Want to Lose a Lot of Money, Fast? Buy a Small Soccer Team in England.

Geoff Thompson knows there are plenty of people who want to buy what he has to sell. The phone calls and emails over the last few weeks have left no doubt. And really, that is no surprise. Few industries are quite as appealing or as prestigious as English soccer, and Mr. Thompson has a piece of it.

It is, admittedly, a comparatively small piece: South Shields F.C., the team he has owned for almost a decade, operates in English soccer’s sixth tier, several levels below, and a number of worlds away, from the dazzling light and international allure of the Premier League. But while his team might be small, Mr. Thompson is of the view that it is, at least, as perfectly formed as any minor-league English soccer club could hope to be.

South Shields has earned four promotions to higher leagues in his nine years as chairman. The team owns its stadium. Mr. Thompson has spent considerable sums of money modernizing the bathrooms, the club shop and the private boxes. There is a thriving youth academy and an active charitable foundation. “We have done most of the hard yards,” Mr. Thompson said.

After a cancer scare last year led him to reassess his priorities, Mr. Thompson has, reluctantly, decided that he has to “hand the baton” to someone else.

That is where things becomes complicated. There are plenty of very wealthy people who want to buy their way into English soccer. It is, as Mr. Thompson said, “fun.” Owning a team offers the chance to “be a hero” to a place. It is a pitch sufficiently compelling that, in a matter of weeks, at least four suitors — two British, two American — have inquired about taking South Shields off his hands.

That is the upside. The downside is that — as the Premier League has become a playground for private equity firms and sovereign wealth funds, and as the “Welcome to Wrexham” success has focused Hollywood’s searchlight on the romance of the game’s backwaters — England’s minor leagues have become a place where even the very rich can feel poor.

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