PADDY O’Connor has revealed the secret backer keeping the Newcastle Vipers alive since Christmas – himself.
The former Great Britain international has offered to “gift” the club to fans, so long as it leaves the UK’s top flight.
O’Connor quit as chairman in December, but has broken his silence to tell The Journal he continued paying the bills, and lambast the Elite League for allowing teams to break its spending rules.
“I went to the league in November, December saying crowds had become so low we could barely pay the rent,” he revealed. “People think I bailed out but I am still funding the Vipers entirely from my own pocket.
“Not one person missed a pay cheque, no supplier missed a payment.
“I kept quiet because the league only stepped in to assist once they believed I was no longer prepared to fund it. The fact they waited until crisis point is typical.
“I’m telling the truth, as I said I would. Anyone who wants to question me is more than welcome. I have nothing to fear.”
O’Connor returned for a second spell as chairman last summer, but his business plan was based on a purpose-built venue in Gateshead.
“I’d carried out as much due diligence as I thought was necessary to make sure the club had a future,” he revealed. “But there were some major stumbling blocks over the new facility which would put the timescale back years and years, if it happened at all.
“We started the season looking for it to cost X amount. I was quite prepared to fund that because I believed when we got the facility we would make it profitable.
“Since I first took over in 2005, in the region of £700,000 has been lost by myself, Rob Wilson and Paul Ferone. The Riverkings, Jesters, Cobras and Vipers have lost shedloads. Elite League ice hockey doesn’t work in the (Newcastle) Arena, or Whitely Bay. It’s never returned a single profit from day one.
“The crowds started off well (last season) but we were taking big beatings every week, and they dropped off.”
Sheffield Steelers’ owners admitted their predecessors broke salary cap rules, but they are by no means alone. “People were cheating and overspending, trying to outdo each other player for player, spending three or four times what we were,” said O’Connor.
“I fought tooth and nail for them to do something, but there is zero corporate governance in the Elite League.
“When I challenged them to fine the teams breaking the salary cap, or deduct points and give them back to us, they weren’t prepared to.
“The Elite League is in a dangerous position commercially. Information I have could shoot it down tomorrow but it would hurt too many innocent people.
“There are people I would never hold a conversation with again because they stabbed us in the back.
“The Elite League doesn’t even know where it is going. It’s in danger of not having enough teams to compete.”
Time is running out to find the owner to ensure 2010-11 is not Newcastle’s last season.
“I own the trading rights, and so long as it’s a fan group I would gift that to them, but not anyone to do with the Elite League,” he said.
“I would sponsor the new club, but I’ve got a bitter taste in my mouth with the Elite League. I want nothing to do with them.”
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Brian was appointed Editor of The Journal in December 2003, joining from Trinity Mirror's Liverpool base where he was Editorial Development Manager for the company's regional titles. He has also held senior positions at the Daily Record and the Evening Express, Aberdeen, as well as being a former Editor of the Lincolnshire Echo.