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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 November 2005, 00:00 GMT
Fans' stadium buyout pushed aside
By Ian Pollock
BBC News personal finance reporter

Dean Court football stadium
Dean Court may soon be sold for 3.5 million.
A novel attempt by fans of Bournemouth football club to use a group personal pension fund to buy the club's Dean Court stadium and surrounding land has been put on the back burner.

The plan had been devised to help the club pay off most of its debts of 6.5m.

But with the Revenue & Customs insisting the club pays a tax bill of half a million pounds by the end of the month, the club directors are hoping their shareholders will now approve a quicker alternative plan.

This would involve selling the ground on its own to a property investment company for about 3.5m and then leasing it back.

A formal decision will be taken at a special shareholders meeting this Friday.

White knight

Dave Stone, a director of both the club and the supporters trust, thinks the sale and lease-back should be supported.

"If they vote against it we will be faced with a demand from the Revenue for money we haven't got, to pay them," he says.

"Unless a white knight rides out of the blue with a big wad of cash for us, which we aren't expecting, then the Revenue have said they will instigate winding up procedures."

Dave Stone
Dave Stone supports the sale and lease-back.

The decisive vote is being held in a ballot of the club's supporters trust which has a controlling stake in the club.

The result, with 400 of the 2,500 trust members voting by post, should be known by Wednesday evening or Thursday morning.

If they vote yes, the deal should go through by the end of November. If they vote no, the club will be in something of a quandary.

Not just a gift

Dave, who works as an independent financial adviser, has been working solidly for the past few months on using a group Self Invested Personal Pension (SIPP) to bail out the club.

He had a target of raising 2m from people willing to commit some of their private pension savings - typically 50,000 each - for at least 10 years in what, for them, would be essentially a property investment.

So far about 30 people have pledged 1.5m to the deal, with more in the pipeline.

Steve Harris
Steve Harris may eventually be a part-owner of the ground.

One of them is 48-year-old Steve Harris, a former banker.

He has supported Bournemouth since he was a child.

But he is clear in his own mind that the SIPP plan is a commercial property investment for one of his pension plans, not just a complicated gift to the club.

"As far as I'm concerned it is a genuine pension investment. I'm looking to get a reasonable rate of return for 10 years," he says.

"And if that helps the club get onto a long term basis that's fine as well, but it is primarily a pension investment for myself."

The aim has been to borrow a further 3.6m from a bank in the form of a mortgage on the ground.

Most of the eventual total of 5.6m would be used to buy the stadium and some surrounding land, and thus let the club pay off most of debts in one fell swoop.

Under this cunning plan the club would remain as tenants at Dean Court, while paying a commercial rent to the pension fund of 361,000 a year.

Buy-back option

Unfortunately for Dave, the Revenue & Customs has run out of patience.

At the start of the year it threatened to bring in administrators in pursuit of unpaid income tax, VAT and National Insurance.

And the Revenue's new deadline of the end of November simply doesn't give the club enough time for the SIPP to come to fruition.

The target had been to clinch the money and the purchase of Dean Court early next year.

Despite this rather large hitch, Dave is confident the SIPP can still play a role.

"There is a buy-back option in that deal, that allows the club or SIPP to buy the stadium back, from the developer, within the first five years.

"So we may try to build up the rest of the money over the next one or two years."

Steeper target

There is one further problem though.

Mowing the grass at AFC Bournemouth
Will the grass be greener if the stadium is sold?

The controversial government plans to introduce new regulations for SIPPs will make the Bournemouth fundraising scheme more difficult.

The new regulations have been widely criticised for letting people buy country cottages and holiday homes with a possible 40% tax break.

Under the forthcoming new rules, which start on "A Day" next April, SIPPs will be able to borrow only a further 50% of the cash invested, not 75% of the stadium price as allowed at present.

So the target for the Bournemouth SIPP to raise from investors will rise steeply - to something nearer 4m.

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