Football: Billionaire invests pounds 40m in Rangers

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The biggest single investment in domestic football yesterday saw the eighth-richest man in Britain pump pounds 40m into Rangers. The Bahamas-based Joe Lewis, who has a pounds 1bn fortune, has bought a 25 per cent stake in the Glasgow club.

The 59-year-old Londoner is an enthusiastic gambler who shuns publicity. He bases himself in a pounds 15m Bahamas mansion set in 1,000 acres, but also moves between homes in Florida, Buenos Aires and London. His art collection of Impressionist and modern paintings is worth pounds 30-40m and six years ago he spent pounds 8m on a 140ft motor yacht.

However, apart from what is said to be a fondness for betting on American football, Lewis is not known to be a sports fan.

Rangers, whose most significant and expensive recent signing was England's Paul Gascoigne at pounds 4.3m, will now be able to buy more world-class talent in addition to using Lewis' cash to build a hotel and leisure complex at Ibrox and a new training ground.

The lump-sum investment puts Lewis in the same league as Jack Walker, although the overall amount the Blackburn Rovers benefactor has lavished on his club exceeds pounds 60m.

In the last few years Lewis has emerged as a large investor in the London art market, building up a 29 per cent stake in Christie's International, the auctioneers, worth pounds 100m.

The basis of his fortune was a restaurant business built up by his father, which included the Hanover Grand chain of banqueting suites and a number of themed restaurants, such as The Beefeater near the Tower of London. Among Lewis' current projects are Hard Rock Cafe franchises in the Virgin Islands and Buenos Aries.

The Rangers chairman, David Murray - himself a millionaire - retains a controlling interest, but has diluted his holding from 82 to 61 per cent.

The announcement took the value of the club soaring to a reputed pounds 160m, with Rangers looking to follow Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur on to the Stock Market before the end of the century.

"I have consistently stated that I do not believe it is appropriate to float Rangers until the uncertainties arising from Bosman, pay-per-view television and the expansion of European club competitions are resolved," Murray said. "I am delighted to have raised pounds 40m of new capital from a single investor at this time, providing us with the financial strength to develop the club further while these changes take effect. I believe that Rangers is now in a much stronger position to realise our ambitions for footballing and commercial success."

Murray bought control of Rangers for around pounds 6.5m in 1988 and has seen the team win the Scottish championship every season since. In the last financial year Rangers had a turnover in excess of pounds 30m and made a profit of pounds 7.1m.

While the haves were celebrating, the have-nots, in the form of Millwall, were reassuring their following that pounds 10m of debt was not about to send the club to the wall.

The Second Division club, who are also losing pounds 250,000 a month, suspended their shares on Tuesday but the chairman, Peter Mead, said: "It became increasingly difficult to put out financial forest fires with tumblers of water. Let me reassure our fans that Millwall will be playing here when my son is wheeling me in and handing me my Zimmer frame. This is a major institution that will come out of this stronger than ever."

David Buchler, of administrators Buchler Phillips, said: "There is a tough road ahead, a lot of work to be done and we are going to try to do that the best we can and in the shortest possible time."

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