Millwall FC quits Stock Exchange

MillwallMillwall FC is to quit the London Stock Exchange, leaving just four professional football clubs listed on the markets. Fans of the south east London club regularly sing 'No one likes us, we don't care' and, it seems, that's the felling the club has about the stock market. The club's directors are said to believe the true value of the club is not reflected in its share value of £2.80, and say the listing makes it difficult to encourage investment.

The move comes after the club unveiled its best annual results since 2004. The holding company that owns Millwall lost just £600,000 in the year to 30 June 2011. That's a reduction of £2.8m on the previous year's loss of £3.4m. The move needs the agreement of 75% of shareholders at a meeting on 1 December.

With the club's directors, who are recommending delisting, holding 77.87% of shares, the conclusion looks foregone. The club reckons it can save £100,000 a year by delisting from the AIM market – a pretty significant sum when that loss of £600,000 is taken into account.

The club at one stage had 37 billion shares in issue, more than many big multinationals. This was because many thousands of fans had tiny holdings, more to show their attachment to the club than to make a profit. Last year the club streamlined this structure through a 100,000-1 consolidation.

Last year, the Lions tried to raise £7.8m through a rights issue. Directors pumped a few million in, but just 612 investors took the plunge, raising only £139,130. But the club is not in bad shape. Turnover was up 58% to £11.8m last year, thanks largely to income from TV rights.

Tottenham Hotspur

Millwall have been on the stock market for 22 years. The first club to float on the Stock Exchange was Tottenham Hotspur, fuelling the image of loadsamoney London wide-boys by jumping aboard the wave of so-called 'popular capitalism' in 1983. The view in the City at the time was that Spurs were a bit eccentric.

Manchester United followed in 1991, and by 1997, 21 clubs were floated. It was the coming of the Premier League that made investors see clubs as potentially profitable businesses, because TV companies were prepared to pay a premium for the 'content' this new football 'brand' provided.

At one stage, football was one of the most buoyant sectors of a booming stock market. But by early 1997, investors were beginning to realise their bullish forecasts were, well, bull.

Now, just four clubs are left on the market. Spurs and Celtic are on the Alternative Investment Market, while Rangers and Arsenal are listed on the PLUS market. A football club is not, despite the game's hype, seen as an investment through which a return can be realised.

Stock market flotation has allowed in the foreign investors who now dominate England's top flight. Those owners dominate in the same way as owners did in the traditional model – all that's changed is that local businessmen have been replaced by global oligarchs. Share ownership has not democratised in the way the populists said.

But an organised shareholder lobby stopped Rupert Murdoch buying into Manchester United, and fans have bought into clubs throughout the game. Attention now is on forms of mutual ownership, with cooperative models such as John Lewis providing the inspiration.