Disgraced Newcastle duo return

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The Independent Online
NEWCASTLE UNITED'S little remaining credibility in the City of London was wiped away yesterday when Freddie Shepherd and Douglas Hall, the football club's disgraced shareholders, returned to the board after a nine-month absence, prompting a walk-out by three other directors.

Denis Cassidy, Newcastle's chairman, and two non-executive directors resigned after the board voted by a majority of four to three to reappoint the duo. BT Alex Brown, the City firm that acts as Newcastle's stockbroker, also stepped down.

The boardroom exodus casts doubt over Newcastle's status as a publicly listed company. The club has been in an almost permanent crisis since it floated on the stock market two years ago. During that time, nearly all the original board members have left the company.

"Minority shareholders must be punch drunk by now," said Nick Batram, a football analyst at City stockbrokers Greig Middleton. "It comes as no surprise. There have been more transfers on the board than on the playing squad."

The club has struggled on the pitch, finishing in the bottom half of the Premier League last season and losing the FA Cup Final. At the start of the current season it removed Kenny Dalglish as manager, replacing him with Ruud Gullit.

Since its flotation at a share price of 135p, Newcastle shares have steadily lost ground, although they have recently been lifted by hopes that the club might be taken over by a media group. Yesterday, the shares slipped 3p to close at 94p.

The latest row follows moves by Mr Shepherd and Mr Hall to re-elect themselves to the board of Newcastle United Plc, the holding company for the football club. The two men were forced to resign in disgrace in March, after they were exposed in the News of the World mocking the club's fans and insulting the players.

Mr Cassidy, who took over as chairman in July, acknowledged his opposition to their return to the board of the company. Instead, he agreed to reappoint them to the board of the football club, which is a subsidiary of the holding company.

Last month, however, Mr Shepherd and Mr Hall announced plans to seek re-election at the company's annual general meeting. As the two men between them control 65 per cent of the club's share capital, they could vote through any motion without opposition.