BARNSLEY FC's majority owners have ‘abandoned’ plans to buy Oakwell amid a legal dispute with the Cryne family and instead are hoping to reach a new rental agreement with the council and make improvements to the stadium.
Paul Conway and Chien Lee’s group released a statement last year stating that the Crynes had started a law suit against them, which relates to a refusal to continue making payments due in the original deal to buy the club in 2017.
Conway – who is co-chairman along with Lee – said the consortium had put aside ‘millions’ to buy the stadium ‘which was a big part of our reason for buying the club’.
They claim that there is a third party claim to the ownership of the ground, which the Crynes have previously insisted is from more than a century ago and is irrelevant.
Conway says it has stopped his group getting ‘clear title’ on ownership of Oakwell and that five different insurance companies have said they would not insure their purchase of the ground.
Conway said he has approached Barnsley Council with a plan to ‘rehabilitate the ground and bring it up to modern standards’ while creating a sports bar at Oakwell and extending the club’s lease which currently has six years to run.
He told the Chronicle: “We’re board members of the club and all of our decisions are in the best interest of the club. It’s not the right thing for the club to purchase the grounds, spend millions in renovation if we can’t get clear title.
“So we have abandoned that idea.
“We have gone to five different insurers but they will not give us insurance.
“We can’t invest for the club without that certainty. We’ve given up on it.”
On the legal dispute, Conway said: “It’s the Crynes and the club, not my company. It’s still in process. I don’t know when it will end. It doesn’t affect any long-term plans.”
Half the ground, and 20 per cent of the club, is owned by former club owner Patrick Cryne’s widow Jean and son James who still works at Oakwell as head of the recruitment department.
Conway says he has a good working relationship with James, despite being involved in the legal dispute. Conway told the Chronicle: “Everybody is working to the best interests of the club. James has a remarkable record of recruiting for the club. He has the same best interests that the board have.”
Former chief executive Dane Murphy confirmed to the Chronicle last year that the Reds had looked into the possibility of ground-sharing with another EFL club and leaving Oakwell if the issues could not be resolved.
Conway said they wanted to stay at Oakwell but did not rule out a move, depending on negotiations with the council over an improved rental agreement.
On moving away, Conway said: “If we’re caught in the facility where we can’t use the ground due to not getting a license, we have to have alternatives.”
He told the Chronicle: “Our goal is to stay here. We are a tenant. We’ve made a proposal to extend our lease. But I think it’s obvious to all our supporters that we need to some improvements to the ground. As the tenant, you can’t do that. We’re working with the council and we hope it comes to a good solution. It’s going to take time but we’re hopeful.”
Conway added: “We have gone to the council with a plan to rehabilitate the ground and bring it up to modern standards. We have offered to extend our lease. There is a difference on what both parties want. We want to stay here but we want it to be an all-year-round facility. We had plans for a sports bar and modern hospitality which is good for the club and would create jobs. That’s a big project for this season.
“Part of the grounds have to be modernised. Potential capacity or lack of revenue is impacted by the grounds, so we need that investment from the owners because it is really important for the ground.
“The only way we can grow our wagebill is through commercial improvements, more season ticket holders or transfer revenue.”
Shokat Lal, the council’s executive director for core services, said: “Discussions are ongoing with Barnsley Football Club, and we’re always open to negotiations.”