David Gill, the chief executive of Manchester United, told shareholders yesterday that "we don't have and don't want a sugar daddy" at the annual general meeting of the company that owns the football club.
Oliver Houston of the supporters' action group Shareholders United, whose main aim is to maintain the independence of Manchester United through ownership of shares in the club by fans, said that he was "delighted" at the club's forthright attitude.
Manchester United has been the subject of persistent takeover speculation in recent months as a number of businessmen have built up significant stakes in the company. The Irish horse racing tycoons JP McManus and John Magnier hold the largest single stake, 23 per cent, through their investment vehicle, Cubic Expression, and although they have made private assurances they do not intend to launch a bid for the club, Mr Houston said that they have yet to say so publicly.
More worrying for the club is the 9.7 per cent stake amassed by Malcolm Glazer, the owner of reigning Super Bowl champions, the Tampa Bay Bucaneers. A spokesman for Manchester United said the club had yet to meet the secretive Mr Glazer, who has made no public comments on his intentions, but added that "they have touched base with him" in the past couple of weeks and were trying to meet him, "hopefully by the end of the year".
About 17 per cent of the club's shares are held by small individual shareholders. At present, only 2 per cent are held through Shareholders United although Mr Houston estimates that SU members hold a further 5 per cent, which he would like pledged to supporting the club management's intention to remain independent. A 10 per cent shareholding is the minimum required to block any compulsory purchase of shares.
Mr Houston said he was pleased with the continuing improvement in the relationship between the club and SU after the chairman, Sir Roy Gardiner, said he was happy to sit down with SU to discuss small shareholders' concerns.
Shares in the company closed up 2.25p at 236.25, valuing it at around £617m.