Baxi in PNE sell-off

Baxi's eight-year reign at Preston North End came to an abrupt end today in a shock internal coup.

Acting club chairman Derek Shaw and sponsor Steve Jackson joined forces to buy out the former heating firm’s shares in a deal thought to be worth in excess of 1m.

The two sucessful businessmen teamed up under the name of The Friends of Preston North End Ltd to swallow up the 26% holding of Baxi Partnership just seven days after wealthy investor Trevor Hemmings increased his stake in the club to 12%.

It is not known if the two deals are linked but today’s news means Baxi, which took North End from the doldrums of the Third Division to the doorstep of the Premiership and was the name on the team’s shirts for seven years, has finally ended its lucrative association with the club.

In an exclusive interview with the Evening Post today Derek Shaw, who has been in charge since Bryan Gray stepped down last autumn, said: “We have done this for the love of the football club and it is something we are both very proud of.

“It gives us peace of mind for the future because we can partly control where this club now goes.

“If the major shareholding had been sold it could have been bought by someone overseas; someone who could have done a major asset stripping exercise at the club.

“But it is now in the hands of supporters; Preston businessmen who have the good of the football club at heart.”

Mr Shaw, who already had a small shareholding in PNE plc before today’s buyout, now has in the region of 28% of the company in partnership with Steve Jackson.

The next biggest shareholder is Ivory and Sime UK, which owns 25.88%, with wealthy businessman Trevor Hemmings on 12%.

Today’s purchase completes a whirlwind rise to prominence for owner Jackson who only recently arrived at Deepdale as the new shirt sponsor. He is now expected to join the board.

Mr Jackson said: “There may be elements of Preston fans who are concerned about the speed I have become involved with the club.

“I just want to put their minds at rest that any involvement I have has the best interests of the club at heart.”

Both men are refusing to reveal how much they have paid for Baxi’s holding but with the market value of North End shares at just 1.20 from an original launch price of 4 in 1995, the deal will have cost just over 1m at the very least.

Mr Shaw said: “In the seven year stewardship of Baxi this football club has come an awful long way.

“But it has also come an awful long way because of the efforts of Tony Scholes, myself and a lot of other people around the place.”

The coup strengthens Mr Shaw’s hold on the club and suggests he could now take the chairman’s role full-time.

Baxi Partnership, now just a pension fund holder and no longer connected to the heating giant, was recently thought to be holding out for an inflated price for its shares.

The firm took over at Deepdale in 1994 with the team struggling in the Third Division and playing in a dilapidated stadium owned by Preston Council. By May 1996 the club had won the Division Three championship and, four years later, it was in the First Division. Last year David Moyes took the team to within 90 minutes of the cash-rich Premiership but they lost to Bolton Wanderers in the play-off final at Cardiff.

With three new stands already built, Deepdale is one of the finest grounds in the Nationwide League. Plans to complete the fourth side had to be shelved earlier this year when the collapse of ITV Digital cost the club 4.6m of income over the next two years.

Baxi’s intention to sell off its holding in PNE plc became apparent last autumn when heating company chief Bryan Gray stunned the club’s annual general meeting by resigning. The company decided against appointing a replacement to represent their interests on the board.

Several groups had been linked with a possible buy-out. Even though the company’s holding had fallen from a controlling interest to just 31%, it appeared Baxi was sticking out for a higher price than the market value. Last Friday Mr Hemmings, reported to be worth more than 500m, bought 164,784 shares from Baxi Partnership for an undisclosed price.