Mike Ashley takes aim at Goals with £3.9m stake

Controversial businessman Mike Ashley, has taken a five per cent stake in East Kilbride-based Goals Soccer Centres.

Mr Ashley, an investor in Glasgow football team Rangers who is currently at loggerheads with chairman Dave King over the retailer’s influence on the Ibrox club, has acquired 2,890,000 shares in Goals for around £3.9 million.

The Newcastle United owner’s latest move north of the border comes just weeks after he was ordered to pay compensation to 50 former employees of his company’s warehouse in Dundonald, Ayrshire, after his employment practices were branded “disgraceful” and “unlawful” by a Glasgow employment tribunal.

The workers, who were employed by Ashley’s failing clothing chain USC, have all secured a protected redundancy payout after the firm after being given just 15 minutes’ notice before they lost their jobs.

Mr Ashley holds an 8.9 per cent stake in Rangers through his MASH Holdings vehicle, through Sports Direct International under a contract for difference.

Analyst Canaccord Genuity raised the prospect of the move being a precursor to an all-out bid for Goals, which has 46 centres in the UK and is looking to expand its presence in the US.

Goals currently has one centre in Los Angeles and is developing a second site in the area, with plans to invest £2.4 million in the 14-pitch facility. It has also agreed heads of terms for three further centres in southern California.

Goals has trimmed its profits forecast twice this year as it bids to bounce back from a challenging summer period. Its share price has fallen steadily since its year peak of 238.5p in February, but it closed up 8 per cent last night, or 11p, at 145p.

Taking control of Goals could give the Newcastle United owner, who also owns Sports Direct, access to a potentially massive market in the US for his retail operation.

Canaccord’s Nigel Parson said: “Mike Ashley can be unpredictable and his intentions are unclear. Of course, it could be a precursor to a bid but it could also be a curtain raiser to open discussions over sponsorships or concessions within the business or it could be a bet.”

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