Hartlepool United’s financial plight has been laid bare this week.
Without managing to find around £200,000 in the next 14 days, the club is at risk of plunging into administration.
But what would the implications of this worst case scenario be?
Here we take a look at what life could be like should Pools not manage to make ends meet by Thursday, January 25.
Points deduction – increased risk of relegation
National League rules state that should any club be involved in an act of insolvency, to football creditors or others, a 10-point deduction would enforced.
They could also be open to an embargo or a suspension from the competition.
Were Hartlepool to receive a points deduction, their future in the fifth tier would be thrown into doubt, with Pools dropping from their current spot in 17th, on to 33 points, to 22nd, on 23 points.
With 18 games to play, Pools would be plunged into a dogfight at the wrong end of the division, battling to avoid the fate of York City last season by suffering two relegations in two years.
Next season, Pools will receive just 25% of the cash made by the Football League as a parachute payment, totalling a little over £200,000. They got £900,000 from the league last season and around half that this campaign.
With that scheduled drop in revenue, relegation also brings with it the pressure to reduce ticket prices as well as the usual drop in matchday income anyway.
Put simply, things have the potential to get a whole lot worse should administration lead to relegation.
The balance sheets would certainly look bleak.
At this moment in time, on-field matters are very much secondary.
But a failure to make ends meet would be bring a whole host of challenges for manager Craig Harrison and the likes of Paul Watson, the head of recruitment.
On the footballing front, without investment in the coming days, Harrison’s budget for the month is £0.
Whether he lets players go or not, to save cash, he will see none of it given the club’s current financial nightmare.
In fact, Pools stand to lose two of their best performers this month.
Jonathan Franks’ contract is within days of running out. It cannot be renewed.
A man needs to work. And it’s certain his performances for Pools this campaign will have alerted one or two suitors at this level, never mind a touch higher.
He’s a player who made no secret in the summer of his desire to play football elsewhere on the continent.
He turned down a move to Sweden to return to the Vic for a second spell after his release by Ross County.
The other player all but certain to depart this month is Keith Watson.
St Johnstone are preparing to welcome their central defender back, despite Pools have footed the bill for the Scot’s recovery from a knee problem, which saw him miss more than four months.
Watson is unlikely to have a future at Saints.
And Perth boss Tommy Wright is yet to receive any assurances that Pools are in a position to hang on to the player.
Having not kicked a ball for his parent club this season, he would be free to go elsewhere between now and the end of the season, and will be keen to do so given that he will be without a club when his deal at McDiarmid Park comes to an end in May.
It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Watson and Franks pop up at the Vic again this season, in the colours of a rival.
The other player who will leave is Tomi Adeloye, who is also out of contract this month. His exit will be mourned as much as James Thorne before him.
Pools transfer man Watson could have the hardest job of the lot.
Trying to convince any agent that Pools is the best place for their player is going to be unenviable moving forward.
How do you sell a future to a player when he is hearing on the grapevine that deals can’t be renewed, even if you do well, and sometimes you might be concerned your pay might not drop in the bank at all.
Things could have been so different this month, had things gone Harrison and Watson’s way.
Elliot Embleton – Sunderland’s highly-rated England youth international midfielder – was one player who was lined up to come in this month. Pools had to renege on that agreement.
As things stand, without significant investments Pools’ business model does not work.
Without a John Blackledge, or someone else, footing the bill month after month the club is not bringing anywhere near enough in to be self-sufficient.
New owners or not, that has to change.
But things worked under IOR, why not now? The landscape is very different now to what it was back then.
The club had no debt because the owners would write off massive losses, as par for the course.
Gary Coxall, his supposed business partners, and recruitment firm JPNG could not do that. They could barely make ends meet.
The club didn’t wipe its own face under IOR. It doesn’t now either. But there is no reason why it couldn’t, but it will take time.
Hartlepool still, in a lot of ways, resembles a Football League club in all but name. You could also say it’s got comparisons with a circus.
They have an academy, full-time staff behind the scenes, a very heavy looking squad, and that’s not including the staff that surround the first-team pool and younger squads.
The ‘new money’ clubs are challenging that ‘old school’ model. They build clubs from scratch, make them pay for themselves.
And one of the ways to do that is by making certain roles part-time. It might even come down to that, if admin and relegation ensue, for Pools’ players, too.
It’s a sad state of affairs when clubs have to cut their cloth to suit.
But there’s only so long you can keep wearing a pair of trainers that are too big.
One of these days you’ll trip up. And that day appears to be edging closer and closer for Hartlepool United.