THE end of Blackpool Panthers RLFC could be confirmed this week after the resignation of coach Martin Crompton drove another nail into the club's coffin.
A devastated Crompton told The Gazette he was "very bitter, fuming and absolutely gutted", and vowed to reveal all in the near future about behind-the-scenes events which led to the club falling apart.
The Gazette understands that the Rugby Football League have set a deadline of this Friday for the Panthers to submit a detailed business plan for a new company to compete in Co-operative Championship One next season.
Club sponsor Andrew Carney, a Southport-based businessman and Crompton's cousin, has led a group of potential investors considering putting proposals before the RFL, which suspended the Panthers' membership after the debt-ridden club went into administration on October 5.
However, Crompton says the revival of the club is "not going to happen", while former chairman John Chadwick admits his attention is now focused on the liquidation of the old Panthers company.
"Myself and the players have done everything we could to hold this club together but we have all been led down the garden path by people making false promises," said Crompton, who gave up his job in the construction industry to go full-time with the Panthers this year but says he has been unpaid for two months.
It's a desperately sad end for Crompton, who has transformed the club's on-field fortunes during his three seasons in charge.
He inherited a side which had lost every match in 2007, and they lost ten more before finally turning the corner with victory over Workington in April of the following year.
Ending that campaign outside the bottom two for the first time in their four-year history, the Panthers went on to qualify for the promotion play-offs in 2009 and win the Northern Rail 9s at Bloomfield Road.
This past season brought a concerted promotion bid under new owner-chairman Bobby Hope, which looked likely to be realised as the Panthers won their opening eight league games, entered the history books with 132-0 win over Gateshead and earned a dream tie at Leeds Rhinos in the Challenge Cup.
However, stories about financial problems and non-payment of wages began to emerge in May, and Hope resigned following a heart attack.
Despite ongoing difficulties, the players rallied to finish fourth in the table – the club's best-ever placing – then progressed in the play-offs to within one match of the Grand Final.
"The players were fantastic," Crompton said. "They conducted themselves so well to battle to the very end and they deserved more. It was a miracle that they got to the semi-finals.
"They were all owed money but 18 of them had agree to re-sign for next season on reduced terms and to turn down approaches from other clubs.
It was very difficult to phone each player and tell them my decision. They understand my position but it's a horrible one to be in."
That position has changed dramatically since a fortnight ago, when Crompton spoke to The Gazette about his confidence in the rescue package and his determination to remain loyal to the club.
He is not yet prepared to speak fully about the events which changed his mind but he has pledged to do so.
Crompton said: "I'm a realist and I know companies go bust all the time, but I'm so disappointed with how this has been dealt with, and with myself for putting my trust in other people and their decisions.
"To have everything we have built taken away is so disappointing. I've spoken to other coaches and asked if I'm too straightforward and trusting, but honesty and integrity are what I'm all about.
"I have to bite my lip at the moment but I will speak about everything when the moment is right.
"No-one outside the club knows what we've had to deal with but I will represent the players and speak on everyone's behalf. All I will say for now is that nothing was done properly.
"I'll wait for the right time to disclose everything to everyone about what went on and the decisions that were made."
Crompton, who praises the efforts of Carney and insists the blame should not be pinned on Hope, admits he now faces an uncertain future.
"I've gone eight weeks without a wage. I have a mortgage and three young children, and it's very bleak. After three years of hard work I now have nothing to show for them, but this isn't about me. I'm so sorry for everyone."
Crompton remains in the running for the vacancy at Barrow but admits to having no other irons in the fire.
He leaves Blackpool without a coach, without any players, without a board of directors, without a place in the league and quite possibly without a home – the Panthers were considering alternatives to Fylde RFC, their base for the past four seasons following two troubled years at Blackpool FC.
And by the end of the week, the Fylde coast may again be without a professional rugby league club.
"Martin's frustration is totally understandable," said Chadwick. "This is so sad after all the hard work that has been done to keep this sport alive in Blackpool."