THE battle for control of Oxford United intensified last night as one of the groups hoping to take over the club confirmed they had submitted a formal offer.
But it remains to be seen if the bid by a group of Oxfordshire businessmen, led by Charlie Methven, to U’s owner Ian Lenagan, will have come in time.
A rival group, fronted by Mark Ashton and Darryl Eales, is understood to be in advanced discussions with Mr Lenagan, and may even have signed a deal in principle.
None of the trio was available to confirm this last night, but Mr Methven’s group, which yesterday received the financial backing of wealthy businessman Stewart Donald, are serious about their intentions.
He said: “A bid has been lodged and I hope that Ian Lenagan takes it very seriously.
“The details of that are confidential, but we are clear in our objective, which is that we want the best for Oxford United Football Club.
“We believe we have a plan that will enable this to happen.
“We are not people that will disappear in one, three or five years, we would be in this for the long haul.”
Central to their interest is ensuring Oxford United own their ground and as revealed in yesterday’s Oxford Mail, this could be a new stadium built on land at Water Eaton.
Mr Methven admitted this was their preferred option, and was hopeful the backing from the leader of Oxfordshire County Council, Ian Hudspeth, and Oxford City Council, Bob Price, would help their bid.
He commented: “Historically, Oxford United have had problems in getting things done because councils have been opposed to the ideas of the club.
“But now we have two council leaders who have a great affinity to the club, know what it provides for the community and are keen for it to progress.”
Mr Hudspeth, an Oxford United supporter, has backed the move and will now hold talks with Barry Wood, leader of Cherwell District Council, the planning authority for Water Eaton. The authority has expressed reservations about putting a stadium in the Green Belt.
Cherwell is currently putting together its local plan, a document which will set out where houses, shops and, in theory, stadia, can be built between now and 2031 and which will be completed later this year.
Mr Hudspeth said: “We are all aware of the Green Belt issue and I think we have got to look and see whether bringing a world-class stadium with such good transport links is a good reason for developing there.
“Cherwell is obviously going through its local development framework and it hopes to have a new plan drawn up by November.
“We will work with them to see if this will be a suitable exemption and I will be asking my counterpart if he can take a very open view about the proposals.
“If not we will have to look for alternative sites, but that will be very difficult.”
Mr Hudspeth said that if Oxford United moves away from the Kassam Stadium then the site could be used for housing, but Bob Price, the leader of the city council, expressed reservations about whether that would be the best use for the site.
He said: “Like with the greyhound stadium, we are trying to get a balance between leisure facilities, shops and housing.”
But he said he would be willing to talk to any eventual new owners about the future of the club and the stadium. He said: “The future of both matters very much to the people of Oxford.”
Oxford United has been based at the Kassam Stadium since 2001 when they moved from the Manor Ground in Headington and the club was joined by rugby club London Welsh in 2012. But the stadium is owned by former U’s owner Firoz Kassam with both clubs paying him rent.
Mr Kassam said he has held no talks with anybody interested in buying the Grenoble Road stadium and added that he is unaware of any potential takeover.
He added: “I spoke to Mark Sennett [chairman of supporters’ trust OxVOx] a couple of days ago and he mentioned something might be happening, but nobody has spoken to me.”
When asked directly if any talks have taken place with Kassam, he answered: “Absolutely not. I was told this morning (Thursday) they might be looking to move grounds, but don’t know more than that.”
Christ Church owns more than 100 acres of land to the east of Oxford Road, opposite the golf course.
But James Lawrie, the college’s treasurer, said he has not been contacted by anyone hoping to develop the site.
He said: “This is a pretty hypothetical question and the site is certainly not zoned for development. What we will do is respond to facts rather than speculation.
“I don’t think we have made any representations to Cherwell District Council’s local plan and I will need to talk to the college’s advisors first.”
No one from Cherwell District Council or its leader Barry Wood was available for comment.
It would a shame for the fans because of the cost of petrol, train and bus tickets when they have to go to a new location - Edward Grant, 19, Botley
The stadium is good where it is because if the stadium moves to Water Eaton people have to travel further - Bobby Thomas, 22, Kennington
I think it’s better off where it is. There’s more room there, it’s friendly and lots of things to do - Natasha Irvin, 27, Watlington
I’ve got many friends that go there a lot and love it. I’m sure they’ll see it as a disaster if they are not at the stadium - Alex Martin, 21, Cowley
It would be a shame – given that London Welsh have just been promoted to the premiership for rugby – if the stadium was moved further away - Kipp Harden, 23, Cowley