Column One: Eye on the ball

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The Independent Online
DAVID ABELL has attracted much press coverage over the years but the attention paid to his share-dealings has so far obscured his devotion to Manchester United. The Suter chairman yesterday claimed to have followed United for 46 years.

This recently provided a second source of dispute with Stephen Hinchliffe, the equally colourful Sheffield businessman who is a director of Sheffield United. Mr Abell has recently built an 8.9 per cent stake in James Wilkes, the engineering company that Mr Hinchliffe headed until he was unseated during a notoriously scrappy takeover bid last year.

Mr Hinchliffe has also been adding to his stake in Wilkes, provoking curiosity about where this is all leading. Mr Abell was unable to help yesterday. He said he had only had one chat with Mr Hinchliffe and this took place on the Monday after Sheffield United put Man U out of the FA Cup. All the football talk left little time for business.

BACK IN THE days when Lord Lawson was in charge, fiscal neutrality and level playing fields were the Treasury's guiding principles. No longer, it seems. During a post-Budget briefing last week, Stephen Dorrell, the financial secretary, said: 'If you create a level playing field, everyone will go to the end of the field where the goalmouth is widest.'

Mr Dorrell was educated at Uppingham, which apparently boasts one of the largest playing fields in the country. None the less, even at Uppingham, one would expect goals, of whatever sort, to be the same size.

NOT CONTENT with advertising its victory over BA, Virgin Atlantic has decided to take on the promotional efforts of another transatlantic rival.

In New York yesterday, Virgin issued a statement suggesting that ads for Continental Airlines' new BusinessFirst service were misleading, and asked that the carrier discontinue the campaign. The ads stress wider seats, personal video players and other first class amenities that Virigin says it has been offering for the past nine years. It says the campaign fails to include Virgin in any of the comparisons it makes.

Virgin also took out full-page ads of its own in US newspapers yesterday challenging the Continental claims. 'Now wait just one minute,' its ads say. 'You want to know the real difference?'

MUCH GRUMBLING afoot at Credit Suisse First Boston, we hear. Hans-Joerg Rudloff, CSFB's chairman, is the man who led the firm into the wilderness of Canary Wharf. Yet on the very day that CSFB's staff moved to their new offices two weeks ago, Mr Rudloff was promoted to the board of Credit Suisse - enabling him to swap Docklands for Zurich.

A (MELODIC) CRY for help from Pimlico Opera, which is looking for some space to rehearse a forthcoming production of La Traviata. The company once performed West Side Story in Wandsworth Prison, though history doesn't relate whether Peter Clowes was among the audience. Anyone with an empty office in London and a taste for consumptive sopranos should call 081 977 4869.