Southampton shines as football clubs flex for action

The enduring appeal of football clubs to investors continued yesterday when shares in the company that merged with Southampton, the struggling Premier League side, soared on their return to the stock market.

Sentiment towards the sector was also helped by the appointment of Kenny Dalglish to succeed Kevin Keegan as manager of Newcastle United, putting the Geordie club's planned pounds 200m flotation back on track.

Also lining up for a slice of stock market action are Sheffield United, whose shareholders yesterday approved a pounds 9.9m reverse takeover of the club by Conrad, a quoted leisure group, and fellow Division One club Charlton Athletic, which confirmed plans to float on the Alternative Investment Market.

Shares in Secure Retirement, the property development and healthcare group which reversed into Southampton, closed last night at 150p after being suspended at 47p before Christmas.

Rupert Lowe, chairman of both Secure Retirement and the new holding company, Southampton Leisure Holdings, denied suggestions the club had been bought on the cheap. "The market likes the merger. The two have come together very nicely," he said.

But analysts said the pounds 10m reverse takeover, which valued Southampton at the equivalent of its annual turnover, looked a steal when compared to fellow Premiership club Sunderland, whose newly floated shares are already trading on over eight times sales.

Mr Lowe was at a loss to explain the difference in valuation: "It is difficult to say. Perhaps it is because we have a full listing. I think Sunderland are quoted on AIM."

In fact, both clubs enjoy full stock market status, though Sunderland, unlike Southampton, have already funded their planned move to a new stadium.

Mr Lowe also held out an olive branch to a consortium led by Sir David Frost, the broadcaster, who last month failed to buy a large stake in Southampton.

"They effectively plagiarised our offer and hoped to change the course of our deal but as a combined team we would welcome them," he said. "The door is always open."

Mr Lowe said a meeting between the Frost consortium, which includes Gavyn Davies, chief economist at US investment bank Goldman Sachs, and the new Southampton board could take place in the next few weeks.

The arrival of Mr Dalglish at St James' Park paves the way for Newcastle United's planned flotation before Easter. Further details of the offer structure would be made available tomorrow, the club confirmed.

Sheffield United will become the 12th football club to be quoted on the stock market when its shares, formerly listed as Conrad and offered at 60p each, start trading tomorrow.

Charlton Athletic, seeking to raise pounds 5m from its AIM listing, has appointed Teather & Greenwood as its nominated adviser.

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