PAUL Conway and Chien Lee have left Barnsley FC’s board, and been replaced by others including Jean Cryne, the wife of former owner Patrick Cryne.
Conway and Lee were the figureheads of a consortium that bought 80 per cent of the club in 2017 from Patrick Cryne, who died months later with his family holding the remaining 20 per cent.
They have both been co-chairmen but have now left the board along with Dickson Lee and Grace Hung.
Jean Cryne and Julie Anne Quay – the founder of the New York-based VFIILES Foundation – have been added to the board, pending EFL approval.
Pacific Media Group, the company affiliated with Conway and Lee, was initially nominated by investors but that agreement has now expired, with Quay now representing the investors. The Chronicle understands that Lee and Conway retain their shares in the club.
The board comprises Quay, Jean Cryne, James Cryne – Jean and Patrick’s son who works at the club in the recruitment department – Neerav Parekh, chief executive Khaled El-Ahmad and finance director Robert Zuk.
Jean Cryne said: “As a collective, we will bring leadership to help the club reach its potential, providing a clear and transparent purpose.
“James and I love this Football Club and we will continue Patrick’s legacy in building a true community club.
“We are proud Barnsley fans and truly understand the emotion and connections associated with being a Red.”
Lee and Conway’s time as owners has been dogged by controversy.
They had been sued by minority owners the Cryne family over the failure to make payments owed from the original sale of the club.
Conway – or his representatives – is also understood to have approached other clubs over a possible groundshare after he claimed his group's purchase of Oakwell had been scuppered by a third party claim to the land, something the Crynes said was untrue.
On the pitch, the Reds were relegated to League One six months after the sale of the club then immediately bounced back to the Championship.
They survived on the final day in 2020 then reached the play-offs to the Premier League last season and now have finished last following the worst season in 69 years.
Conway’s spell as acting chief executive last summer – following Dane Murphy’s move to Nottingham Forest – is widely considered to have been a key factor in the relegation.
The American oversaw the appointment of Markus Schopp – who won one in 15 games before being sacked – and the signing of several unsuccessful players, while not following the club’s usual data-driven approach to recruitment.
Lee and Conway own several other clubs across Europe but this news is thought to only impact Barnsley.
Meanwhile, new board member Quay’s company provides grants and support for ‘emerging talent’ including musicians and fashion designers.
The website says it is an ‘organisation with the mission to increase business ownership for creators in underrepresented communities (BIPOC, Women, LGBTQ+). Through its flagship programme, VFILES Lab, the foundation provides seed grants, mentorship, and soft skills training.”
She said: “All board members are looking forward to both the short- and long-term future of Barnsley FC.
“There is work to be done and relationships to be re-established with key stakeholders.
“We are very aware of the challenges that we face.
“Together, with the club employees, our supporters, the Barnsley community and the players, we will overcome them. Let’s play to win. Come on, you Reds.”
Parekh, the Indian businessman who was part of the original investment group, said: “Barnsley Football Club is an anchor institution of this town and we, as custodians, are aware how much this club means to the people of Barnsley.
“Last season was a low point for the club results-wise, and we pledge to put results on the pitch as the primary driver for everything we do at the club.
“Moving forward, we want to work closely with all our partners, in particular our fans and Barnsley Council, to ensure that the club continues to be an institution that we’re all proud to support.
“It takes a long time to rebuild broken relationships, but it is our responsibility to do so, step by step.
The Barnsley FC Supporters’ Trust said they ‘welcomed’ the changes and added: “After one of the most disappointing seasons in our history, where relationships between the football club and its supporters were broken and at their lowest ebb for decades, we view the removal of Paul Conway, Chien Lee, and Grace Hung from the board of directors as a positive step and one that can be greeted warmly by the Barnsley FC fan base.
“Reconnecting with supporters and the town can only be helped by Jean Cryne joining the board, to support James Cryne and the other directors, in ensuring our future is at Oakwell and that we build a clear strategy that results in establishing ourselves as a Championship football once again.
“Having passion for the town, its people, and the role the club plays within that, is something we believe has been lacking recently at board level, and we look forward to welcoming Julie Ann Quay to Barnsley to immerse her in our famous community spirit and welcome.
“Challenges are still on the immediate horizon, in terms of the recruitment of a new head coach and the club finances post-relegation.
“However BFCST are fully behind the new regime, look forward to working with them in the future, and hope this is one of many steps to bring this great football club back to those who matter the most – the supporters.”
Representatives of the new board are due to hold a press conference on May 27.