Mike Ashley threatens Goals Soccer Centres with boardroom coup

Retail tycoon Mike Ashley has threatened directors of Goals Soccer Centres, the Scottish five-a-side football operator, with a boardroom coup after they spurned his efforts to hire an investigator of his choice.

East Kilbride-based Goals is one of the biggest firms of its kind, running 50 sites in the UK and the US. Picture: Andrew Worthington
East Kilbride-based Goals is one of the biggest firms of its kind, running 50 sites in the UK and the US. Picture: Andrew Worthington

In a stock market statement, Ashley’s Sports Direct said that it was planning to vote against the reappointment of Goals’ entire board at its annual general meeting (AGM) next week as a result of “perceived lack of transparency” over a recent accounting blunder and the resulting “loss of confidence”.

The businessman had demanded that independent advisers at Kroll be appointed to examine the accounting errors, which are estimated so far at some £12 million.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

But East Kilbribe-based Goals said earlier this week that it was continuing talks with the taxman over the affair and had already engaged “forensic accountants”.

Sports Direct, which owns a near-19 per cent stake in Goals, responded by claiming that the appointed advisers were not independent, being a division of the company’s auditors.

It also said that, since one major shareholder sits on the board, they will have access to information which is unknown to other investors.Sports Direct said it would make any Kroll report available for all shareholders.

Goals confirmed this week that it had hired accountancy and advisory firm Deloitte to assess future options, which could see a sale of the listed firm.

Ashley has been tipped as a potential bidder to buy the company outright, adding to his shopping spree which has recently included House of Fraser, Evans Cycles and an ongoing bid for Game Digital.

In response, Goals said in a statement released shortly before lunchtime today that it had employed a “full and extensive” professional advisory team to advise its board.

“The auditors of the company are BDO, who were appointed on 26 June 2018. The company has also engaged a separate independent forensic division of BDO to analyse historical accounting errors and policies,” the firm noted.

“In addition, the company has engaged RSM Tenon and a specialist VAT consultant to assist it in its ongoing discussions with HMRC. The company have now engaged Deloitte to work alongside its advisors and its lenders in assessing its future corporate options.

“The board notes the desire of Sport Direct to appoint Kroll. The board continues to believe this is not appropriate and not in shareholder’s best interests.”

Last month, Goals, which is one of the biggest firms of its kind, running 50 sites in the UK and the US, confirmed previous expectations for 2018’s results to be hit by the VAT misdeclaration, but added that new accounting policies meant that the current year’s results would be “materially below prior expectations”.

It also emerged recently that chief executive Andy Anson was leaving to head up the British Olympic Association. Goals said that Anson was committed to remain with the firm for the next six months to “assist in resolving its accounting and VAT issues”.

Chairman Michael Bolingbroke said: “The board respects Andy’s decision to take a role that is a once in a lifetime opportunity for him.”

In March, Goals revealed that it had uncovered substantial VAT accounting errors. It said its board had ­concluded that the VAT misdeclaration issues dated back several years, although the final value of the error was still being established.

The group, whose shares were suspended on London’s junior Alternative Investment Market (Aim), also warned at the time that new VAT accounting policies it plans to adopt were likely to have an impact on its future earnings.