English League One football club Cambridge United has reached a deal to regain control of Abbey Stadium, its home since 1932.
Property developer, manager and investor Grosvenor has agreed terms to sell the freehold of Abbey Stadium back to the club after almost 12 years of ownership.
The business bought Abbey Stadium in 2010 following financial difficulties which almost forced the club to close. As property owner and partner, Grosvenor has helped the club recover, as well as supporting the development of the Cambridge United Community Trust.
Abbey Stadium was initially sold in 2004 to a company owned by director John Howard, Bideawhile 445. Howard later attempted to move the club out of Abbey Stadium and into a new home in Milton, an effort that failed to come to fruition.
United’s majority owner, Paul Barry, has now detailed plans for the club to regain control of its stadium through an agreement that will also incorporate a ‘golden share’ concept to prevent its future sale.
Barry said in a letter to fans: “Since 2010 we have been very fortunate to have Grosvenor Property UK as our landlord. It is genuinely hard to put into words just what a great friend, partner and supporter they have been to the club.
“From rent reductions and write-offs at times of need, to their positive support of the Trust, they have been a constant support to us. During this time, they have always been open to constructive, open and practical discussions regarding the multiple and ultimately failed attempts to relocate the club away from the Abbey.
“It has not been for want of effort from countless people at the club over many years that we haven’t been able to find another home. And deep down we have always known that the Abbey is where we really wanted to stay, recognising that for all its imperfections and quirkiness it is our home, one full of character and memories.
“So I am pleased to be able to tell you all that we have agreement in principle with Grosvenor for the club to buy back the freehold of the Abbey Stadium. We have agreed a very fair and reasonable price. The funding plan is in place and we hope to conclude the purchase by the summer.”
Barry acknowledged that Abbey Stadium is in need of modernisation, adding that the “fan experience needs to be better”. Stating that the Grosvenor deal is a first step to this, he added that “it will take time and a shared will and means to do it”.
Commenting further on the plans for a golden share, Barry said: “None of us can predict the future so guarantees need to be in place to ensure that this can never happen again, that the Abbey Stadium can remain the home of Cambridge United and that the club can only move from it with consent if there is an alternative genuinely considered to be in the best interests of the club.
“The announcement comes shortly after the important Fan Led Review by Tracey Crouch MP, a process in which we were pleased to be the only EFL club represented on her Expert Panel. Her Review talks about the importance of football stadia being recognised and protected as community assets, with a Golden Share in place to provide safeguards for fans.
“I am very pleased to say that Tracey has agreed to help the club on this alongside Kevin Miles, the chief executive of the Football Supporters’ Association. We want this to be a model for other clubs at a critical point for football.
“We would envisage a small number of representatives from different associated groups holding the Golden Share on behalf of the club, so the principle of consent is enshrined and the true interests of fans represented in any future discussions.
“In simple terms, if future owners wanted to sell the Abbey and relocate the club, those holding the Golden Share could veto the decision unless they considered it to be the right thing for the club.”
Commenting on the deal with the club, James Cochrane, project director of strategic land at Grosvenor, said: “We’re delighted to be returning the stadium back to a resurgent Cambridge United. The club is in a much stronger position today than in 2010, on the field, commercially and as a major contributor to the community. Playing a role in this success has been incredibly rewarding.”