ACCRINGTON Stanley bosses have eight weeks to save the club - or face it being wound up.
The club appeared at London's High Court on Wednesday and has been given until 28 October to find a "significant amount" of its outstanding £308,000 tax bill, probably at least £100,000.
The debt has hung over the club since May when the Reds received notice of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) court proceedings.
On that occasion it did not reach court with Stanley pledging 12 monthly payments of £18,000 plus lump sums, and receiving a £45,000 bail-out from fans as a supporters' crisis fund was set up.
If the cash is not found the Reds will be wound up for the second time in their history and assets sold to pay off the debt.
Owner Dave O'Neill revealed that at times during the past week he feared for the club's existence.
A "relieved" O'Neill, who took over as major shareholder in June, admitted: "It could have gone either way. If the judge had just had a bad night we would have walked out of there without a football club.
"It's a wake-up call to everybody. We need not only our local fans, we have got to go national and worldwide."
It is unclear exactly why the Inland Revenue has toughened its position since June, although a Revenue spokesman confirmed its general position on football club debts has not changed.
But chief executive Rob Heys said: "The Revenue has taken a harder line on it with all football clubs, and that's fair enough - it's their money. Twelve months to pay it all off was good for us as it would have gone with other monthly costs at the club. We have tried to increase revenue and we have cut back on costs like wages. But since then the situation has changed and HMRC want it back a lot sooner.
"We know we have got to pay it - it's only right and it is the club's fault, albeit it external circumstances like (former sponsor) Fraser Eagle going out of business led to it."
Heys admitted the court appearance has been known about for some time but club chiefs kept it quiet in the hope of alleviating the situation.
"It is a difficult decision for the football club as you don't want to be secretive and want to be open and honest but we needed the time to continue negotiating," he said.
Hyndburn MP Greg Pope spoke with minister Stephen Timms on Tuesday to lobby on Stanley's behalf.
Mr Pope said: "I impressed on him the need for HMRC to have a flexible approach. The club has changed hands recently and all football clubs outside of the Real Madrids of this world have problems in the summer with no incomings. I am delighted that they have got this breathing space."
Heys added: "It is a new era at the club, with a new owner, and the judge did see that we are trying to change things behind the scenes.
"We are still under an awful lot of pressure and we have got to raise the money but we will not let the club go under. I know it is tough in the current financial climate but we need people coming through the turnstiles or helping the club in whatever way they can."
A 'Save Our Stanley' website is being set up to generate more support while fans' forums have been full of speculation.
Many fans fear a repeat of 1962 when the club folded under the weight of debts of over £10,000.
The League Two club's finances were hit last season after it had to invest £60,000 bringing the ground up to Football League standards and lost an estimated £100,000 in revenue when main sponsor Fraser Eagle was forced into administration in March. A replacement has been hard to find due to the economic downturn and the recent match betting scandal.
Stanley's gate receipts are also limited by average attendances of around 1,500 - comfortably the lowest in all four divisions of English League football.
HMRC do not comment on individual cases but a spokesman pointed out that appropriate action is taken if a business is no longer viable.