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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 June 2006, 11:58 GMT 12:58 UK
Lowe puts his wagons in a circle
By John May

Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe
Rupert Lowe faces his biggest test as chairman
Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe may need all his renowned skills with a shotgun as he prepares to head off the Wilde bunch who want to run him out of town.

Lowe's 10-year reign at Southampton is under serious threat in a power struggle, and an extraordinary general meeting on 3 July could be Rupert's last Stand, but ahead of that, the fightin' and feudin' is sure to get nasty.

WHAT'S BROUGHT THE SHOWDOWN ABOUT?

During Lowe's time, Saints moved from the cramped Dell to the St Mary's Stadium, reached the FA Cup final, finished eighth in the Premiership and returned to European football for the first time in 20 years.

But Saints' relegation from the top flight for the first time in 27 years was the final straw for many supporters whose discontent with Lowe had grown over the span of his reign.

A section of Saints fans have been anti-Lowe since the day he walked into the club, conducting a running campaign against somebody they see as a hockey-playing, duck-shooting member of the landed gentry with an eye for a business opportunity and little affinity for football.

Lowe converted Saints from a football club into a business which had football at its core, while his City background preached fiscal prudence, which many saw as penny-pinching under-investment at the time Saints should have been speculating.

Fans have also seen players like James Beattie, Peter Crouch, Kevin Phillips, Nigel Quashie, Antti Niemi and Theo Walcott sold.

THE OPPOSING FORCES

Jersey-based property developer and Saints fan Michael Wilde leads a group of local businessmen, who without mounting a takeover, want to unseat Lowe from both the parent plc and football club boards.

A Southampton fan protests against chairman Rupert Lowe
Southampton fans have made their feelings known

Through purchase and proxied votes, Wilde personally controls a shade under 25% of the shares.

The Saints Trust supporters group has a key tranche of shares, mainly proxied by fans, and the Wilde camp reckon they have banked around 34%.

Lowe's personal shareholding is around 4%, but with other directors and the backing of institutional shareholders, Lowe is confident of definitely mustering 24%.

The battle is on to bring the floating voters into camp, with around 26% owned smallpiece by fans.

As you would expect, there are a couple of mavericks in this tale.

Former Southampton resident Sarwan Singh controls a 6% shareholding bought purely as a piece of Stock Market speculation, from his base in India.

But for the second close-season running, Saints fans will be concerned with the thoughts of a man named Crouch.

Last summer it was Peter, this time it is Leon.

Hampshire businessman Crouch bought a 10% shareholding. His initial, firm anti-Lowe stance appeared to have softened. His recent attempts to broker a compromise deal saw the peace pipe swatted away by Wilde.

Crouch's 10% shareholding effectively makes him the kingmaker, whoever gets the benefit of his vote, wins all the toys, and both camps were courting him.

Crouch has now revealed that he will vote for Wilde on Monday.

Crouch told BBC Radio Solent: "Rupert has done some good things but I think it's time for a change at the top."

FIGHTIN' DIRTY

Unable to reach a compromise with Lowe, Wilde called an extraordinary general meeting of the parent plc, scheduled for 3 July, to unseat the chairman.

In return, Lowe called an EGM of the football club board, where three directors who sold their shares to Wilde were unceremoniously sacked.

Rupert Lowe with fellow directors Andrew Cowan and Mike Withers
Lowe will get support from vice-chairman Andrew Cowen and director Mike Withers

Lowe claims the currenty board offer stability. He also attacked Wilde's manifesto, saying he sees no signs of a big money investor.

Wilde's counter claims are that Lowe can hardly call for stability from a standpoint of having 10 managers in as many years, and that they have investors ready to pump in funds as soon as Lowe departs.

Saints' management team of George Burley and Sir Clive Woodward have been paraded to confirm their contentment with the current board, while the Wilde bunch have rolled out some big guns to fire off support.

The big calibre ordnance includes former BBC chairman and City big-shot Gavyn Davies, ex-Saints boss Lawrie McMenemy, and former Dell hero Mike Channon.

The dirty fightin' has seen casualties, but the Lowe camp shot itself in the foot when a PR company employed by them was discovered to have infiltrated a fans' website to post pro-Lowe propaganda.

As High Noon approaches, both camps are confident of victory.

White smoke rising above St Mary's on Monday night may herald a new regime, or the burning of wagons.

SEE ALSO
Burley wants stability at Saints
15 Jun 06 |  Southampton
Saints EGM Special - Radio Solent
20 Jun 06 |  Southampton
Belmadi signs new Saints contract
28 Jun 06 |  Southampton
Saints sign Argentine Sarmiento
28 Jun 06 |  Southampton
Oakley set for Southampton exit
28 Jun 06 |  Southampton


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