Murdoch blocked: Fans hail decision as a great victory for the game

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The Independent Online
THE BLOCKING of the deal with Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB was hailed by fans last night as a "victory for football".

Andy Walsh, chairman of the Independent Manchester United Supporters' Association (Imusa), said: "Back at the beginning of September when the takeover was made public, nobody gave us a snowball's chance in hell of blocking the bid. But, through a passionate belief in the need for United to remain independent, we have succeeded... our feeling is one of absolute euphoria."

Independent shareholders were equally jubilant. Paul Richards, of the anti-Murdoch group, said: "Manchester United's future is pretty well assured as an independent company and an incredibly successful company... I think this has drawn a line in the sand. All those media conglomerates who've been planning to take over clubs will have to go back to the drawing board."

Ray Eckersley, a member of Imusa and a shareholder, called for Martin Edwards, the club's chief executive, to resign. "For the way he has treated the fans purely for his own commercial interests, he has to go," he said.

Steve Briscoe, a fan, said: "It's not a soap brand - you can't go and watch another team, like Liverpool. It's football, and Manchester United is what matters."

The club issued a statement which read: "Although disappointed by this decision, the board is confident that Manchester United will maintain its record of success."

John Redwood, the Tory trade and industry spokesman, said the decision left unresolved questions. "The Government still owes the media industry and the sporting world an explanation about what it wants to happen next. We need to know how clubs can profit from their valuable media rights as they are an important source of money to develop the game.

"We need to know if this means that the Government is to allow clubs to negotiate individually with TV companies, and the media needs to know what kind of promotional links it can develop in the sporting world. This one-off decision is half-baked - it leaves everyone unsure of how sport and the media can develop together."

David Chidgey, the Liberal Democrat trade and industry spokesman, said: "This is a long-overdue signal from the MMC that News International's predatory ambitions must be curbed."

Vic Wakeling, managing director of Sky Sports, said on Sky News: "It is a blow, I believe, to football, because football clubs in this country are facing increasing competition from clubs in Europe, who are allowed partnerships of this type... Our clubs are now at a disadvantage in terms of European competition and securing the best players for the English game."

Mark Booth, BSkyB's chief executive, said he felt the ruling set "an unfortunate precedent for other British clubs and companies".

Jeff Farmer, head of sports production for ITV, said: "This helps to make sure there is a level playing field. I am sure the next time the Premiership rights are sold in 2001, they will be sold on a broader platform."

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