Revealed: Why the battle for control of Sheffield United appears to be over

A company owned by Kevin McCabe, Sheffield United's former owner, co-owner and chairman, has been refused permission to appeal a judgement which handed control of the Premier League club to HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa'ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

Tuesday, 21st January 2020, 11:17 am

United issued a statement on their website revealing they had been informed of the decision this morning, insisting it marks the end of "two years of contentious litigation" culiminating in last year's hearing at the High Court in London.

Whether or not that turns out to be the case is expected to become clearer over the next few days, although crucially United's board revealed an agreement had been reached over the transfer of property interests held by McCabe, including the Steelphalt Academy training complex, Copthorne Hotel and Bramall Lane itself.

"Senior officials at the club have been informed that the Court of Appeal, Civil Division of England and Wales, has issued its decision to refuse Sheffield United Limited (SUL) permission to appeal the judgment of the High Court of Justice, Business and Property Courts of England and Wales made on 16th September 2019," the statement, published by United, said.

Sign up to our Sheffield United newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

"The judgment required SUL, a company controlled by Mr Kevin McCabe, to sell its shares in Blades Leisure Limited (BLL), the parent of Sheffield United Football Club Ltd, to UTB, LLC, a company owned by H.R.H. Prince Abdullah bin Mosa'ad bin Abdulaziz Al Sa'ud.

"The Court of Appeal considered there to be no good grounds for allowing an appeal by Mr McCabe's SUL. The decision brings an end to over two years of contentious litigation over the ownership of Sheffield United."

The dispute between McCabe, who until Mr Justice Fancourt's decision is believed to have been the longest-servinng board member in United's history, and Prince Abdullah can be traced back to December 2017.

Having decided their relationship had become untenable, McCabe submitted a £5m offer for his stake in BLL via SUL.

Bramall Lane, the home of Sheffield United.

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 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.

This involved the creation of a new investment vehicle, entitled UTB 2018, before UTB served its counternotice on SUL. With a huge chunk of its shareholding in BLL moving under the UTB 2018 banner, Prince Abdullah and his associates argued this meant those options did not need to be immediately processed.

Although Mr Justice Fancourt found in UTB's favour, he ordered they had until July to buy these freeholds and leaseholds.

Speaking at the time McCabe, who six years earlier had handed Prince Abdullah 50 per cent of BLL in return for various financial guarantees, explained why he was launching an appeal.

"As I said, when the outcome of the trial was made public, I do have misgivings about some aspects of the judgment and hope that the Court of Appeal agree to have another look at it," he said.

"The McCabe family remain passionate supporters of Sheffield United Football Club and we are delighted at the recent run of form for both the first team and the women's team.

" It goes without saying that the appeal will not in any way impact on the club’s efforts on the pitch. In this regard at least the Prince and I are on the same side."

United enter tonight's Premier League fixture against Manchester City in seventh, after being promoted from the Championship last term.

"The board is delighted that any lingering uncertainty about the club's future ownership is at an end and that everyone at Sheffield United can now fully focus on what has, to date, been a fantastic first season back in the Premier League," the statement, released by United this morning, continued.

"The board is also delighted that an agreement, in principal, has been reached with SUL and the Scarborough Group, also controlled by Mr McCabe, over the transfer to the club of the freehold of Bramall Lane (together with the long leasehold interests in the Copthorne Hotel and Enterprise Centre), plus Shirecliffe Academy, the Junior Development Centre at Crookes and certain parcels of land within the 'Bramall Lane footprint'.

"Prince Abdullah expects the transfer of the properties to be completed within a matter of months and looks forward in particular to the Club being unified with its beloved home, Bramall Lane."