MORE details have emerged this week about the make-up of Barnsley FC’s ownership following the bombshell news last Thursday that former co-chairmen Chien Lee and Paul Conway had been voted off the board.
The ownership of the club is now understood to be split between Lee (31 per cent), Indian businessman Neerav Parekh (21 per cent), the five investors including and represented by Julie Anne Quay (20 per cent), the Cryne family (20 per cent) and Conway’s company Pacific Media Group (eight per cent).
Jean Cryne, the widow of former owner Patrick, last week joined her son James on the board along with Quay who has been selected to represent the group of investors initially represented by Conway and Pacific Media Group.
Parekh was voted in as chairman late last week and is joined on the board by the Crynes, Quay, chief executive Khaled El-Ahmad and finance director Rob Zuk.
While Lee has the largest share, he and Conway are no longer on the board and therefore will have no say in the day-to-day running of the club, having caused controversy with a legal case with the Crynes, considering moving away from Oakwell, and some poor transfer windows. Dickson Lee – Chien’s son – and Grace Hung were also voted off the board.
This development is understood to be specific to Barnsley – who were relegated to League One last month – and has no impact on the six other clubs across Europe in which Lee and Conway have shares.
Coun Sir Steve Houghton CBE, Leader of Barnsley Council, said: “We welcome the fresh approach being taken by the club. We look forward to continuing to work in partnership with them to ensure success for both the club and the borough.”
Parekh, Quay and El-Ahmad are expected to do media interviews in the coming weeks.
The ‘early bird’ deadline for season tickets has been moved back to Tuesday, May 31.
Parekh addressed fans in a statement on the club’s website. He said ‘sections of our loyal fanbase are questioning their commitment to this great club’ and added that the movement of the early bird deadline was ‘in order to provide as many as possible the opportunity to understand our motives before pledging to the upcoming campaign.’
Academy manager and former player Bobby Hassell told the Chronicle: “I am over the moon that Jean is back on the board. I know she cares for the football club.
"I made Patrick a promise before he passed away to try to drive the academy forward to the best of my ability. I am trying to do that with others like Martin Devaney, Tom Harban, Shaun Selby and Brian Young. But I just think we all have to come together as a club and a town. The club, the fans and the town all need to be united in the cause of making things right on and off the pitch.”
CHIEN LEE, 31 PER CENT
The largest share holder but no longer a board member and therefore has no influence on the day-to-day running of the club.
The Chinese-American businessman often tops list of the richest people to own football clubs and is described as a billionaire.
He was rarely seen in Barnsley but did visit Valerien Ismael and the players after they reached the play-offs a year ago.
Lee and Conway own shares in six other European clubs including Nancy, who have been relegated from the French second tier this season, and Esbjerg who dropped into the Danish third tier on Wednesday, completing an unwanted hat-trick.
NEERAV PAREKH, 21 PER CENT
The Indian businessman was one of the original investors when the club was sold in 2017, along with Chien Lee, Paul Conway, Grace Hung, Billy Beane and others.
In 2019, he bought baseball legend Beane’s ten per cent stake in the club, adding to his original 11 per cent share. Parekh is known to have a strong relationship with the Cryne family and, along with Julie Anne Quay’s group once Conway was no longer their nominee, they had the majority to vote Conway, Hung and Lee off the board.
Parekh is a regular attendee of Barnsley games, home and away, and has been one of the more visible and approachable members of the original consortium.
He said last week ‘it takes a long time to rebuild broken relationships, but it is our responsibility to do so, step by step.’ He is expected to say more to fans and the media in he coming weeks.
THE CRYNE FAMILY, 20 PER CENT
Jean and James Cryne, the widow and son of late former owner Patrick Cryne, retain the 20 per cent they kept after the sale of the club in 2017. But they now have significantly more influence as Jean is on the board while Chien Lee and Paul Conway, who have been in conflict with the Crynes which has resulted in a court case, have been voted off.
Whether the course case – brought by the Crynes after payments due for the initial sale of the club were not made – will continue is one of the as yet unanswered questions.
Conway said his group had abandoned the idea of buying Oakwell as they could not get ‘clean title’ on the land due to another claim which the Crynes say is a century old and irrelevant. James leads the club’s recruitment department and is expected to have more influence after Conway took control of some signings last summer, most of whom have been flops.
JULIE ANNE QUAY AND PARTNERS, 20 PER CENT
The businesswoman is the nominated representative on the board of a group of investors who own a fifth of the club. Also in her group are her husband and three others, whose identity has not been made public.
That group are understood to have initially nominated Paul Conway’s Pacific Media Group, to represent them, giving him and Chien Lee majority control. But once that agreement – believed to have been in place for four years – expired, they chose Quay as their representative and PMG was left with eight per cent.
Quay runs VFILES Foundation, which provides mentorship and grants for people entering the fashion and music industries.
She tweeted last week that she was looking forward to getting her season tickets and is expected to speak to the press later this month.
PACIFIC MEDIA GROUP, 8 PER CENT
This section of the ownership is understood to be represented by Paul Conway and Grace Hung, who were voted off the board last week along with associate Chien Lee.
Conway initially controlled a far bigger stake, as the nominated representative of a group of investors who have since replaced him with Julie Anne Quay after that agreement expired. Conway has been the main face of the consortium and a very divisive figure for the fanbase – due to the legal dispute with the Cryne family, conversations with other clubs over a move from Oakwell and two disastrous stints as acting chief executive including last summer.
Hung spoke at the press conference in late 2017 following the sale but has been rarely seen at Oakwell since. The following year, she appeared on a billboard in New York City’s Iconic Times Square alongside an animated Toby Tyke.
COMMENT: Positive step but plenty of work to do
IT HAD been clear for a while that ‘something big’ was coming at Oakwell, but the removal of Chien Lee and Paul Conway from the board last week was a surprising and potentially vital development.
Simply their exits from the board will be enough for some fans to re-engage with the club – especially if they like what they hear from the new board’s upcoming interviews.
There was no strong appetite for the ‘Conway out’ protests attempted earlier in the season, and 5,000 fans bought season tickets before the boardroom changes, with another 1,000 doing so afterwards.
But the Reds appeared to be losing fans not just because of the relegation.
A supporters’ trust survey last week revealed almost 50 per cent of supporters polled indicated they wouldn’t be renewing their season ticket, with close to 60 per cent of those supporters claiming it was a boycott against the owners.
The return of Jean Cryne, the wife of former owner Patrick who now joins her son and recruitment department head James on the board, will be popular with the majority of fans due to her family’s long connections to the club, as will her strong words of affection for Barnsley last week.
Some immediately claimed it was a distraction tactic, with Lee and Conway still retaining power. But that does not stand up to scrutiny as, although they still have shares in the club, losing their seats on the board and being replaced by Jean Cryne, who they have been fighting in the courts, is not a good outcome for the former co-chairmen. Lee and Conway will have no influence on the day-to-day running of the club. It is a boardroom ‘coup’ that had been planned for months.
There are still unanswered questions.
Will Lee, who still owns nearly a third of the club, and Conway, who has a much smaller number of shares, now look to sell?
Who are the three other investors in new director Julie Anne Quay’s group, what are their intentions for the club and how much will they, as a group, want to be involved in the running of the club?
Is the legal case between the Cryne family and BFC Investment Company still ongoing?
Will the council now be more amenable to selling their half of Oakwell to the club or are all parties happy for the council and the Crynes to remain joint owners?
What is the explanation for the £750,000 paid to the Cryne family from the club rather than Lee and Conway’s group?
Then there are the more basic issues of appointing a head coach, filling a £7-8million post relegation gap while building a squad that can collect the roughly 80 points needed to compete for promotion in League One, and winning back the trust of supporters still wary after the Lee and Conway years.
Some of those questions may be answered later this month during interviews. Others will only be answered over the next months and years. But it is the kind of change behind the scenes which the club needed as they look to make a fresh start after a horrific season.
It is unlikely to herald a total change in the strategy of recruiting mainly young players in order to develop them, which is a major opinion-splitter, particularly after the club got the balance badly wrong this season and lacked experience.
It was Patrick and James Cryne who introduced that philosophy after a previous relegation in 2014. But hopefully the new board – including chief executive Khaled El-Ahmad – will learn lessons from recent events and have a more blended squad of youth and experience, with the focus on winning games not just developing players for big sales.
There is certainly a chance for a fresh start, with a much more joined-up approach between the board, recruitment department and coaches than last summer when Conway ‘went rogue’ for which he later apologised.
If they can navigate the tricky next few months, with a big turnover of players expected, and get the majority of decisions right, then Reds could start to move forward again, united with the fans.
More details on the supporters' trust survey are due to be posted on: https://bfcst.co.uk.