Sports Direct denies ‘bullying’ in bust-up with Goals Soccer Centres shareholder

Sports Direct has denied accusations of “bullying” in its dealings with Goals Soccer Centres, as it gears up for a showdown with the company’s board this week.

Mike Ashley’s company, which is the largest shareholder in five-a-side football operator Goals, has fired another shot in its war of words over the company’s accounting blunder after it was criticised by a fellow investor.

Speaking to The Times newspaper on Tuesday, Goals’s second-biggest shareholder Chris Mills of Harwood Capital said Sports Direct’s threat to vote against the board’s reappointment amounted to “bullying”.

Sports Direct refuted the claims, saying it was within its rights to “vociferously put its point across”.

In a statement, the company said: “We vehemently disagree with Mr Mills’s characterisation of our interactions as ‘bullying’ and wonder what it is he has to be concerned about, if Kroll would find no more than what BDO have, what is the issue with allowing Kroll access to confirm this immediately?”

It followed Mr Ashley’s insistence that Goals should hire investigators from Kroll to look into a recently discovered accounting error, which is estimated to be worth £12 million.

Goals has pushed back against the demands, saying it has already hired a division of accountancy firm BDO as well as seeking help from RSM Tenon and a specialist VAT consultant as it attempts to deal with the issue.

In addition, advisers at Deloitte have been appointed to explore potential options for the company.

But Sports Direct has refused to back down and last week said it would vote against the reappointment of the Goals Soccer Centres board at the upcoming annual general meeting (AGM).

The meeting is scheduled to take place this Friday.

Reiterating its stance, Sports Direct said on Wednesday: “We once again demand that Goals allow Kroll to perform the full investigation we require as a matter of extreme urgency to restore independent shareholder and other stakeholders’ trust in the business, bearing in mind the chairman’s contention that the board are 100% sure this is the work of one individual.”

The bust-up comes a few months after a showdown between Sports Direct and the board of Debenhams, as the department store turned down several offers from Mr Ashley for rescue funds and his attempts to become chief executive.

The scrap resulted in the ousting of then-chairman Ian Cheshire and former CEO Sergio Bucher, when Sports Direct voted against their reappointment at an AGM.