Hollick plans consortium to bid for Spurs

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UNITED NEWS & Media, Lord Hollick's media empire, is putting together a consortium to mount a takeover bid for Tottenham Hotspur, the north London football club controlled by Alan Sugar.

United has joined forces with English National Investment Company, the financial firm which has a 25 per cent stake in Glasgow Rangers, to mount a bid. Time Warner, the US media giant, has also been asked to take part.

United, which owns the Express newspaper, also controls the Anglia, HTV and Meridian ITV franchises and has a 50 per cent shareholding in Channel 5.

It has a stake in SDN, the company which has been awarded a licence to operate channels on digital terrestrial television. The plans being hatched by United News include using spare capacity on SDN's network to run a subscription football channel.

Mr Sugar, the Tottenham chairman who owns 40 per cent of the club, is also known to be keen to sell. He has been disappointed by the club's poor performance on the pitch and stung by hostile protests from Tottenham's fans.

However, Mr Sugar is likely to hold out for a full price. He has turned down a bid worth pounds 80m, arguing that the club is worth more given the current flurry of interest in football clubs. At yesterday's closing share price of 72p, it is valued at just pounds 72m.

United's move comes at the end of the week in which British Sky Broadcasting offered pounds 623.4m for Manchester United and Carlton Communications revealed it was in talks with Arsenal.

This has sparked a frenzy of speculation about possible links between television groups and football clubs. However, Aston Villa yesterday denied reports that it was in takeover talks, while Liverpool's chairman and major shareholder David Moores ruled out a takeover of his club.

Meanwhile the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Peter Mandelson, pledged that he would vet the bid for Manchester United by Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB with "utter scrupulousness, objectivity and impartiality". There had been question marks over whether Mr Mandelson was the right minister to rule on the bid because of his friendship with Mr Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth, head of Sky networks at BSkyB, and because the company is a financial contributor to the Millennium Dome.

But Mr Mandelson said he had received advice from Michael Scholar, the DTI's permanent secretary, that there was no conflict of interest. "I am a hard-nosed character and not easily pushed about," he added.

BSkyB yesterday announced that it had taken a 9 per cent stake in Manchester United by buying the club's shares on the Stock Exchange. The move was seen as an attempt by BSkyB to discourage other bidders who might be attempted to enter the fray while also protecting the company's interest in the club, in case its bid is referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

BSkyB's Man United stake, Business, page 18