Villa fans call on board to scrap dividend

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The Independent Online

Angry Aston Villa supporters are demanding that shareholders return their dividend payments to the football club, which lost £4.8m last season, and are planning a protest at next month's annual general meeting.

Angry Aston Villa supporters are demanding that shareholders return their dividend payments to the football club, which lost £4.8m last season, and are planning a protest at next month's annual general meeting.

The club, which recently paid Tottenham Hotspur £3m for French winger David Ginola, proposes to maintain the dividend at 8.8p for the second year running. But fans claim that although a profit of £20.2m the previous season justified last year's dividend, tough times over the past year at Villa Park mean the club should now be more prudent.

The Aston Villa Independent Supporters' Association (AVISA) is calling for the club's 16,000 shareholders to vote against receiving a dividend at the annual general meeting on 8 September.

If the vote fails, AVISA will try to encourage shareholders to return their cheques to the club - amounting to a total of around £700,000.

"If all the shareholders returned their dividends it would amount to a fair whack and be a help to the finances," said Ian Robathan, shareholder and chairman of AVISA. "We also want to know how the Board [justifies] paying that dividend given the losses the club made last season."

Doug Ellis, Aston Villa's chairman and the biggest shareholder, with a 33 per cent stake in the club, blamed the losses on escalating players' wages and falling attendances. Even so, supporters believe that the club should have generated higher profits given that it was a runner-up in the FA Cup and reached the semi-final of the Worthington Cup last season.

Mark Ansell, finance director at Aston Villa, said that the club had considered cutting the dividend, or not paying one at all. "But after taking advice from our brokers and consulting our institutional shareholders, we decided to maintain it at the same level," he said.

"Football club shareholders are long suffering and the dividend is a way of recompensing some of our shareholders who have seen their shares fall in value."

Mr Ansell added that the dividend payment is important to institutional shareholders, who would consider selling their holdings if they did not receive an income from them. Aston Villa has 12 institutional shareholders owning 20 per cent of the club; a further 40 per cent is owned by small shareholders, most of whom are supporters.

"We are talking about a [sum] of £700,000," said Mr Ansell. "That won't make much of an impact when you consider players' salaries and transfer fees - there are bigger issues." However, Mr Ansell could not guarantee that the club would pay the same dividend next year.

"We will keep the situation under review," he added. "Football is going through some major changes. The short-term financial situation is not good, which is why shares in most clubs are devalued."

Aston Villa shares closed at 342.5p on Friday, having halved in price since last September.

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