There's only one Man United

Ian Burrell on a club's battle with counterfeiters
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Manchester United, the English football champions, are embarking on a new international campaign - to stop the worldwide counterfeiting of their football strips, track suits, T-shirts and other team merchandise.

The famous Red Devil trademark is fast becoming as marketable to international counterfeiters as the logos of clothes designers such as Ralph Lauren, Adidas and Lacoste. Now the club is launching a series of court cases to stop illegal use of its logo, in conjunction with Umbro, the company that manufactures the official club strips.

In the coming weeks, police and trade inspectors will be bringing prosecutions in Thailand, Spain, Italy and Ireland. Details of the football club's commercial overseas campaign will be unveiled by Maurice Watkins, a club director, in an address at Sports Forum 96, a conference on sports law at Chelsea Football Club that opens tomorrow.

Simon Marsh, Umbro's sports marketing manager, who handles the Manchester United account, said large numbers of counterfeit United strips had recently been seized.

He said: "They are copying the home, away and third kit options. In the majority of cases they are producing for their home market place and not for export to Britain.

"The United mark, the club crest, is of significant market value and is known throughout the world - but this activity is actually taking money from the club the fans support."

United's recent run of success has coincided with Sky Television acquiring the rights to coverage of top-level English football. International screening of the games has created a tremendous interest in a club that already had supporters' clubs around the world.

Manchester United is now looking at the possibility of setting up overseas club shops in order to ensure direct sales to its huge number of foreign fans, many of whom are currently buying goods from illegal traders. United shops have already been set up in Belfast and Dublin.

This week Mr Watkins will explain the importance of good marketing to a football club and the need to exploit assets such as club merchandise.

He said: "There are people who will try and steal your asset sales, and you have got to protect your assets both at home and abroad.

"You have always got to be vigilant and active in enforcing your rights. If you sit back, people will think they have got an easy ride."

The Red Devils have 25,000 fans in their Scandinavian supporters club and are selling 10,000 copies of the Norwegian edition of their club magazine each month. United are considering translations into Arabic and Malay.

The club's marketing operation now generates a total of pounds 19m a year, and before every home game 4,000 guests pay to sit down to a meal in the restaurant suites of Old Trafford's new North Stand.

United's on-field chances of success overseas received a setback last week when they were defeated at home by Juventus of Italy in the European Champions Cup.