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Chairman's pay to be slashed at Newcastle Utd

Sir John Hall, chairman of Newcastle United, and his two fellow directors will see their pay slashed when the Premier League club floats on the stock market around Easter.

The club's annual statement of accounts sent to shareholders this week showed that Sir John, his son, Douglas, and Freddy Shepherd, another big shareholder, collectively earned pounds 2.45m last year - almost pounds 1m more than star striker and world-record signing Alan Shearer is said to be on.

But it emerged yesterday that Sir John, who is standing down from the board of the holding company at flotation, will not draw a salary after receiving pounds 836,302 last year.

The two other board members will receive pay packets worth between pounds 40,000- pounds 50,000 for performing their duties as non-executive directors in the quoted company. Last year Douglas Hall and Mr Shepherd were paid more than pounds 745,000 each.

The size of the directors' wage bill - and the state of the debt-laden balance sheet - has raised eyebrows among investors as they ponder Newcastle's proposed pounds 180m flotation.

One leading football analyst noted that even the reduced salaries of the two non-executives were large compared to those paid at Aston Villa, which this week announced plans for a pounds 120m-pounds 140m stock market listing.

"It's nice money if you can get it," he said. "But if you look at Villa's accounts, three non-executives earn between pounds 5,000-pounds 10,000. That's more like the going rate."

The huge boardroom salaries paid to the Newcastle board last year were defended by NatWest, brokers and financial advisers to the issue. "The management team did not draw a salary for four and a half years," explained Paul Deakin of NatWest Markets corporate finance arm. "It was always the intention to pay them that amount but it should have been put in a contractual agreement and spread over the period."

Sir John, who will remain chairman of the football club after flotation, has never had a service contract with Newcastle since he took control of the club in 1992. Family companies owned by Sir John and Mr Shepherd own about 90 per cent of the club. Their stake is likely to be reduced to around 70 per cent after flotation as neither Sir John nor Mr Shepherd is selling any shares. They are also set to receive dividends that could make up for the salary cut.

Newcastle hopes to clear debts of pounds 30m by raising up to pounds 50m from the float. In the year to 31 July the club made an operating profit of pounds 5.9m on sales of pounds 28.9m but reported a loss after transfer fees of pounds 23.2m.