Football: United boycott urged

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MANCHESTER UNITED'S supporters have been urged to boycott club merchandise and to stage a sit-in after tonight's Champions' League match against Barcelona at Old Trafford in an attempt to halt the prospective pounds 623m take-over by BSkyB.

In addition, a meeting of nearly 1,000 supporters in the city's Bridgewater Hall were told there are plans for a mass walk-out during the game against Liverpool next Thursday. All 33,000 individual shareholders in the club will be contacted and urged to reject any BSkyB offers and fans have been encouraged to write to their MPs.

Pension funds and financial companies, who own 60 per cent of the plc, will also be contacted and asked not to accept the offer, which is worth 240p a share. "We must not assume the financial institutions will accept the deal," Michael Crick of Shareholders United Against Murdoch said. "United is worth more and they shouldn't be selling."

Supporters were handed leaflets expounding the opposition to BSkyB's approach. "This club has been built on the loyalty of its supporters and the efforts of Matt Busby, Alex Ferguson and great players past and present," it read. "But since the launch of the plc we have seen our club taken further away from its loyal support. The latest fiasco is a step too far.

"Decisions affecting the future of Manchester United will be taken on the other side of the world. Our club will no longer be independent. We will be manipulated to further the business interests of the Murdoch empire."

Crick said: "The one person missing here is the man with the Kansas accent, who is the chief executive of BSkyB, Mark Booth. The man who did not know the name of United's left back. He probably thinks Law, Best and Charlton is a firm of Manhattan accountants, that the Busby Babes are Chicago's answer to the Spice Girls and that King Eric is a brand of Icelandic condoms."

Fans were told of support coming from Liverpool, Everton and Leeds, in addition to most other clubs in the Premiership. Messages of support by the former United players, Sammy McIlroy and Brian McClair, were also read out. "Like all true Manchester United fans," McIlroy, the last of the Busby Babes, wrote, "I'm extremely concerned at the effect the take- over will have... let us bond together and ensure the club remains the property of genuine fans of Manchester United."

McClair, manager of Motherwell, wrote: "It will be a sad day for football if the take-over goes through. It's encouraging that fans are still prepared to fight."

Barca's challenge, page 22