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Rupert James Graham Lowe is a British businessman, who was the chairman of Southampton Football Club from 1996 to 2006. He regained his power in May 2008, teaming up with Michael Wilde, who had previously forced Lowe out, becoming chairman of the club's parent company, Southampton Leisure Holdings PLC, before resigning on 2 April 2009 after the company was placed into administration.
Rupert Lowe was educated at Radley College and Reading University before gaining a reputation working in the city for companies such as Morgan Grenfell and Deutsche Bank. He was also a board member of the London International Financial Futures Exchange. He founded Secure Retirements, a quoted care home provider, with Andrew Cowen, the former Southampton F.C. Vice Chairman.
Southampton Football Club
In the mid-1990s, the Saints board were looking to float the club on the London Stock Exchange, a long and costly procedure. Therefore they attempted a 'reverse takeover' as a way to reduce costs. They needed to find a company that had already floated and take it over while effectively being taken over themselves. Lowe's Secure Retirements, which ran Nursing homes, was a perfect candidate. The resultant group was renamed Southampton Leisure Holdings PLC.
After the deal was completed, Lowe became chairman of the football club. This was despite him being an avid rugby union watcher and hockey player, who had only seen his first professional football game six months previously.
Fans' groups were initially undecided about Lowe. He had vast business expertise, a vital trait for any chairman of a football club, but he also knew hardly anything about the game. Soon after the takeover, Graeme Souness and Lawrie McMenemy left the club, citing 'difficulties' with the new owners. This came as a huge shock to many fans and to the local press, who regarded McMenemy as 'Mr. Southampton'.
Lowe, however, did much to improve his image in the eyes of Saints' fans and the media. He guided the club from their old stadium into the St Mary's Stadium and the club continued to follow a long-standing policy of selling players to clubs for high prices. Dean Richards, who was sold to Tottenham Hotspur for £8 million, and Kevin Davies, who was sold to Blackburn Rovers for £7 million, are good examples. Davies was subsequently bought back by Southampton for a much smaller fee. James Beattie joined the club for £1 million from Blackburn Rovers, enjoyed great form at Southampton, and later joined Everton for £6 million.
His timing of managerial decisions were somewhat alarming and inconsistent, however, as there were eight managers during his tenure, a very high turnover rate. Dave Jones was forced out when faced with a criminal investigation, even though Jones was later exonerated of all charges. Jones' replacement, Glenn Hoddle, left to join Tottenham Hotspur in 2001. Lowe then appointed a talented coach, Stuart Gray, but Gray was swiftly replaced by Gordon Strachan after a disastrous start to the 2001-02 season.
In 2003, Saints went on to reach the FA Cup Final and qualified for the UEFA Cup for the first time in nearly 20 years. In the following season they were lying fourth in the league at Christmas, but it soon emerged that Gordon Strachan was refusing to extend his contract citing "personal reasons". Lowe and the board took the decision to replace him with Paul Sturrock before the end of the season. Sturrock himself left the club by "mutual consent" within six months of being appointed.
Lowe seemingly made the same mistake as he did with Stuart Gray by employing a good coach (Steve Wigley), who seemed to lack the steely will needed for a manager of any business. Like the appointment of Gray three years earlier, Lowe appeared to be taking a huge gamble by employing another untested coach, and allegedly exploited his own influence by indulging himself more and more in team affairs, including the much documented "Delgado Affair". The appointment of Wigley also broke Premiership rules requiring all managers to have the relevant coaching qualifications. With the team's form deteriorating, Lowe sacked Wigley in November of the same year.
Wigley was replaced, to much furore, by former Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp. The appointment of an experienced manager in Redknapp led to expectations that results would improve, but they were actually worse in the second half of the season than in the first, and the club was relegated to the Championship.
With relegation, a 50% wage cut was imposed on most players and staff, after a mediocre start to the new season, Redknapp resigned as manager citing personal reasons and a wish for a break from football, but he quickly re-joined Southampton's rivals Portsmouth. George Burley was appointed as manager in December 2005, while former England rugby union coach Sir Clive Woodward, who had been brought into the club only a year beforehand, was promoted to the senior position of Director of Football. Although supporters approved of bringing in new techniques that had worked in other sports, this move was once again seen by many fans as gambling the club's status with another experiment. The club were unable to mount a push for promotion back to the Premiership.
On 30 June 2006, Lowe resigned under huge pressure from club supporters, including the newly formed Saints Trust, following the club's failure to win promotion back to the Premiership. Michael Wilde, a new investor in Southampton Leisure Holdings PLC, led a new team of directors in taking over the club.
In July 2008, Lowe returned as Southampton Leisure Holdings plc Chairman. At an AGM on 23 December 2008, Lowe received several calls to resign from former Chairman Leon Crouch and from fans and shareholders at the meeting. Also, 30 silver coins were thrown in the direction of Lowe by fan Richard Chorley (who was thrown out of the meeting). After his return, protests took place against his role at the club.
On 2 April 2009, Southampton Leisure Holdings PLC was put into administration, resulting in Lowe's resignation from the board.
- "Mark Fry and David Hudson of Begbies Traynor appointed as joint administrators to Southampton Leisure Holdings plc". Southampton F.C. 2 April 2009. Retrieved 2 April 2009.
- "Rupert the Rare". BBC. 23 August 2004. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
- Gree, Wendy (17 December 2012). "Rupert Lowe makes football return". Daily Echo. Retrieved 29 April 2013.
- "Rupert Lowe". The Board. WH Ireland. Retrieved 25 October 2013.