IT’S a new era at Oxford United after a dramatic day at the Kassam Stadium.
Darryl Eales and Mark Ashton’s takeover was confirmed, with Ian Lenagan remaining on the board, but now charged with responsibility for the club’s ‘stadium development’ project.
Manager Gary Waddock was sacked, with Michael Appleton replacing him at the helm, while Mr Lenagan’s sons, Simon and Adrian, have left the club’s board of directors.
Mr Eales becomes chairman, with Mr Ashton the chief executive in a potentially-pivotal announcement in the history of Oxford United that ends intense speculation over the club’s future.
Mr Lenagan, who has been chairman for two years, said the time was right for a change, and believes the added investment from Mr Eales will drive the club forward.
Mr Lenagan said: “It is a big day for Oxford United and these are very exciting times. With more funds now available, in terms of both development and with the new management, it doubles the resources that we have got in order to progress.”
He refused to reveal the exact shareholding that he and Mr Eales now hold, except for saying both were ‘more than 30 but less than 50 per cent’.
When asked to clarify whether these figures were equal, Mr Lenagan replied: “I don’t think it matters. Why on earth does everybody think they have the right to know private business?
“There are two shareholders who have shares between 30 per cent and less than 50. The intricacies of how that operates in a contract is private.”
Mr Eales, a Birmingham City fan, is relishing the opportunity of getting into football, and says although Mr Lenagan will no longer be involved in the day-to-day operations, he will still have a big role to play.
He said: “I’m absolutely delighted Ian is staying involved so I can just pick his brains because he will have a huge amount of knowledge I won’t have, as has Mark.”
Mr Ashton, a former chief executive of Watford and Wycombe Wanderers, was introduced to Mr Eales last year through a mutual acquaintance.
The former West Bromwich Albion goalkeeper believes after briefly looking into other clubs, United fits the bill.
“There’s a ton of football clubs that purport to be up for sale and purport to be very well run,” said Mr Ashton, who is moving to a property in Woodstock.
“I spoke to Ian probably about a year ago and the one thing he and the Lenagan family have done here, in my opinion, is build solid foundations.
“Whether that’s on the football side or the community, or the academy. It fitted perfectly with our model and interpretation of how everything should operate.
“We’re all so excited about the opportunity here at Oxford.”
While Mr Eales and Mr Ashton will be tasked with driving the club forward on the field, Mr Lenagan’s role with the club is now one of trying to secure the ownership of a ground.
He hopes that will be at the Kassam Stadium, but is prepared to look at other options, with a new site at Water Eaton one potential alternative.
From left, Darryl Eales, Ian Lenagan and Mark Ashton outline their plans for the future at yesterday’s press conference.
A recent study found all of Oxfordshire’s councils need to build 100,000 more homes by 2031.
This means that over the next few months, all will be redrawing their planning policies to take this into account.
Mr Lenagan said: “To take advantage of the immediate opportunity which is planning and development led, it’s important we get hold of the stadium.
“I could easily see the long-term future being at the Kassam and I would like it to be there.
“This is the opportunity to make sure that over the next two or three years we are in a location that we have control and ownership of.
“The revenue flowing from that is what will fund long-term our ambition in football terms.”
He added: “In terms of buying the stadium, it is the closest we have ever been together – ourselves and Firoka.
“We are probably closer because we are sharing an opportunity for this place to be zoned, with the city council backing it and Oxford United being the centre of the community.
“It’s almost a marriage made in heaven.
“But we have always said that terms and price have to be right and we are very close to that situation as far as the Kassam is concerned.”
A rival takeover bid from a consortium led by Charlie Methven was submitted on Thursday, but Mr Lenagan said that their interest was never a factor.
“The new investors are prepared to be involved with the club on the basis that a stadium deal is probably going to happen,” he said.
“We did finally get a bid from another group but that was conditional on us having done the deal on the stadium already.
“Darryl is quite prepared to take the risk and move forward.
“Charlie and his group are nice people and they are welcome to come and talk to us if they wish to do so and if they wish to inject further finances to make things go quicker, of course we’d be delighted to speak.”
In the latest accounts, which cover the 12 months up to June last year, United owe Lenagan’s Woodstock Partners Ltd £6.1m, which increased further last year.
Mr Lenagan said: “The debt remains but there are very comprehensive arrangements in place to make sure that Oxford United is taken well care of between the two principle shareholders and there are many options beyond the debt.
“They are putting real significant investment into the club, although I’m not giving you figures.
“That investment is in addition to that debt. Darryl is putting extra money into the business.”
New boss Mr Appleton will meet the Oxford United players – and the media – for the first time on Monday.
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