Sportswear tycoon to buy soccer club Newcastle Utd

LONDON (Reuters) - British sportswear tycoon Mike Ashley has agreed to take over English Premier League soccer club Newcastle United NCU.L in a cash deal valuing it at around 134 million pounds ($267 million).

The takeover of the north east of England club by the reclusive billionaire breaks a trend of foreign buyers acquiring Premiership teams. The “Magpies” star players include England internationals Michael Owen and Kieron Dyer.

Despite a massive fan base, Newcastle have been chronic under-achievers and last won a major domestic trophy in 1955 when they lifted the FA Cup.

Newcastle Chairman and major shareholder Freddy Shepherd and his family have agreed to sell their 28 percent stake in the club to Ashley for 101 pence per share, Ashley’s St James Holdings Ltd said in a statement on Thursday.

Ashley runs Britain's biggest sports retailer, Sports Direct SPD.L, which includes the Sports World and Lillywhites chains.

He pocketed 929 million pounds when he floated the business in February, but has come under fire from investors as the group’s shares have since fallen by about a third in value and its chairman quit last week saying he felt unable to establish a strong relationship with the company’s management.

Ashley’s bid vehicle St James Holdings had already bought the 41.6 percent stake of Newcastle president John Hall and his family at 100 pence per share.

Ashley’s takeover of the north east of England club breaks a trend of foreign buyers acquiring Premiership teams.

Last season Liverpool, West Ham United and Aston Villa were bought by overseas investors. The spending spree followed Malcolm Glazer’s controversial purchase of Premiership champions Manchester United and Roman Abramovich’s takeover at Chelsea.

Overseas buyers are hoping to tap into the worldwide appeal of the richest soccer league, which is set to share record broadcasting revenue of 2.7 billion pounds over the next three years.

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who fled the country after a bloodless coup, is also expected to take over Manchester City this month.

“The board believes that St James Holdings Ltd and Mike Ashley will be excellent custodians of Newcastle United’s heritage and will provide the best possible opportunity for the club to flourish,” Newcastle Chairman Shepherd said in a statement.

Shares in Newcastle United opened up 0.5 percent to 97-1/2p at 0739 GMT on Thursday.

The club has been subject to takeover interest for some time. Both Jersey-based investment firm Belgravia and United States-based hedge fund Polygon dropped their interest at the start of the year after being unable to agree a deal.

Newcastle United also said on Thursday it had sold midfielder and captain Scott Parker to West Ham United for an initial fee of 6.5 million pounds.