It’s a familiar tale in European basketball: players being paid late, talk of financial meltdown, the struggle to bring sponsors in. But despite the chatter of impending doom, Mersey Tigers chief Gary Townsend says the club isn’t on the brink of disaster.

Not that the three aforementioned rumours aren’t without foundation. Townsend has confirmed to MVP that his players and staff have been forced to wait for their full salaries this month as Mersey works its way out of a sticky spell.

“But it’s not a crisis,” he underlines.

“The club’s not going to fold and no-one’s leaving. We’ve just got a cash flow problem which stems back to two of our main sponsors pulling out. We also had our housing sponsor pull out. We seem to have had nothing but bad luck and it’s set us back.”

With Guildford Heat and Worthing Thunder already suffering amid an economic climate that is biting hard, other teams around the British Basketball League have not hidden the difficulties they are presently facing.

Mersey, in their first season since splitting definitively from Everton FC, have been no more immune to the pains. Townsend, who took over to the club last summer following a stint as an executive at Notts County, concedes his task has been harder than he expected.

To share the load, his personal shareholding has been reduced, he reveals, with 25% now owned by external investors. However, in a city where football is a religion, converting the basketball agnostics does not come cheap and with attendances peaking at around 1200 – largely in the over-sized Echo Arena – it is a hard sell.

“It’s not all doom and gloom,” Townsend declares. “This is a fabulous city. Our attendances have doubled from last season. We’ve got a shirt sponsor (B&M Waste Services) until the end of the season.

“And we’ve got the funds for the country’s first Learning Disability team which is up and running and doing well.”

Drew Sullivan is staying put (Basketviews)

Success from the Tigers showcase team would do much to aid the cause. Having lost the BBL Cup final, next month’s Trophy climax at The 02 Arena cannot arrive soon enough. And despite their recent dip in form, they remain second in the league and very much in contention.

The existing squad, contrary to speculation, is not about to splinter, Townsend states – a claim backed up by captain Drew Sullivan.

“I know the rumours, they come from ignorant jealous people that have nothing better to do,” he posted on his Twitter account. “No plans of going any where at the (moment).”

Townsend refutes the idea that Mersey have over-stretched themselves with the squad they put together, despite the arrival of Sulllivan, Tafari Toney and Nate Reinking who might command high salaries.

“We’re supposed to be the rich club in the BBL, paying big wages, but we’re not,” he said. “But the aim next year is to put a team on the court that’s capable of challenging for every trophy.”

A new home may be sought. The Tigers have been nomadic of late, even playing one tie in Manchester, and they are only slated to play a handful of games at the Echo Arena during the remainder of the season.

“That’s a challenge: to find our own venue,” Townsend declares.

“We currently have the choice of a 10000-seater arena or a 750-seat leisure centre. 700’s not enough. The arena’s too big and probably too costly so we have to look at that.”

There is a lot to assess and evaluate, once the short-term fixes are in place. Rather than bringing the story to an abrupt end, Townsend is focusing on writing the next chapter.

“We now have four months to plan and prepare for next season as opposed to the six weeks we had last time,” he adds.

“That will make a big difference.”

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