Cambridge United are set to buy back the freehold of the home of the club, the Abbey Stadium from Grosvenor Property UK.

The agreement in principle has been made for the club to purchase the freehold by the summer, after it was sold to John Howard’s Bideawhile 445 Ltd company in December 2004 after a period of financial difficulty and was subsequently sold on to Grosvenor Estates in March 2010.

The announcement came in form of an open letter from the majority owner of the club, Paul Barry. In the letter, he stated: “Almost 20 years ago the freehold of the Abbey Stadium was sold. Like many of you, I remember well the hurt and pain of the Abbey sale. So I am pleased to be able to tell you all that today we have an agreement in principle (AIP) with Grosvenor for the Club to buy back the freehold of the Abbey Stadium”

He states that the Club has agreed to a “very fair and reasonable price” and “the funding plan is in place and we hope to conclude the purchase by the summer.”

The letter also revealed that plans are being put in place for a ‘Golden Share’ to protect the ground as a community asset, to prevent it from future redevelopment, though the full details of this are set to follow, outlining how it would work and what protections it would give.

It was formed as a recommendation from Tracey Crouch MP following a Fan Led Review, with the Club being the only EFL club represented on her expert panel. The review discusses “the importance of football stadia being recognised and protected as community assets, with a Golden Share in place to provide safeguards for fans”.

Mr Barry’s letter continues: “I am very pleased to say that Tracey has agreed to help the Club on this alongside Kevin Miles, the Chief Executive of the Football Supporters’ Association. We want this to be a model for other clubs at a critical point for football. We would envisage a small number of representatives from different associated groups holding the Golden Share on behalf of the Club, so the principle of consent is enshrined and the true interests of fans represented in any future discussions.

In simple terms, if future owners wanted to sell the Abbey and relocate the Club, those holding the Golden Share could veto the decision unless they considered it to be the right thing for the Club.”

Mr Barry goes on to discuss the stadium’s modernisation and the improvement of fan experience on the whole, which will both happen in time following the purchase, though for now, the focus will be on improving the Bentley Road training ground, which is currently leased from Clare College.

He emphasised: “Taken together, these investments represent significant sums, but it should not encourage anyone to think that we are suddenly awash with money or that the Club is suddenly in a very different financial position. We are not.”

He concluded by saying that these plans represent the longer-term strategy, but for now the club is taking the opportunity to repurchase the ground as the first step. He continued by thanking the fans, the team both past and present, board members, but in particular his co-owners Mark and Adam.

A final statement read: “There will inevitably be questions following this announcement, but I hope you understand that we won’t be saying anything further or doing any interviews for a short while as we work through the detail. However, I believed it was important to let you all know directly from me as soon as the Club was in a position to make an announcement.” 

The full letter is available here.

Image source: Cambridge United Media

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