The battle to buy Aston Villa Football Club is still on, despite new figures showing it turned a cash surplus into £12 million debt last season.
Calls for chairman Doug Ellis to step down and sell the club intensified last night as its annual financial report revealed losses trebled during its year of turmoil.
But the poor returns on and off the pitch have not deterred potential bidders, including American billionaire Randy Lerner and Michael Neville, while new manager Martin O'Neill has been promised some transfer funds.
Mr Ellis, who owns a 39 per cent stake, admitted the 2005/06 season had been a "huge disappointment" but said the board had supported former manager David O'Leary with transfer funds and a 20 per cent increase in wages, amounting to a total of £18.2 million.
"This investment was not reflected in the performances on the field," said the 82-year-old chairman.
According to the preliminary results for the year ending May 31:
* Villa's slump to 16th in the Premiership was blamed for a £600,000 surplus in 2005 turning into a £12.1 million debt.
* Attendances down by 8.7 per cent.
Pre-tax losses increasing £2.6 million to £8.2 million, while revenue decreased from £51.6 million to £49 million.
* The wage bill rising by £5.2 million to £38.3 million, representing "an unhealthy" 78.1 per cent of revenue. Jonathan Fear, chairman of the Aston Villa Shareholders' Association, said the figures were not a surprise but showed why Mr Ellis should give way to new owners with fresh ideas.
"There are far more deep-rooted problems than what happened on the pitch. David O'Leary and Doug Ellis were a recipe for disaster and a lot of fans have voted with their feet," he said.
"They didn't like the product on and off the pitch and stayed away."
Villa non-executive director Steve Kind said the club had not tried to "gloss over" its disappointing season.
"Our performance on the field of play is what dictates the financial performance of the club, and we had a poor season."
Despite the downturn, Mr Kind said money would be made available to Martin O'Neill for players, although this would only be a small amount in the short term, and he did not believe the financial downturn would deter the six consortia vying for control of Villa.
A source close to Randy Lerner said the bid was very much still on the table.
He said: "There has been much publicity recently saying that Lerner has lost interest in Villa, but that has been a smoke-screen instigated by the consortium as it does not like doing its business in the media.
Michael Neville said the financial results would not affect his indicative bid.
In his statement accompanying the report, Mr Ellis said the club was determined to balance its costs, which could include more players being drafted in from the youth academy rather than multi-million pound transfers. Villa's shares closed unchanged at 501.5p last night.