Ankle injury knocks pounds 12m off share price

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The worlds of football and City money collided dramatically yesterday when news of an injury to striker Alan Shearer's ankle ligaments wiped pounds 12m off Newcastle United's share price.

Shares dropped 8.5p to 115p in early trading after investors feared the team would have to recruit a multi-million-pound replacement for Shearer, injured in a friendly against Chelsea on Saturday, and for fellow forward Les Ferdinand, who has moved to Tottenham Hotspur. The double blow for Newcastle fans - many of whom are new shareholders - came as it was revealed that the former Tory minister David Mellor will head a football taskforce aiming to take the sport "back to the people", and including an examination of the conflict between the wishes of fans and the demands of shareholders.

Many clubs are now considering flotation on the Stock Exchange following the example of Newcastle, Manchester United, Spurs and others.

Although the return of Mr Mellor to public life under a Labour administration raised a few eyebrows in Westminster, his credentials as a voice of the ordinary football fan have been earned through his phone-in programme on BBC Radio 5 and his reputation as a Chelsea supporter, which he shares with sports minister Tony Banks.

The taskforce - a Labour manifesto commitment - will also examine how fans are being alienated by rising admission fees and higher costs in football-related merchandise, how to remove racism and improve access for the disabled.

Welcoming Mr Mellor's appointment - to be confirmed later this week - Tony Kershaw, of the National Federation of Football Supporters Clubs, said fans were increasingly worried about the commercial strictures put on clubs by flotation. "It can come down to the basic question of will the club buy a new player or will they pay a dividend to shareholders? In the past football has not been seen as big business. Now there are financial strings attached."

Meanwhile, shareholders are increasingly concerned that apparently cash- rich clubs rarely seem to make large profits.

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