Magnificent Seven save Phoenix

Football Federation Australia having requested assurances from Serepisos that he has $2 million in the bank to finance the Phoenix. Photo / File
Football Federation Australia having requested assurances from Serepisos that he has $2 million in the bank to finance the Phoenix. Photo / File

The consortium of seven Wellington businessmen that has taken over the licence of the Wellington Phoenix was initially approached by Wellington City Council as long as 18 months ago.

Terry Serepisos today "relinquished'' control of his beloved Wellington Phoenix "for the best interests of the club''. His demise has been a long, drawn-out and very public affair but Plan B was in place some time ago.

The new owners, originally dubbed the Phoenix Five, actually number seven. They are headed by Kiwibank chairman Rob Morrison and also include Gareth Morgan, Lloyd Morrison, Campbell Gower, James Brown, Henry Tait and Lib Petagna. A new five-year licence has been given to a company called Welnix Ltd which frees them of any liabilities.

"We were approached by the council, [rather] I was,'' Morgan said. "I can't quite remember, but 12-18 months ago and they said, 'we just don't want to wake up one morning and this team is gone, so can you sort of do something to come up with a plan B, just in case that scenario evolved?'' Morgan explained.

"And so over a matter of months I thought, maybe it'll go away. It won't be a worry, you know, Terry's an amazing Houdini-sort of guy. He'll be fine. But it obviously got a bit more serious and then I made a couple of phone calls; got Lloyd involved and then it just got its own [legs].''

Morgan said they were contacted yesterday to tell them they would be handed the new licence.

Although Serepisos was remarkably composed when he fronted media today, it would have been a painful day for him. He battled desperately to retain the club and earlier this week confidently predicted he would prove to the Football Federation Australia he had the resources to continue.

The FFA demanded Serepisos prove he had $2 million in the bank by this week - roughly the amount it takes to fund the club each year - to retain the licence but couldn't in the face of $200m debts.

The legitimacy of his claim that he relinquished control rather than had his hand forced is questionable but it's understood to have been done as a way for Serepisos to have a dignified exit.

It's what he deserved after singlehandedly saving professional football in the country, when he rode in at the last minute in 2007 to take over the licence previously held by the New Zealand Knights. He estimated he had pumped in between $8m and $10m to fund the club since then.

"For me, right now, it's about looking after myself, looking after my family and looking after the people that are close to me,'' Serepisos said. "I think it's time. And that's why I made the decision, not the FFA making the decision to push me out, I made the decision to hand the licence back.

"I think I've done my part in history in New Zealand and I feel very honoured and very proud of that. I've had an incredible time doing that and I just wish and hope that the individuals involved here can carry it on with as much passion and love as I have.''

He took a swipe at the Wellington City Council ("it hasn't helped me and, yet, the council wants to be part of this and do all these things for Wellington, but it didn't''), media and even the new consortium ("I think the consortium could have handled it a little bit different'') but it was further illustration of his pain.

Today's news finally provides some clarity for the football club, players and fans. The Phoenix are due to kick off the new A-League season on October 9 and the club still has only 17 players - FFA regulations require a minimum of 20 players by the time the season kicks off - and players and backroom staff were becoming increasingly frustrated by the situation.

Coach Ricki Herbert, who is reportedly $100,000 out of pocket in lost wages, is trialling former Perth Glory defender Brent Griffiths when they meet Central Coast in Tauranga tomorrow and has also been in detailed talks with three European-based strikers.

The new owners come with substantial capital and the added bonus of being a consortium rather than single owner and they have promised an immediate cash injection.

Rob Morrison has represented the group and is backed up by brother and Infratil boss Lloyd, Lloyd's business partner Lib Petagna, economist Gareth Morgan, Phil & Teds owner Campbell Gower, Todd Group board member Henry Tait and James Brown.

Morgan said they would establish a new board and management structure and Serepisos would be offered a position as founding patron. He also made assurances both the backroom and playing staff were likely to keep their jobs and that they would soon seek to round out the playing roster.

"We will have discussions with the current staff and we are optimistic that all staff at all levels will be retained,'' Morgan said.

The new owners will also look to establish feeder teams and structures to support the A-League side.

A-League boss Lyall Gorman said it was an exciting time for the future of the club considering the financial resources and business acumen of the new owners.

"The future stability, certainty and growth of the Wellington Phoenix is in remarkably good hands,'' he said.

Timeline of Terry Serepisos' ownership of the Wellington Phoenix

March 2007: Property developer Terry Serepisos takes ownership of the A-League licence after the New Zealand Knights have their licence revoked. He calls the new club the Wellington Phoenix.

December 2007: Serepisos brings David Beckham and the LA Galaxy to play an exhibition game against the Phoenix in Wellington.

February 2010: Wellington make the A-League finals for the first time, in their third season, and come within one game of the grand final.

April 2010: It's revealed Serepisos owes the Wellington City Council $2 million in rates and ground leases.

September 2010: Serepisos pays a $260,000 overdue ACC levies bill with a bank cheque.

November 2010: It's revealed coach Ricki Herbert hasn't been paid for a number of weeks.

February 2011: A bankruptcy notice is served to Serepisos. Numerous subsequent hearings are delayed.

June 2011: Reports emerge Herbert is owed more than $100,000 by Serepisos. Herbert neither confirms nor denies the report.

August 2011: Serepisos announces plans for an "orderly sale'' of some of his assets after it is revealed in court he has $232 million in assets and $203m in liabilities. He insists he won't give up the Phoenix.

September 23, 2011: Facing crippling debts, Serepisos relinquishes the licence of the Phoenix back to the FFA, who award it to a consortium of Wellington businessmen.

- APNZ

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