Newcastle United to keep listing

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Newcastle United denied yesterday that Douglas Hall, its vice-chairman, and Freddie Shepherd, an executive director, had held board level talks about launching a bid to return the club to private ownership.

Mr Hall's family owns a 47 per cent stake, while Mr Shepherd owns 8 per cent. Newcastle shares have lost 75 per cent of their value since Sir John Hall floated the club in 1997.

John Fender, the Newcastle chairman, said: "The issue of the company going private has not been discussed. We have no knowledge of that whatsoever."

The massive decline in football company shares has revived speculation that some clubs may be taken private. Many clubs, including Leicester City, which is also rumoured to be considering a return to private ownership, are valued at a fraction of net asset value.

The denial came as Newcastle reported that year to July pre-tax losses narrowed to £8.9m from £18.9m a year earlier. Sales rose 22 per cent to £54.9m, while player salaries, the club's biggest cost, fell 5 per cent to £24.7m.

The revenue growth came from increased capacity at St James's Park. The savings on player costs came from cutting the squad to 35 players from 50.

Newcastle shares gained a penny to 31.5p yesterday.