Out of the Cup, now Birmingham are in for a float

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The Independent Online
With the timing of a bad Vinnie Jones tackle, Birmingham City will today unveil plans for a pounds 25m stock market flotation in an effort to raise cash for manager Trevor Francis to buy players and stave off the threat of relegation from the Nationwide First Division.

Details of the flotation come just days after the club's humiliating exit from the FA Cup at the hands of Wrexham of the Second Division. The 1-3 home defeat provoked an outbreak of crowd trouble among Birmingham's fans, reviving memories of a hooligan past just as football is trying to a project more user-friendly, family-oriented image.

Nobody ever said Birmingham City was a conventional football club. Owned by the soft porn publisher David Sullivan and followed by a hard core of infamous fans, Birmingham created history in 1993 by appointing Karren Brady, 23, as the first woman to run a professional football club.

True to form, the prospectus shows that Birmingham took the highly unusual step of asking Howard Wilkinson, the Football Association's technical director, to value the squad, even though Birmingham admits the former Leeds United manager has no formal qualifications as an accountant or auditor.

As remarkable is Ms Brady's claim that income would increase even if Birmingham dropped down into Division Two: "The last time we were there two seasons ago we played 63 games. You have the Auto Windscreens Trophy and you get into the other cup competitions earlier."

Analysts are not sure that spending money will secure success on the field. They recalled that Barry Fry, the previous manager, sold a record 46 players for pounds 5.6m and spent pounds 7m on 41 new signings during his two-and- a-half year reign, but Birmingham still failed to win a major honour.

There is also concern that last year's pounds 4.4m wage bill was slightly higher than the club's gate receipts - the largest single source of the club's pounds 7.34m turnover. Last year the club made a profit before transfer fees of pounds 803,000.

Birmingham is raising pounds 7.5m to buy players and make improvements to the St Andrew's ground via a placing of up to 15 million shares at 50p on the junior Alternative Investment Market. Sport Newspapers, jointly owned by Mr Sullivan and the Gold brothers of Ann Summers lingerie fame, will retain control but its stake will be cut from 84.2 per cent to 58.9 per cent. A previous interest-free loan from Sport Newspapers is being formalised into an interest-free three-year loan of pounds 6.57m.

The offer closes on 26 February, just days before this season's transfer deadline.

Ms Brady, who is married to a former Birmingham player, reckons Mr Francis should buy a striker and a midfield man.

People & Business, page 21