Multi-million pound investment in Lewes called off – because men’s team left out

Lewes women celebrate a goal
Lewes women will not be celebrating a massive cash injection after talks were abandoned - PA/Gareth Fuller

The proposed purchase of Women’s Championship side Lewes FC is off, because it conflicted with the club’s principle of funding their men’s and women’s teams equally.

‘Mercury/13’, the group led by Greek-Argentine businesswoman Victoire Cogevina Reynal, is aiming to invest $100 million (£79.1 million) into women’s football clubs worldwide and had entered into a period of exclusivity in August, in its negotiations to become the new majority owner of Lewes’ women.

But the club’s core philosophy has ultimately seen the talks come to an end, and the two parties have now mutually agreed to end discussions.

In 2017, Lewes FC became the first club in the world to divide their budgets for men’s and women’s football equally, and they are currently owned by 2,573 fans. The men’s team play in the seventh tier of the pyramid, in the Isthmian Premier, whilst the women’s team play in tier two and last season finished as the 21st-highest-ranked women’s side in England.

In the final week of October, those 2,573 owners were given the chance to vote on whether or not to move forward with discussions around the proposed investment, and 67.8 of those who voted were in favour of the proposal. However, with the turnout for that vote being just 42%, it is understood there were concerns at Mercury/13 that there was not a clear majority of support for the idea across the club’s existing ownership.

While 732 owners voted yes, 347 owners voted no, one vote was invalid and 1,493 owners did not cast a vote.

The club told their existing owners on Monday: “The parties have agreed that the club’s foundational principles diverge considerably from Mercury/13’s operating priorities, which makes a partnership challenging at this time.

“Lewes FC stands as a unique entity in the football world: with core principles of equality that are deeply embedded in the club’s ethos, identity and structure. Mercury/13’s mission to invest only in women’s football teams would pose a disruption far too big to Lewes FC’s foundation.”

According to sources Mercury/13, whose members include former England forward Eniola Aluko, still intends to buy a women’s club in England, and will now discuss alternatives.

Lewes are currently sitting second-from-bottom in the 12-team Championship table and in the relegation zone, three points adrift of 10th-placed Reading, with two teams to be relegated at the end of the season. Lewes reached last season’s Women’s FA Cup quarter-finals before being knocked out by Manchester United.

Who is behind Mercury/13?

Mercury/13 has named itself in tribute to 13 women who, in 1960, passed the astronaut test but were subsequently not allowed to work for Nasa. Investment bank Morgan Stanley are said to be leading its investment operations and managing the group’s funds.

Along with former Aston Villa sporting director Aluko, who has also worked in the sporting director role at American women’s club Angel City and was part of ITV’s punditry team for this summer’s Women’s World Cup, Mercury 13’s members also include former Fifa chief innovation officer Luis Vicente, and former Paris St-Germain goalkeeper Arianna Criscione.

Its board members include former Galatasaray chief executive Ebru Koksal, who was the first woman to be elected to the European Club Association’s executive board. She is also currently a non-executive director at the Professional Footballer’s Association and is the chair of Women in Football.

The group intends to take over 13 women’s clubs, specifically in Europe and Latin America, and will aim to buy one club in 13 different countries. It has previously said it wants to identify and invest in the “next decade’s super clubs”.

Mercury/13’s chief executive Victoire Souki Cogevina said: “The leadership team at Lewes FC have been incredibly professional, diligent and provided thorough documentation throughout our investment process. Lewes is a pioneer in its approach to equality, and we firmly believe the club should continue to protect these principles. This decision does not in any way diminish our shared commitment to fostering equity and progress in women’s football.”

Maggie Murphy, Lewes’s CEO, added: “Through our discussions, we found that whilst we shared a common belief in the future growth prospects of women’s football, the structure needed to make this specific opportunity work would be too disruptive to other values that we hold dear. We remain a club with the vision, heart and passion that we know can impact the wider football ecosystem for the better.”