Sheffield United: Ownership hearing scheduled to begin in earnest next week

Witnesses in the hearing set to decide the Sheffield United's ownership dispute are expected to begin being summoned to the High Court in London next week.

By James Shield
Wednesday, 08 May, 2019, 22:03
Sheffield United's stadium Bramall Lane: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

The judge presiding over the case, which began following the breakdown in the relationship between Kevin McCabe and HRH Prince Abdullah Bin Mosaad Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, is understood to have begun examining documentation submitted by both parties.

But lawyers acting on behalf of the two men, who both hold 50 per cent stakes in United's parent company Blades Leisure Limited (BLL), are not likely to make representations until Monday at the earliest.

Despite events inside Bramall Lane's boardroom, manager Chris Wilder and his squad enjoyed a successful season in the Championship last term; winning promotion to the Premier League after winning more than half of their 46 games.

But their preparations for the top-flight are set to take place against a backdrop of uncertainty surrounding who will eventually control United after McCabe, who addressed Tuesday's civic reception at Sheffield Town Hall, and Prince Abdullah launched rival takeover attempts two years ago. Members of the Saudi Royal's inner circle were also present at the gala event.

The dispute between the two men traces back to December 2017 when McCabe, having decided their relationship had become untenable, submitted a £5m offer for his stake in BLL. Under the terms of the investment agreement which paved the way for Prince Abdullah's arrival four years earlier, the 54-year-old was then obliged to either accept the bid or make one of his own which he subsequently did.

But McCabe refused to sign over his shares, held by a company called Sheffield United Limited (SUL), after being angered by a manoeuvre he argued was designed to ensure Prince Abdullah was not obliged to also purchase the club's property interests before completion. Many of these, including Bramall Lane's freehold, are granted to United at what has been described as a "favourable rate" by McCabe.

HRH Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud © BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY

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The manoeuvre in question relates to a decision by UTB, which controls Prince Abdullah’s shares in BLL, to transfer a large chunk of its holding to a new corporate vehicle entitled UTB 2018 before serving its counternotice on SUL.

"As a result...UTB claimed it did not own more than 75 per cent of Blades' shares and so the FC options did not have to be exercised," a report, published following a preliminary hearing into the matter, outlined last year. "The parties fell out badly," it continued.

McCabe, who has been involved with United for over 20 years, entered into partnership with Prince Abdullah after the latter agreed to provide funding for three seasons following his appointment in 2013. The two have pumped in unspecified levels of financial support since then.

McCabe has reiterated his desire to pass United on to new owners if he wins the court case. As The Star reported last week, discussions with potential investors - at least one is thought to originate from North America - have already taken place but will not be concluded until after the outcome of the hearing is known. Prince Abdullah is believed to be intent on retaining control if he emerges victorious although United's top-flight status means there will be no shortage of people interested in coming on board should the opportunity arises.

Bramall Lane will be hosting Premier League football next season: Tim Goode/PA Wire.

United's commercial department has already announced it is close to concluding a sponsorship deal with “One of the world's most innovative and successful financial services platforms", claimed to be "the biggest" in the club's history.

Sheffield United co-owner Kevin McCabe