Hammam sells up without moving out

Football

Q: When is the buy-out of a football club not a buy-out? A: When Sam Hammam is doing the selling.

Hammam, the Lebanese owner of Wimbledon, confirmed yesterday that he was relinquishing his majority shareholding in the Premiership club to two Norwegian businessmen for pounds 26m. And he intimated that the new investors would probably bankroll the building of a stadium in south-west London.

Yet within hours of appearing to step out of the front line, Hammam announced that the Oslo-based fishing magnate, Kjell Inge Roekke, and his business partner, Bjorn Rune Gjelsten, had agreed to leave him "in complete charge" of all "key decisions". He would carry on as managing director and run Wimbledon much as he had done for two decades.

The football world has come to expect the unexpected from Wimbledon and Hammam. A fierce defender of the "Crazy Gang" spirit, he claimed he chose Roekke and Gjelsten precisely because they understood the unique nature and traditions of the club.

The Norwegians, who lost out to the Caspian Group in an attempted takeover of Leeds United last summer, began their friendship at school. Roekke dropped out and began working on a fishing boat, eventually saving enough money to buy first a boat and eventually one of the world's biggest fleets; Gjelsten went on to complete a business degree in Colorado.

Pooling Roekke's entrepreneurial flair and Gjelsten's financial nous, the pair took over one of Scandinavia's leading holding companies before forming the Aker RGI ASA group in 1982. They also hold the controlling interest in Molde, who developed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before transferring him to Manchester United, and have already intimated that the Norwegian club could be used to develop players for Wimbledon.

For Hammam, who has failed to persuade Merton council to pay for a new ground since the club vacated Plough Lane for a ground-share at Crystal Palace, the deal offers the prospect of Wimbledon returning to their spiritual home. "We have no definite plans," he admitted. "All we know is that we probably will move. Selhurst Park is a good stadium, but if we want to be among the biggest then we need our own ground."

Amid a maelstrom of metaphors, Hammam insisted that Roekke (whom he likened to Clark Kent: "No one knows that he is Superman") and Gjelsten were not actually taking control. "I'm not selling out. I'll be in complete charge of all key decisions. I am the steering wheel. My foot is on the accelerator and the brake.

"All we have at this stage is an engagement to get married, and it will be at least a few months before the marriage is consummated. I'll be delighted to call them my partners in the future, but we're not looking at them as sugar daddies."

Seemingly contradicting himself, he added: "Money is available, though it's embarrassing to say how much. The only thing that matters is that it's profitable to Wimbledon.

"The way I see football going is that you need to have a lot of money to survive. If we want to continue to progress then we need these people. We need to be ready for things like pay-per-view and the European League, which will be here in a few years."

Hammam, who said he had picked the pair after talking to "some of the most influential people in the world", also spoke of making Wimbledon "one of the biggest clubs in Europe". But alluding to Fabrizio Ravanelli's reputed earnings at Middlesbrough, he warned: "We'll still do things the Wimbledon way. There'll be no figures of pounds 42,000-a-week at this club."

The deal marks another remarkable chapter in the story of the club who began life 108 years ago as Old Centrals FC, playing in the shadow of the windmill on Wimbledon Common. Initially members of the Clapham League, they might never have turned professional but for Clacton's withdrawal creating a vacancy in the Southern League 34 years ago.

Wimbledon went on to replace Workington in the Fourth Division in 1977, reaching what is now the Premiership within nine years and winning the FA Cup in 1988. Now, having established themselves among the big fish in playing terms, they appear to have landed the financial clout to move into uncharted waters.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Loren Hughes: Financial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor