Shareholders leave Forest in limbo

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The Independent Online
Shareholders in troubled Nottingham Forest were accused of gambling with the club's Premiership status after rejecting a takeover offer last night.

An extraordinary general meeting at the City Ground turned down proposals from Sandy Anderson, a Nottingham-based millionaire, that would have made a pounds 13m transfer fund available to the caretaker manager, Stuart Pearce, this morning. The decision prompted speculation that Pearce will tell the chairman, Irving Korn, that he does not want to stay in the job. His assistant, Alan Hill, said last night that he was considering his position and cold decide to link up again with the former Forest manager, Frank Clark, at Manchester City.

Korn and his fellow directors had endorsed the proposals put forward by Anderson and his consortium, but rebels among the shareholders prevented the 75 per cent majority needed for the bid to succeed. There were 111 votes for the proposals and 19 against, with three abstentions.

The Anderson offer, which would have cleared outstanding debts as well as enabling Pearce to strengthen his relegation-threatened side, was the only one on the table last night. But rival bids, promising a windfall of up to pounds 24,000 for each pounds 1 share, were revived at the 11th hour and the club's future may remain unresolved for another month while alternative proposals are put in place.

"In normal business situations, when you offer more than anyone else, as we did, you expect your bid to win. There are clearly some people who are looking to make money for themselves," Anderson said.

The rejection was greeted with dismay within the club, with Forest being pushed closer to relegation until funds are made available to buy new players.

Hill, himself a shareholder, fears the worst. "It could be disastrous," he said. "We have a list of players we want to buy but we now may have to sell to pay off the bank manager. Clearance to buy just a couple of players could see us out of trouble but without that we could be relegated.

"Basically the people running the club have made a mess of it. A lot of people have been treated very shabbily. We were all hoping that we would know where we were going by now, but everything is still up in the air. I don't think the shareholders will get a better bid than the one they have turned down."

A significant number of shareholders favour a rival group, including the former Tottenham Hotspur chairman Irving Scholar and the Nottingham author Phil Soar. But potential new sponsors were revealed at the weekend, including the City high-flyer Nigel Wray, the owner of Saracens Rugby Club, and a property investor, Julian Markham, both of whom are among the richest men in Britain. Their plans were said to promise a cash injection of some pounds 11m with a possible further pounds 20m to be raised from a floatation, projected to take place within six months.

The businessman Grant Bovey, who withdrew from the takeover race six weeks ago, claimed to have funds in place to revive his bid, also promising an instant cash loan to buy Nigel Clough from Manchester City.

Pearce, under whose guidance Forest have moved off the bottom of the Premiership and into the fourth round of the FA Cup, stressed that his own decision would not be swayed by the shareholders' vote.

"It is irrelevant," he said. "I'm not close to a decision and I will not make up my mind until I've sat down and had a chat with my wife about it sometime in the next couple of weeks."

However, he hinted last week that he would not continue unless cash was made available. "The most important thing to consider is if the club can move forward in all areas," he said.

The battle for Forest, page 16