Scardino pulls out of Forest bid battle

The bid battle for Nottingham Forest became a one-horse race yesterday after the dramatic last-minute collapse of the consortium led by US journalist Albert Scardino.

His pounds 20m bid disintegrated when his main backer, Mercury Asset Management (MAM), pulled out citing nervousness about the prospects for football shares.

MAM said it was withdrawing because of the possible deterioration of the market for football shares over the next 18 months - a decision which could have a knock-on effect on other quoted football clubs.

With Forest looking to float, MAM said this could have jeopardised the value of its investment.

After MAM made its shock decision late on Friday evening, Mr Scardino spent the rest of the weekend trying unsuccessfully to line up replacement backers including other City institutions and Porterbrook leasing millionaire Sandy Anderson.

Mr Scardino finally conceded defeat yesterday lunchtime, leaving the way clear for the group led by Nigel Wray, Irving Scholar and local author Phil Soar, to win shareholder approval for its pounds 19.3m offer.

It will now be the only bid on the table when Forest shareholders meet tonight for the crunch vote to decide the future of the club.

However, a victory is far from a foregone conclusion as the bid needs a 75 per cent majority to win control.

Commenting on the sudden evaporation of his deal, Mr Scardino said: "It's very, very disappointing but I'm proud of what we have achieved over the last six weeks."

Mr Scardino claimed he had won backing from around 140 of Forest's 202 shareholders, bringing himself within touching distance of the majority needed.

"We'd won the campaign and then our general withdrew from the field," he said.

He had been forced to change the structure of his bid at the last minute after criticism from shareholders that MAM and Electra Fleming, the bid's other backer, would have been able to cash in their entire investment in Forest when the club floated.

The Wray-Scholar-Soar camp was avoiding expressions of over-confidence yesterday and was instead lobbying shareholders ahead of tonight's vote.

Mr Soar, a boyhood Forest fan, said yesterday: "We hope we will be able to convince shareholders that we are the people to take this club forward."

Forest fans are desperate for the bid battle to reach a conclusion ahead of next month's transfer deadline. With the club languishing near the foot of the Premiership it urgently needs the injection of new funds to buy players.

The club's 202 shareholders paid just pounds 1 for their stakes in the club. They are a disparate group, including wealthy local businessmen, pub owners and former players. They all qualify for shareholder privileges such as a free cup of tea at half time, a free programme and a cushion on which to sit to view the games.

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