Football Bid: Butcher who cleaved fortune from football

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The Independent Online
MARTIN EDWARDS, chairman and chief executive of Manchester United, was born with a silver meat cleaver in his mouth and went on to inherit the crown jewels of football.

The family's ownership of large chunks of United goes back nearly four decades. Martin's father, Louis, a flamboyant, millionaire butcher, became a director in 1958, the day after the Munich air crash wiped out half of the "Busby Babes" team.

Thanks to the deal with Rupert Murdoch, Martin Edwards, 52, is one of the most unpopular men in Britain. But he has long been vilified by the club's supporters, who claim he has no great love of the game and occupies a different planet from most fans.

Such criticism is rejected by Mr Edwards, who went to his first Old Trafford match when he was seven and still has the programme to prove it.

He also dismisses the idea that he was handed the team on a plate, saying he was already a major shareholder when Louis died in 1980, bequeathing him the stake that gave him overall control.

But it is difficult for Mr Edwards to dispute that he received a leg up. Having gone into the family meat trade straight from public school, he was given a seat on the United board by his father at the age of 24 - an attempt by Louis to seduce him away from a career in rugby, he says.

Certainly, the club has been a nice little earner for Mr Edwards, to put it mildly. Rupert Murdoch's offer values his 14 per cent holding at pounds 87m: not bad, considering that his total investment over the years - including buying the initial stake and taking up a rights issue - has been pounds 600,000.

Edwards senior, a diehard United supporter whose ostentatious lifestyle earned him the nickname Champagne Louis, acquired his controlling share for about pounds 30,000 in the Sixties. Louis died soon after a Granada TV documentary alleged that he gained control in a series of unorthodox share deals involving large cash payments and irregular documentation.

Martin, who was never the subject of any allegations, worked for the family firm for 16 years. He likes to tell that he began right at the bottom, hacking meat on the butcher's block and selling pasties and pies from a van.

At the United helm, he was pilloried for two previous attempts to sell the club. He presided over the flotation in 1991 and has accumulated about pounds 30 million since then by selling off shares.

Edwards lives with his wife, Sue, in Wilmslow, Cheshire, which is millionaire territory, and is famously publicity shy. Lurid tabloid stories linking him with a series of young women have tried his patience in recent years.

But the current crop of front and back-page stories probably take the biscuit.