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New Fulham owner Shahid Khan promises fans same engagement shown to Jaguars

Pakistan-born US tycoon promises to bring the same personal style to Craven Cottage that has won over fans at the Jacksonville Jaguars

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 July, 2013, 1:54pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 July, 2013, 3:32am

New Fulham chief Shahid Khan, the Premier League's latest foreign owner, is likely to break the mould and be one of the most open and public of billionaires to take control of one of England's top-flight clubs.

Other international owners such as Russian Roman Abramovich (Chelsea) and American Malcolm Glazer (Manchester United) rarely talk to the media or fans but Khan, who bought the club on Friday for a sum believed to be in the region of £220 million (HK$2.6 billion), has shown that he enjoys attention.

When Khan bought the National Football League's Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011, he brought his yacht into port in the northern Florida city and set about a series of community meetings with local politicians and fans.

"He is kind of a rock star with the fans," said Alfie Crow, editor of the Jaguars' fan blog Big Cat Country. "He comes out to practice, interacts with the fans and talks to them. He is very much out there and engaged. He has really energised people."

Any trepidation Jaguars fans initially had about the team's new owner quickly dissipated as he won them over with his charm, not to mention a thick handlebar mustache and flowing hair that is a marked change from the staid image of the traditional NFL owner.

Khan, after all, is far from a typical owner of an American sports franchise. Born in Lahore, Pakistan, where he not surprisingly fell in love with cricket, Khan moved to the US as a 16-year-old, sleeping in a YMCA and washing dishes on his way to earning an engineering degree at the University of Illinois.

He ended up buying the first company to give him a job, transforming Flex-N-Gate into a lucrative car-parts business. In 2010 he was making his first move into the sports world with an attempt to buy the NFL's St Louis Rams.

The man who foiled that attempt was Stan Kroenke, who took majority ownership of the Rams. At Fulham, Khan will be in close proximity to Kroenke, the majority shareholder in London club Arsenal.

While Khan missed out on the Rams he did win friends in the NFL's elite ownership group, which helped him when he got into the league with the Jaguars.

"I thought, I have developed a love and affection as a fan for the sport and I'd like to be part of it," he said last year.

As well as engaging the local fan base, Khan emphasised the opportunities to "put Jacksonville on the map" by taking the Jaguars to London for an annual game over the next four seasons.

It was typical of Khan's approach though that he responded to speculation that his move for Fulham might have a negative impact on the Jaguars by e-mailing the team's season-ticket holders to reassure them.

"Fulham FC will operate as a fully standalone business from the Jaguars. Fulham and the Jaguars each have a great responsibility to their players, fans, partners and communities, and both deserve nothing less than a 100 per cent commitment from ownership," he wrote. "Our pledge to you - a Jaguars franchise that is proud, bold and committed - remains unchanged."

Fulham season-ticket holders can expect the same sort of hands-on attention, including fan forums, e-mails, media appearances, the kind of things that most foreign Premier League owners shy away from.

"I do not view myself so much as the owner of Fulham, but a custodian of the club on behalf of its fans," said Khan. "My priority is to ensure the club and Craven Cottage each have a viable and sustainable Premier League future that present and future fans can be proud of."

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