English League One football club Oxford United has called for time to strike a fair deal after being issued with a winding-up petition amid a stadium rent dispute between its current and former owners.

It was revealed yesterday (Thursday) that United had been hit with a claim for £204,000 (€238,000/$267,000) in unpaid rent and service charges from Firoka, owner of the Kassam Stadium.

Firoka is owned by former United chairman and owner, Firoz Kassam, who led the club between 1999 and 2006. Kassam and Firoka have been in dispute with United’s current owner, Thai businessman Sumrith Thanakarnjanasuth, since he took over the club in February 2018.

Multiple winding-up petitions have since been filed against the club, most recently in February when a claim from Firoka for £240,000 was ultimately suspended during arbitration proceedings. “It’s very straightforward – if the company can’t pay, you have to wind them up,” Kassam told BBC Radio Oxford.

He added: “This is about a tenant-landlord relationship. I’m not a bank, I don’t service other people’s companies. To have that situation continuously tells its own story and that the business is not in control of what it’s doing.”

In response, United said it has been working with Firoka and Kassam to come to a fair agreement over the rent and service charge for use of Kassam Stadium, its home since 2001. The club said the £204,000 figure relates to the quarterly money due in advance for the next quarter of the year. In addition to this United pays an extra service charge which brings the rent to approximately £1m per year.

A club statement read: “The club and Firoka had previously agreed to sit down face to face on March 26 to discuss the charges and to try to find a way forward which would be satisfactory to all parties. The service charge has been subject to a long, drawn out arbitration hearing which the club halted after Firoka suggested that by doing so we could sit down more easily for constructive discussions. All agreed sums due to date for previously disputed service charges under the arbitration have been paid by the club.

“Last week’s meeting was cancelled by Firoka at short notice. We accept that the payment had been missed but immediately asked for another meeting as well as offering to pay the outstanding amount on April 10 in the interests of allowing constructive discussions to take place with Firoka regarding the use of the stadium and to avoid any dispute proceedings being necessary.

“We have tried several times since then to arrange a meeting but have been unsuccessful so far. We are extremely disappointed that a winding up petition was issued and that the press were notified. The club is reviewing its position and reserving its right to instigate further arbitration proceedings if necessary, but we remain hopeful that we can work with Firoka/Mr Kassam to finally find a FAIR deal for all concerned and for the club to work with a FAIR stadium agreement going forward.”

Image: Oxford United