Private Investor: The only team in investment's premier league

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The Independent Online

I'm afraid I knew it was always just a matter of time before Malcolm Glazer, or someone like him, got their hands on Manchester United. So it has come to pass - as predictable in its way as Chelsea's rise to the top of the Premiership.

I'm afraid I knew it was always just a matter of time before Malcolm Glazer, or someone like him, got their hands on Manchester United. So it has come to pass - as predictable in its way as Chelsea's rise to the top of the Premiership.

I will make a nice little profit out of my shares in the club, although I was happy to stick with it if that is how events turned out. I bought at about 225p on the average and will see 300p back over a couple of years. No bonanza, but better than most equities, I guess.

Manchester United, should it go private now, will be sorely missed by some of us. It was the only football business that anyone in their right mind would ever invest in for reasons other than pure sentiment. I know this because I did, for reasons of sentiment, put money into something called Leicester City plc, whose performance culminated in it going bust. I think of it every time I pass the Walkers Stadium. Now, if they were selling shares in Leicester Tigers, that might be a different matter...

But, as I say, I didn't expect to make on Leicester, although losing the lot was a disappointment. I still haven't got round to framing the old Leicester City FC share certificate.

Man U's assets were reflected at nowhere near their true value or potential in the share price, and that is Glazer's opportunity. Apparently, the owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gridiron franchise is thought to be keen to exploit the strength of the Manchester United brand in America.

The fans don't like Glazer's plans, as is obvious, but perhaps they should give him a chance to explain them. What's so bad about turning Manchester United into the first "soccer" brand to crack the States? What is the potential for world football if that great big hole in its appeal called the USA could be filled?

Well, it would mean another radical transformation in the game, but given what the Russians have done to Chelsea you wonder whether, in that sense, there is much worth saving about footie. In other words, the top flight of football has been a big business for a long time and is getting bigger and bigger, and the fans ought to be glad that Rupert Murdoch hasn't captured it. Better still, more of them should have bought shares in it while they could.

The shareholders' group website (www.shareholdersunited.org) was down when I tried to log on, but they seem to have been a well-organised if under-resourced group. There's enough of them to make things slightly awkward for Glazer. There ought to have been enough of them to block him. As things stand, they will be lucky not to find themselves compulsorily bought out by Glazer.

Funnily enough, it's been a triple whammy week for takeovers in my portfolio. Manchester United followed Lastminute.com, which is being bought by Travelocity. I think I bought in at about 40p, just as a speculative punt, when they were near the nadir of their fortunes. That seems to have come good, with the share price at around 165p the last time I looked.

The other takeover is a much smaller and less glamourous affair than Manchester United or Lastminute.com. You don't get much less glam than running buses on the Isle of Wight. Yes, we're talking about Southern Vectis, which I bought because I like public transport companies, and I like ones that are too small to survive on their own.

Just like Man U, and maybe Lastminute, it was inevitable that Southern Vectis would get swallowed up, and that too has now happened. I bought in a few years ago at just under 40p and they're running at a bit over 50p after the firm confirmed that it was in bid talks. Again, not spectacular, but another example of the consolidation in the transport sector that is unlocking so much shareholder value.

I try not to travel much on public transport these days. It's expensive, for a start. Ten years ago, I could go to St Pancras in London on a Friday evening and buy myself a return to Leicester, coming back on Monday morning, and it would set me back about £30. Then they changed the rules and put the fares up so that the same journey would now cost me £76. Thanks, but no thanks Midland Mainline, owned and operated by National Express.

So, with all the money I save on rail fares by travelling in a car, I can buy more and more shares in National Express which, like Stagecoach, First Group and Southern Vectis, have all delivered very satisfactory returns. Pity they don't offer shareholder discounts on their fares. I might be tempted to take the train.

s.o'grady@independent.co.uk



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