Wray wants to float Watford and Saracens

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The Independent Online
The quoted football sector looks set to burst into life again as entrepreneurs seek to cash in on the sport's popularity, even though many clubs' share prices have suffered in recent months. Watford, the football club controlled by rock star Elton John, and Saracens, the rugby club run by entrepreneur Nigel Wray, are considering plans to merge and float on the stock market.

It also emerged yesterday that Mr Wray and two other directors of Nottingham Forest stand to make a profit of more than pounds 7m from the flotation of the football club, which is expected to take place in the next few weeks.

"Yes eventually we want to bring Saracens and Watford together. It makes economic sense to combine sports like football and rugby," said Mr Wray. He said he would consider floating on the stock market, following in the footsteps of Loftus Road, which owns both QPR football club and Wasps rugby club.

QPR and Wasps share the same ground in west London and Saracens recently left their own north London home to play at Watford's ground, Vicarage Road.

Mr Wray, non-executive chairman of Nottingham Forest who currently owns 25 per cent of the club, stands to make at least pounds 3m from the flotation. Irving Scholar, former chairman of Tottenham Hotspur, and Julian Markham, another non-executive director, should both make more than pounds 2m.

"Valuations of around pounds 40m are a bit high. We think it will be valued at just north of pounds 30m. We will not do at all badly. In all we paid pounds 19m for the club," said Mr Wray.

He ruled out selling all or part of his stake in Nottingham Forest to fund the acquisition of Watford. He is not planning to sell any shares on the club's flotation and will retain his holding for long term. "I do not like to sell shares and I have no intention of selling any shares in Nottingham Forest," he said.

Nottingham Forest plans to raise pounds 3m-pounds 4m of new money in the flotation through a share offering to fans and financial institutions. The company will use some of the funds for the purchase of new players.

However, a priority is the development of a new training ground which will also include a youth academy for the grooming of young players. Forest has been looking for potential sites within a 10 mile radius of its ground by Nottingham's River Trent.

Kenneth Clarke, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, had been linked to the job of chairman of the club. However Nottingham Forest said Mr Clarke had ruled himself out of the position. "He did not want to be plagued by his constituents talking about a 4-4-2 formation and the match last Saturday," said Mr Wray. Nottingham Forest have yet to decide on a new appointment.

Mr Wray took over the club in March this year, with a pounds 16m cash injection. Even so Nottingham Forest was relegated from the Premier League last season. It currently lies top of the First Division after an impressive start to the season. The club's most notable success came when it won the European Cup two years on the trot in 1979 and1980.

Current Football League rules prevent anybody owning a significant stake in two football clubs, which could thwart Mr Wray's plans to convert his holding in Saracens into a stake in a sports group incorporating Watford and Saracens while keeping hold of his stake in Nottingham Forest. However according to industry sources the Football League is looking to relax these rules, which is likely to stimulate greater investment.

Mr Wray has also brought new players to Saracens since he took control of the club last year including Francois Pinaar, South Africa's World Cup winning captain.