Foreign buyer targets Villa as Gurney leaves Luton

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The Independent Football

Football's immediate future was thrown into stark relief yesterday by the fortunes of two clubs at opposite ends of the financial spectrum. While Luton were finally admitting defeat in their fight to avoid administration, Aston Villa conceded that, like Chelsea, a foreign billionaire has been eyeing them up.

Villa confirmed that their chairman, Doug Ellis, had been approached by a representative of a potential major shareholder. A club statement read: "The directors of Aston Villa plc note the recent media speculation concerning the shares in the company.

"They can confirm that at the end of last week, the chairman received unsolicited approaches by telephone from intermediaries acting for parties, who they were not prepared to disclose at that stage, and who might be interested in acquiring shares in the company. These calls were speculative in nature and no further details are available."

The London-based sports lawyer Mel Goldberg, however, said he was acting on a behalf of a Venezuelan billionaire, who was interested in buying a major stake in the club. He said that further negotiations were planned to take place in the next week when Ellis returns from holiday. He refused to reveal the identity of the Venezuelan investor for what he described as "security reasons."

Goldberg did admit that the person he was representing was a former referee with the sport's world govening body, Fifa, and had made millions from several ventures including property development. He also said that if the deal went through there were no plans to remove Ellis as chairman.

Luton, meanwhile, were placed into administrative receivership, with their managing director, John Gurney, losing control of the troubled Second Division club. He will be succeeded by Barry Ward with immediate effect, after the club's major creditor took the decision to go down the administration route as a protective measure.

Luton fans have been boycotting the renewal of season tickets for six weeks in protest at the way that Gurney, who sacked Joe Kinnear as manager when he took over in May, was running the club. A statement from the club secretary Cherry Newbery read: "This can only be great news for the future of our club and I would now appeal to all supporters to... renew their season tickets... safe in the knowledge that your money will benefit Luton Town Football Club."

The news has been welcomed by the Trust in Luton interim committee, who have urged all fans who have signed up to the Pledge Scheme to honour their pledges and begin to renew season tickets and sponsorships, as well as purchase merchandise from the club shop.

Iain Dowie, the manager of similarly struggling Oldham, claimed that the central defender Fitz Hall has been sold to Southampton behind his back. Hall's departure from the debt-ridden Second Division club for a fee believed to be about £250,000 follows that of Chris Armstrong's to Sheffield United. Dowie said: "We have lost another player and that is a big blow considering the fee he has gone for. I wasn't aware of the deal and I already had a higher offer from another club."

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