HARTLEPOOL UNITED have until March 21 to pay an outstanding tax bill – or be wound up in the High Court.

A winding-up petition was issued for £48,000 on February 1 and Pools are due in the High Court at 10.30am on Wednesday, March 21 to answer the case.

If they are unable to produce the money, then the winding-up order will be served and the club’s existence in serious doubt.

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What will go against Pools is that this is the fourth winding up order issued in 18 months following the financial mess overseen by former chairman Gary Coxall and JPNG.

But the club could enter administration before the court hearing, with the club’s chairwoman Pam Duxbury judging the option on a day by day basis.

Pools raised enough money last month to pay the wages for both staff and players after a crowd of almost 7,000 watched the home game with Wrexham.

But with no home game until February 17, and the chances of another bumper crowd slim, the club needs to find funds for both wages and the tax bill.

The on-line Just Giving page, set up by supporter Rachel Cartwright, remains open. Over £84,000 has now been raised.

But the distribution of the money has become a political issue.

Sage Investments and benefactor John Blackledge are owed £1.8m and there are concerns the fund-raising would be used to fill some of that black hole. How it is released and where it goes remains a moot point.

The club was put up for sale in December, but since then no interested party has gone through the club’s books in any great detail.

Hartlepool-based businessman Chris Musgrave pulled out of a proposed deal to buy the club after discovering the extent of the financial mess the club is in. At the time he hadn’t been able to go as far as going through the due diligence process because the books weren’t up to date and complete.

Now they have been secured and done by Duxbury, they are available for a prospective buyer.

Blackledge has been in talks with two interested parties, one of them a consortium in the early stages of being put together.

It is understood that Paul Watson, the club’s head of recruitment, is to leave his position.
Watson joined Pools under Coxall’s reign and oversaw the managerial appointments of both Dave Jones and Craig Harrison as well as assisting in revamping the playing squad, moving players on and bringing them in.

Jonathan Franks, who left Pools when his short-term contract expired in January, has signed for Wrexham. The former Middlesbrough attacker couldn’t sign a new deal at Pools as they are under a National League transfer embargo as they are unable to guarantee they are able to complete their fixtures for the season.

The promotion-chasing Welsh side last week signed Nicky Deverdics from Pools for £10,000.

Franks said: “My contract ended in mid-January there and I was unable to re-sign, so here I am.

“They’ve got a transfer embargo and they are not allowed to sign anybody.

“It is exciting to come to Wrexham, but it is disappointing to see what is going on at Hartlepool. It is really sad because it is a really good club, its been good to me over the years and I’ve enjoyed my time there.

“But these things happen in football and hopefully they will get sorted sooner rather than later. I had to move on because I am not allowed to stay there, and Wrexham made me feel wanted to come down, so I had no hesitation to come here.”