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Business & Economy

Sports Direct launches broadside on Goals Soccer Centres after takeover bid collapses

Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct empire has launched a withering attack on a five-a-side football pitch operator following the collapse of a proposed takeover.

The retailer has lashed out at Goals Soccer Centres, saying it believes “it would be convenient for those concerned if Goals, and its corporate history, disappeared.”

In a further broadside, Sports Direct accused the firm of wiping out shareholders through “skulduggery.”

The football pitch hire firm is enduring a tough period, having previously revealed it had found evidence of “improper behaviour (that) involved a number of individuals for a period since at least 2010,” which means there is “material uncertainty in relation to the historic financial statements published by the company.”

Bosses are now inviting offers for the business – referred to as an AMA process.

Against such a backdrop, Sports Direct, which is Goals’ largest shareholder with an 18.93 per cent stake, last month proposed a five pence per share deal for the operator.

However, the business, headed by Newcastle United owner Ashley, shelved its plans earlier this week, claiming it had only “limited and fitful access and co-operation” from Goals’ board.

It added these difficulties meant it couldn’t complete the necessary due diligence process to progress any offer for Goals, which has sites in Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough.

In response, a Goals spokesperson is attributed as saying the company “provided Sports Direct with all of the information requested when it became available,” adding its board “has not frustrated Sports Direct from making an offer.”

However, the high street and online retailer has this morning (Wednesday, October 23) hit back.

In a strongly worded statement, a spokesperson criticised the actions of Goals and its board.

They also called for a full investigation into Goals, adding it hopes any new buyer is detached from the company’s existing management team.

They said: “Sports Direct believes that Goals and its board did not truly engage with an offer process; access and co-operation was limited and fitful.

“In particular, key information including access to forensic accounting reports, as well as the ability to engage with the main lender was provided to Sports Direct extremely late in the process and Goals’ board was not then willing – or able – to agree to an extension of time for consideration of the potential offer.

“Given the issues within the Goals business, Sports Direct believes it would be convenient for those concerned if Goals, and its corporate history, disappeared as a result of the AMA process.

“From the beginning, the attitude of the Goals board made no sense, including proclamations to senior management of Sports Direct that the issues impacting on, and leading to the catastrophic failure of, the business had only been perpetuated by one person.

“Sports Direct continues to believe all relevant matters should be fully investigated, by both the AIM regulators and an independently appointed third party, with no scope exclusions, and hopes any eventual purchaser of the Goals business through the AMA process is not connected to the current management team given the investigations needed.

“Yet again, the independent shareholders of a UK-listed company get wiped out through the skulduggery of others.

“As these constant corporate failures show, the current rules and regulations do not do enough to protect independent shareholders or to prevent fiscal irresponsibility.”