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Market Report: Football winners amid the turmoil

FOOTBALL SHARES, happily oblivious to the turmoil afflicting the rest of the stock market, were again in form as takeover speculation continued to swirl around them.

Before Rupert Murdoch descended on Manchester United, most of the football clubs which had rushed to tap the market looked as sick as the proverbial parrot.

After early euphoria they were relegated to market also-rans and even after the Murdoch-inspired revival they are still a long way below their giddy peaks.

ManU, the only club to have enjoyed consistent market adulation, is now, in share terms, resigned to its fate and was little changed at 221.5p.

But the rest of the pack, as so often happens on the pitch, was striving to make up lost ground.

Leeds Sporting, the holding company for Leeds United, which has been linked with Granada, scored a 5p gain to 24.75p; the peak is 46.75p.

Newcastle United surged 18.5p to 89p (against a 140p high) and Chelsea Village 10p to 98.5p (170p). Nottingham Forest put on 4.5p to 43p and Tottenham Hotspur, thought to interest ENIC, 6p to 72p.

Aston Villa, which denied reports of takeover talks, rose 20p to 680p and Southampton Leisure, taking in Southampton FC, celebrated results with a 6p gain to 57p.

But after its sharp gain on Carlton Communications' predatory interest, Arsenal, traded on the fringe Ofex market, retreated pounds 300 to pounds 3,700 with 38 shares traded. Carlton was unchanged at 423p.

As if to underline the yawning gap between the top teams and their poor relations in the lower divisions, Preston North End slumped 80p to 310p.

The rest of the market had another unstable session, with Footsie at one time dipping below 5,000 points after a near 150-point fall. It closed off 18 at 5,118.6. An erratic but - during London hours - largely positive New York soothed jangled nerves.

Even so Footsie finished a brisk session below the level it started the year. The supporting indices were again weak.

Railtrack, one of the most criticised of the last Government's flotations, nudged its all-time high, hitting 1,563p with a 68p streamline display.

The shares, once described as a "privatisation too far", are enjoying the influence of Paris investment meetings, the group's property portfolio and the Government's declared policy to reduce car traffic. Railtrack, which also benefits from safe haven status, arrived in May two years ago at around 400p. Other shares favoured for their domestic exposure, such as Asda and National Grid, were among those enjoying a touch of blue.

BTR recovered some of Thursday's fall, leading the Footsie leader board with a 14.5p recovery to 122p. Takeover speculation helped.

A few Footsie casualties staged late rallies with Enterprise Oil up 7p at 339p and Blue Circle Industries 6.5p to 263p. BCI's interim figures are due next week; pounds 130m, down from pounds 142.6m, is on the agenda. Sema, earmarked for Footsie inclusion, fell 65p to 515p as Credit Lyonnais made negative noises.

Allied Domecq (30p at 465p) and Diageo (13p to 550p) suffered on the back of their overseas interests; Allied's latest US reorganisation also failed to impress.

Banks, which for so long led Footsie's seemingly inexorable charge, were hit, with Barclays off 57p to 1,117p. The shares were 1,949p in July. Lloyds TSB and National Westminster also weakened as the market fretted about the possible banking fallout from the current crisis. Schroder's Asian provision did not help sentiment.

Marks & Spencer, off 3p at 471p, suffered from another round of profit downgradings; Kingfisher, expected to report interim figures of pounds 175m (against pounds 150.1m) next week lost 18p to 498p.

British Regional Airlines, floated at 150p in June, dived 56p to just 52.5p as profit estimates were downgraded following interim figures. Servisair, the support group, was another in a spin, down 47p to 117p after a warning about second-half profits.

Another round of takeover activity provided some action. Amber Industrial jumped 45.5p to 128p as Caledonia Investments bid 130p for the 25 per cent of the capital it does not own. An approach to Gardiner, the security group, prompted a 7p gain to 21p and Slough Estates' hostile bid for property group Bilton produced an 81p jump to 293.5p.

Oils firmed as the crude price hardened, with British Petroleum up 12p to 793p. A recovery in the gold price also provided a little cheer, with Lonrho up 15p to 252p and RioTinto 24p at 623p..

SEA Multimedia firmed 1p to 6p. Its Manna Network Technologies offshoot has attracted an investor who is pumping in around pounds 300,000 in exchange for an 18 per cent stake. SEA says Manna's total value is near its capitalisation.

Figures lifted Dean Corporation, the housebuilder and property services group, 1p to 14.5p and Merivale Moore, a property group, 6p to 69.5p.




ASK CENTRAL, the restaurant chain run by the Kaye family, held at 317.5p against a 482.5p peak. Stockbroker Beeson Gregory is looking for year's profits to climb from pounds 2m to pounds 3.7m and pounds 5.4m next year.

Although the shares are still rated more highly than most restaurant chains, Beeson's Ian Berry says Ask is growing faster than competitors. The fall from the peak, he says, provides a buying opportunity.

VERTICAL HOLDINGS, an indoor sports operator, held at 4p on Ofex. It is planning to open a centre in Birmingham followed by one at Dartford for such activities as in-line skating, skateboarding, biking and even wall climbing.

The Birmingham venture will include a retail interest and cafeteria. The company slipped on to the fringe Ofex market in July, when shares were placed at the current 4p price. It is valued at pounds 1.3m.