The sorry, sorry state that is Worcester Warriors rolled into Kingsholm on Wednesday night with a 41-year-old and the owner of a pizza company forced into emergency substitute duty.
The cash-strapped Premiership side did manage to find some dough from somewhere.
Needs must. That the club is in this frankly ridiculous, not to mention immensely sad position, is down to owners Colin Goldring and Jason Whittingham.
The pair have dragged a proud club into the gutter and no-one at Worcester wants them around any longer. Rugby, as a collective, wants them gone, too.
Because of their actions, Worcester has become a soapbox of a club and the good people who make up its playing and backroom team – not to mention their supporters – are the ones paying the price.
Wednesday was another remarkable day in the never-ending Worcester story.
Sportsmail revealed Goldring and Whittingham took a £500,000 loan from Warriors icon and true hero Cecil Duckworth in his dying days. Duckworth passed away in 2020 after suffering with cancer and the loan has not been repaid.
The Rugby Football Union has also stepped up moves to prepare to suspend the stricken Warriors from all competitions unless they can provide assurances by noon on Thursday about their ability to stage Saturday’s Premiership game against Newcastle at Sixways.
In addition, they must provide – by 5pm on Monday – proof of suitable insurance and payment of all outstanding August wages to staff and players. As things stand, that looks unlikely.
On a busy day of yet more turmoil in the English domestic game, Wasps were trying to reassure worried players and staff the club is not about to go bust after serving notice of their intention to enter into administration.
The Coventry-based side were forced to take drastic action to stave off the threat of a winding-up order from HMRC.
Worcester’s game with Newcastle remains on, for now.Amidst all this background noise, Worcester – somehow – are still running a rugby operation.
That it remains ongoing is something of a miracle and is of the utmost credit to players and staff.
On Wednesday evening, they scrambled together a team to start the defence of the Premiership Rugby Cup title they won last year.
Their matchday squad included 41-year-old former Gloucester man Jonny Goodridge who had not played competitive rugby in nine years.
Former England Deaf international Mat Gilbert, whose main occupation is selling pizzas, joined Goodridge on the bench.
Gilbert did make it on the field while Goodridge was unused, but the fact both were even needed to don jerseys showed how stretched Worcester’s resources are right now.
They were only just able to afford the £45 fees it costs to register new players for the Premiership Cup with the RFU and maximised the number of loan options they could bring in to boost their paper-thin squad.
That is why Goodridge and Gilbert filled in. Chris Morgan, Worcester’s academy coach, said: ‘We didn’t have many players available and we had a squad of 21 really because I don’t think you can really count Jonny.
‘Mat told me he had a brownie for lunch and a couple of croissants for breakfast! The effort the players put in was tremendous – we certainly didn’t fail through lack of effort.
’If only Goldring and Whittingham had the spine, resilience, honesty and never-say-die attitude of Worcester’s players and staff.
As their first-choice side had done against Exeter in the Premiership last Sunday, a misfit Warriors team of kids and veterans gave it everything at Kingsholm. So too did Worcester’s communications team.
‘That’s 65 per cent of the match played,’ tweeted the Warriors at the 52nd minute mark. So we are clocking off for the night and heading back to the ranch.’
The admittedly funny gallows humour was in reference to the fact most Worcester staff have still only been paid 65 per cent of their August salaries. Some have still received nothing at all.
Worcester’s Twitter account had earlier in the day re-posted heavy criticism of Goldring and Whittingham, including Sportsmail’s story of the loan they took from Duckworth.
The use of the word ‘ranch’ was noteworthy given Worcester’s staff and supporters have begun referring to Goldring and Whittingham as ‘cowboy’ owners.
Worcester were eventually outmuscled by a Gloucester side containing Italy flanker Jake Polledri, former England No 8 Ben Morgan, Azzurri scrum-half Stephen Varney and Georgian international centre Giorgi Kveseladze, but that is no disgrace.
On a pure rugby basis, it was fantastic to see Polledri back playing competitive rugby for the first time in nearly two years.
Polledri suffered a serious knee injury in 2020 – which was then complicated by further nerve damage – before tragically losing his brother, Sam, to a heart attack earlier this year.
Polledri played 67 minutes and left the field with a huge smile on his face and to loud applause.
The two sides went to the break level at 14-14, Worcester impressing after a poor start and scoring twice through Harri Doel and Finn Theobald-Thomas. Gloucester pulled clear after the break to emerge 49-21 winners.
Alex Wills grabbed Worcester’s third try and half-backs Ollie Wynn and Charlie Titcombe impressed.
So too did hooker Theobald-Thomas. Wynn was made homeless when Worcester’s academy house was repossessed after the club failed to keep up on mortgage payments.
Worcester’s players and staff plus extended squad – who had been given free tickets to this game by Gloucester in a goodwill gesture – huddled together at the final whistle.
The club’s very existence remains on a knife-edge. ‘It’s week to week, day to day at the moment,’ added Morgan, as administration continues to look like Worcester’s only possible route for survival.It is a route Goldring and Whittingham do not want to go down.
‘It’s incredibly difficult for everyone involved,’ Morgan said. ‘It’s frustrating, but in difficult times good people shine through. We have seen a lot of deadlines recently but the boys keep putting in the effort.
‘Humour and hard work get us through. We can’t help but be distracted but can only focus on the games and we are fully prepared for Saturday.’