Businessman in U's takeover
LOCAL multi-millionaire businessman Robbie Cowling became the new owner of Colchester United Football Club yesterday.Mr Cowling has taken over from previous owner Mr Peter Heard, who will continue in his capacity as chairman at the Layer Road club.
By Carl Marston
LOCAL multi-millionaire businessman Robbie Cowling became the new owner of Colchester United Football Club yesterday.
Mr Cowling has taken over from previous owner Peter Heard, who will continue in his capacity as chairman at the Layer Road club.
The sums involved have not been disclosed, but the long-term future of the Essex club appears bright, especially as new owner Mr Cowling has accumulated a small fortune from his Tiptree-based Internet business, JobServe.com, since it was launched as the world's first online recruitment website 12 years ago.
Mr Cowling sees his involvement as a long-term commitment, not a short-term fix. And he knows that it will not be easy to maintain the U's considerable success on the pitch - they have progressed from a non-league Conference club to a Championship outfit in just 14 years.
“I'm under no illusions about how difficult an act Mr Peter Heard will be to follow,” insisted Mr Cowling last night.
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“I believe that the club is currently punching two divisions above its weight, so it has been a fantastic achievement to get this far.
“In the short term, there will be no changes. It will be business as usual, but I believe that I have a role to play in the long term.
“Taking over the controlling interest in the club, I believe, is a very positive step for both me and Colchester United. It's a positive move for everybody.”
He added: “Peter (Heard), the rest of the board, the management, the administrators and the players themselves have done an amazing job to date, and I will now enjoy working as an understudy to Mr Heard. I have tremendous respect for what the whole club has achieved, to take the team from the Conference to the Championship with extremely limited resources.
“In fact, the structure of the deal reflects Peter Heard's devotion to the club and my long-term commitment to help support the club financially.
The U's were relegated out of the Football League in 1990, but regained their League status following promotion from the Conference just two years later.
Two promotions have since followed, via the Nationwide Division Three play-offs in 1998, and then automatically from League One into the Championship last season. Mr Heard has been the owner for the last nine years.
Mr Cowling continued: “The club has been very well run off the pitch. There are no debts to take on.
“My business, Jobserve.com, is going well and I am reinvesting a lot into new business interests. It is not easy to calculate how much I'm worth, because it's all tied in with the business. But the deal struck with Peter Heard shows my financial commitment to Colchester United.
“The club's planned move to a new stadium was not a deciding factor in my decision to take on ownership of the club. If the club had been relegated and was still going to be at Layer Road, then I would probably have still agreed.
“But I hope to offer my support and give the final push that's needed to make the new stadium a reality. People have said that progress has been slow, but I don't agree.
“I'm a big football fan, but then I think you have to be to get involved with the running of a club. I've been a big fan of West Ham and Colchester United.
“Jobserve.com were the main sponsors at Colchester for two years, and also of the advanced coaching project. We were also trustees on the Colchester United Football in the Community for two years,” added Mr Cowling, whose company is West Ham's shirt sponsors.
John Burns, the chairman of the Colchester United Supporters Association, said he was pleased to hear of Mr Cowling's takeover of the club, but also delighted to learn that Mr Heard would be staying on as chairman.
“I think Robbie Cowling is the right man at the right time,” he said.
“However, in one way I feel a little sorry, because Peter Heard has been the driving force behind the U's for so many years. Without him, we wouldn't be anywhere near where we are now, if indeed we would still have been in existence.
“For that reason it's great to know that Mr Heard will still be around. All true Colchester supporters have a lot of respect for Mr Heard, and for what he's done, and that respect will always be there.
“But looking ahead, it's a good move. Robbie Cowling is a football fan, and a local man, so I'm delighted that the new owner is someone that we know. Fans don't like much change.
“He is a very shrewd businessman, and it's nice that the new owner is someone we know and someone that I believe we can trust. Hopefully, he will be able to put some money in for transfers, and a fresh face on the Board should also benefit our quest for a new stadium.”