St Mirren community bid moves on

By Chick YoungBBC Scotland football pundit

The community interest company set up to take ownership of St Mirren hopes to be in place by May.

The group headed by current Buddies board members Richard Atkinson and Chris Stewart must now make sure it has sufficient public backing.

In order to proceed with their purchase they must attract 300 individuals willing to pay £120 a year and 12 companies putting up £10,000 per annum.

The venture also needs 24 community organisations on board.

If the required numbers sign up, then further funding is available in the form of grants that would enabled the planned purchase of 52% of the club's shares to go ahead.

"We've spent the last nine months setting this up and we already have a number of businesses and community groups on board," Atkinson told BBC Scotland.

"We've done enough work in the background on the funding of the community interest company and it's now time to go public to find out if the community are actually interested.

"All things being equal, we would hope to be installed by May.

"Community interest companies are all about allowing individuals, businesses and community organisations to get involved in the club and enabling the club to thrive, to generate more revenue.

"At the same time, the community investors benefit because their organisations are related to the club.

"We're happy that there is enough funding in the pipeline. As long as the community shows the level of interest that is required, we can draw that funding and take on the ownership of St Mirren."

St Mirren chairman Stewart Gilmour is one of the parties involved in the proposed sale.

Gilmour and vice-chairman George Campbell formed a consortium with other board members to sell their 98,000 shares in a single block in September 2009.

Atkinson and Stewart joined the Paisley club's board nine months later to investigate the feasibility of a community-led buy-out.

"We co-opted Richard Atkinson and Chris Stewart onto the board so that they could do their due diligence for their community interest company and also look at putting the funding package on that together, which they've now done," said Gilmour earlier this week.

"They've now come back to us and feel that they're ready to go ahead."

Former local director of Lloyds TSB Scott McLennan and ex-St Mirren captain and manager Tony Fitzpatrick have now been appointed as advisors to the board.

"Really, it is just another company put together with more social interests and the interests of the community at heart, looking to use the football club as a nucleus and also to enhance the football club but keep the football club under local ownership.

"I don't think we wanted a situation where somebody rode in on a white charger and threw some money at it and then rode away and left us in disarray, as unfortunately has happened in many situations across the country.

"This keeps it very much within local hands and it looks like taking the club forward."

Atkinson described plans for the future business model, explaining that a board of directors would remain in place.

However, he added that there would also be an elected board made up from community investors to "bring in a degree of democracy and transparency".

He also revealed that the deal comes with an "asset lock", which would prevent any future sale of the stadium.

Gilmour oversaw the club's move to a new stadium before agreeing to make the club's majority shareholding available for sale.

"I think all the guys on the (current) board will look back and say that we've taken the club a long way.

"We have said for the last 18 months that it needed a bit of a new direction. We need new energy to come in and take the club forward."

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