Wolfson bows out at Wembley

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The Independent Online

Sir Brian Wolfson is leaving Wembley, owner of the national football stadium. He has taken most of the blame for the company's string of disastrous diversifications in the 1980s. Shares in the group soared 41p to 292p yesterday after the announcement of his departure.

Sir Brian was demoted from chairman to deputy chairman after a pounds 62.5m rights issue and pounds 53.7m debt-for-equity swap in April, but stayed on the board despite criticism of his record by a number of shareholders. Claes Hultman, the new chairman who masterminded the refinancing, yesterday dismissed any suggestion there had been pressure from shareholders to get rid of him. "They have delegated to me to do what is right for the company and I decide what to do," Mr Hultman said.

The decision to part com- pany with Sir Brian was mut- ual, he said. "We both concluded there is no role for Sir Brian in the future of Wembley. We decided we needed a complete break from Wembley's horrific past."

Sir Brian was paid pounds 157,000 a year, although his contract had been cut from three years to two after the refinancing. Mr Hultman said any settlement for early departure "will be done in a fair and equitable arrangement", which might not necessarily involve a lump sum.

Wembley also announced pre-tax losses had been cut to pounds 5.5m in the six months to June, from pounds 9.73m in the comparable period. No dividend is being paid, but the company reiterated its intention to seek court approval for a capital reconstruction which would allow the resumption of payments after publication of the 1995 accounts next March or April.

The results were hit by pounds 8.38m of exceptional charges relating to the restructuring, including pounds 3.13m financing costs and an pounds 8.6m loss on certain properties acquired in the complex as part of the deal.

At the trading level, profits from continuing operations jumped 19 per cent to pounds 9.41m, despite a collapse in results from the Wembley complex itself, where profits fell from pounds 5.23m to pounds 3.88m. Alan Coppin, managing director, blamed the absence of some big exhibitions and a decision to spread income from sponsorship and a television deal with the Football Association more evenly through the year. With 10 stadium events, including Rolling Stones concerts, the Frank Bruno versus Oliver McCall fight and two games in the Rugby League World Cup still to come, against five in the same period of 1994, he predicted profits would be much better over- all this year.

Results from the group's six greyhound tracks, down from pounds 1.49m to pounds 1.43m, were hit by competition from the National Lottery. Only a strong performance by the US greyhound operations kept the group total moving forward. This owed much to the introduction of fruit machine-type games on video lottery machines at the Lincoln, Rhode Island track, which last week pulled in record takings of $1.25m.

Mr Coppin said the decision on whether Wembley had been successful in its application for National Lottery money to refurbish the stadium would be made by the Sports Council Lottery Fund on 31 October.