in The Championship, without the benefit of parachute payments or owner investment. We understand that the ambition remains as promotion to The Premier League for this season and next season, but what happens if this is not achieved? Are you fully committed as majority shareholder to make the club as competitive as possible, whatever scenario is faced?
"The accounts for the year ended 30 June 2022 are in the process of being delivered to shareholders. A full review of these is required, but early indications are that these accounts reveal further issues of concern.
"We have genuine fears for the future of the club we all love.
"We need you to communicate urgently with us and let us know your strategy for the future, including regaining our Premier League status. A business without investment is not going to succeed and maintain its commercial value to you.
"We would welcome a meeting between you, members of our fan base and representatives of the minority shareholders (part-owners of the football club) to discuss these issues at the earliest opportunity. Any business which wishes to be successful in the UK needs to communicate with its customers and stakeholders.
"We look forward to receiving your response as soon as possible.
"Yours sincerely, Action For Albion & Shareholders 4 Albion.
"This letter has also been endorsed by the following groups and people that care deeply about West Bromwich Albion FC
"Councillor Les Trumpeter, Councillor Will Gill, Adrian Goldberg (The Liquidator Podcast)."