MANCHESTER: Manchester United fans have launched a Not for Sale campaign in an attempt to ward off a takeover of the English champions.
We are saying to all predators out there that the customers don't want you in charge, no matter who you are, Oliver Houston of Shareholders United told a news conference on Friday.
Irish tycoons John Magnier and J. P. McManus have raised their United stake to 28.9 per cent and American businessman Malcolm Glazer has a 16.3 per cent shareholding. City analysts say it is likely Glazer will consider a formal bid.
There are 70,000 supporters at Old Trafford and 53 million around the world telling you to get lost. That's what we will be doing if you try and get your mitts (hands) on our club, Houston said.
Shareholders United and the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association (IMUSA) have joined forces with a number of other supporters' groups to promote the 'Not for Sale' campaign.
It will be formally launched at yesterday's Premier League game against Leeds United.
Fans fear a new owner would not have the team's best interests at heart and would try to increase profitability via higher ticket and memorabilia prices.
The coalition is urging supporters to buy shares or pledge ones they already hold to Shareholders United, and not to sell up in the face of a takeover bid.
Investment shareholders are just that, said Jules Spencer of IMUSA. They will seek a return on their investment and try to make a substantial profit.
That money will come out of the pockets of supporters, as simple as that.
The coalition said there are about 37,000 individual shareholders in United, who own approximately 17 per cent of the club's shares.
The campaign wants to get all those shares under the Shareholders United umbrella to help resist a takeover.
Hopefully that will deter anyone from making a bid in the first place, said Houston. And if they can't get all of the shares, they might not want any of them.
Strong opposition by United fans played a part in the government decision to turn down a bid by satellite television company BSkyB for the club in April 1999.
The campaign follows a supporters' protest against Magnier and McManus at a recent race meeting at Hereford and a planned protest at the Cheltenham Festival next month.
Football is not a commodity to be bought and sold like baked beans, said local member of parliament Tony Lloyd, a season-ticket holder at Old Trafford.
Football belongs to the fans. They are not just customers, but the moral base clubs are built around. This is about people's dreams, and you don't sell people's dreams. Reuters