Villa confirm approach from Irish group over £64m takeover

The group of potential purchasers is headed by the brothers Brian and Luke Comer, owners of the Irish property company Comer Homes Group. They have assets worth £1bn, from which they are reportedly prepared to finance an attempt to restore Villa to their former pre-eminence. But reports that they have already done a deal with Ellis and the club's other major shareholder, Jack Petchey, are premature.

Villa admitted in a morning statement to the Stock Exchange that there had been contact between the club and the consortium. The group was put together by an Aston-born, Solihull-based businessman and lifelong Villa follower, 51-year-old Michael Neville, and contains two other businessmen, one a South African.

However, the club cautioned that the proposals - under which the 82-year-old Ellis and Petchey would sell their combined stake of 58 per cent at £5.60 per share - were still at a speculative stage.

Villa's statement read: "The directors of Aston Villa plc have noted the weekend press comment and confirm that they have received a preliminary approach from Mr Michael Neville on behalf of a consortium group, which could lead to an offer for the company.

"However, the board have not met with any other members of the consortium group, nor received any confirmation of the availability of sufficient funding to support any potential offer. So they can only treat the approach as speculative at this stage. Your board will continue to look at maximising shareholder value, and also ensuring that the club is sufficiently funded for the future."

Under the terms of the takeover, which would effectively see Comer become Villa's parent company, the club would be guaranteed 20 per cent of Comer's annual profits from property development. The money available could elevate Villa from middling competitors in the transfer market to being rivals to Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool, if not Chelsea and their seemingly unlimited resources.

Ellis, who has previously rebuffed approaches from a consortium fronted by the former Birmingham City and Manchester City defender Ray Ranson and from groups of Russian and Venezuelan businessmen respectively, previously maintained that the only way he would leave Villa Park would be in a box.

But the Comer offer - which may include a non-executive boardroom role for him - allows Ellis both to realise a good price for the club and to be able to claim that he has safeguarded its future.

There has been an initial surge of exhilaration among supporters, many of whom have protested against what they perceive as Ellis' ultra-cautious, even parsimonious leadership of a club that lifted the European Cup barely two decades ago. One critic of the Ellis regime, Jonathan Fear of the pressure group Villa Fans Combined, complained of an "air of stagnation" at Villa Park and expected stay-away supporters to "come flocking back" if the deal went ahead.

Meanwhile, the focus turned on Villa's would-be owners yesterday. Neither Luke Comer, 47, nor his brother Brian, 45, is known to have any previous affinity with the Birmingham club, lifelong or otherwise. Both, though, are keen sportsmen. Luke trained Cachel Bay, the horse that came in last in the Derby in 2001. Brian is an enthusiastic golfer and bought a house on a course in Hertfordshire, the county where Luke also has a home.

There is no suggestion that the brothers harbour thoughts of replacing their compatriot David O'Leary as manager. O'Leary became accustomed to lavish spending at Leeds United under the chairmanship of Peter Ridsdale, but he has been forced to recruit more modestly since arriving at Villa two and a half years ago.

Comer brothers built up fortune from run-down properties

Luke and Brian Comer, the multimillionaire Irish brothers who are providing the financial muscle to the proposed takeover of Aston Villa, have amassed their considerable fortunes via their property business.

After starting out in the trade as plasterers in their native County Galway, they moved to England and founded Comer Homes 15 years ago. The company now has assets estimated at £1bn.

Neither Luke, 47, nor Brian, 45, have any known affiliation to Villa, a spokeswoman for Comer Homes said yesterday, although Luke's long-term involvement in horse racing - as an owner, trainer and stud owner - gives him a shared interest with Villa's chairman, Doug Ellis.

Luke owns several racehorses and a stud farm in Dunboyne, County Meath. The most high-profile event in his training career was the 2001 Epsom Derby, when his horse, Cashel Bay, a 300-1 shot, finished 12th.

The brothers spend much of their time in England. Brian owns a golf course, where he lives, at Forest Hills, Hertfordshire. Luke lives in the same area.

Their spokeswoman declined to comment on their personal wealth and said no statement regarding Villa is expected until later in the week. The brothers' have a proven track record in transforming old institutions, in a literal sense at least. Many of their building projects have involved buying old, run-down buildings and transforming them into luxury apartment and business complexes, mostly in London, with their flats selling for up to £1m each. A 500-home development is under way at a former naval accommodation block in Weymouth, where property prices will boom because the town will be the Olympic sailing centre in 2012.

Luke made headlines in Ireland last week when his daughter, Sandra, 24, who had been receiving treatment in South Africa for alcoholism, made contact after going missing for two months.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea