Football : Forest takeover gives Pearce pounds 16m to spend

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The Independent Online
Nottingham Forest is under new ownership this morning after the owner of Saracens rugby club, Nigel Wray, last night won a five-month battle for control of the ailing Premiership club.

Wray and his Bridgford plc consortium, which includes the former Tottenham chairman Irving Scholar and the Nottingham-born businessman Phil Soar, take over at the City Ground after their pounds 19.3m offer for the club was accepted by 189 of the 202 Forest shareholders. The group were left as sole bidders following the weekend withdrawal of a pounds 20m package from the American journalist, Albert Scardino, but they still had to wait for the outcome of last night's vote, needing a 75 per cent majority to succeed.

Their victory means a windfall for shareholders, whose individual pounds 1 stakes are now worth pounds 15,000, and is a boost for the player-manager Stuart Pearce, who has the go-ahead to spend up to pounds 16m immediately on reinforcing his relegation-threatened squad, having previously been shackled by the club's pounds 7.5m overdraft.

Pearce, who had hinted he would step down if last night 's vote had gone the other way, promised there would be no delay in signing new players. "I know exactly who I want and I'm ready to go out and get them," he said.

His new employer was quick to reassure Pearce that his position was secure and offered to make his job easier. "His future is assured," Wray said, "and I think long-term he is one of the guys to take the club to glory again. Whether he wants the role in its entirety - to be a tracksuited manager all on his own - remains to be seen.

"Maybe he needs a bit of support. Perhaps a general manager to deal with certain aspects of the job. We've got every confidence in Stuart. He is the kind of character that we need to pull through. He is a battler.

"The first priority is to stay in the Premiership and we want to get in more players of a high class - but not at any price.

Soar, an author and former managing director of the publishers Marshall Cavendish, becomes Forest's new chief executive with Scholar, the man who launched football's Stock Market explosion when Tottenham went public in the 1980s, assisting him in the role of football consultant.

Wray, 48, who made his pounds 60m personal fortune as head of the property group Burford Holdings, may become chairman at the City Ground as the principal backer in the consortium, although a decision on his role, the future of current chairman Irving Korn and the other members of the existing board, has yet to be taken.

For the 49-year-old Soar, a Forest season-ticket holder, victory comes at the end of a bid for power that began last October and which, in January, he feared he had lost.

Soar was to have taken on a consortium led by a Scottish businessman, Sandy Anderson, at a shareholders' vote in January only for his original backer, the Monte Carlo-based millionaire Lawrie Lewis, to pull out at the 11th hour. This left Anderson, who made his money from rail privatisation, with the field to himself but his pounds 13m bid failed.

It was then that Wray, whose investment in Saracens has brought international rugby stars such as Michael Lynagh and Philippe Sella to north London, entered the picture.

Wray's consortium expected to be vying with Scardino last night, but the American had to withdraw after losing his main support, from Mercury Asset Management, late on Friday night.