Football club stocks slide as takeover fever subsides

SHARES IN Britain's larger quoted football clubs fell sharply yesterday after the Government blocked British Sky Broadcasting's pounds 623m takeover of Manchester United and referred cable operator NTL's bid for Newcastle United to the new Competition Commission.

Analysts said the two decisions appeared to rule out any further bids by media groups for UK clubs, removing the takeover speculation that has buoyed the sector since Sky's bid was unveiled in September.

As well as Manchester United, which fell 32.5p to 186p, and Newcastle United, which was down 9.5p to 76p, Aston Villa - which may have expected a bid from Carlton if the Manchester United bid had gone through - also saw its shares fall by 47.5p to 515p. Tottenham Hotspur, whose chairman Alan Sugar has rebuffed several approaches from Enic, the Joe Lewis-backed leisure group, fell 3p to 76p, while Leeds Sporting fell 2p to 20p. Shares in smaller clubs, seen as less likely to be taken over by media interests, were less badly hit. Nottingham Forest, struggling to avoid relegation, rose 1p to 25p, while Loftus Road, owner of Fulham, was static at 9p.

Tony Fraher, who manages the Singer & Friedlander's football fund, one of few City vehicles for football club investors, said the City clearly thought yesterday's decisions had put paid to hopes of a bid frenzy in the football sector.

However, he said in the longer run, by blocking Sky the Government may have inadvertently opened the way to a higher bid by a continental European club, which it might find harder to oppose. France's Canal Plus owns Paris Saint-Germain, while Mediaset, Silvio Berlusconi's television empire, owns FC Milan.

"If Mediaset were to bid for United, there would be nothing to stop Sky bidding for Mediaset. The EU has not shown any inclination to stop media companies taking over football clubs. I don't regard this as bad news. Murdoch was getting United without any competition. I have no doubt there will be another bid," said Mr Fraher.

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