Football: United to face fans' wrath over Sky deal

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The Independent Online
MANCHESTER UNITED are bracing themselves for an outpouring of frustration tonight by supporters opposed to BSkyB's pounds 625m takeover of the club. They meet Charlton Athletic at Old Trafford amid growing local antipathy towards the deal which was agreed last night.

A small demonstration took place on Monday evening but tonight will be the first time that United fans meet en masse. There will be more than 55,000 at Old Trafford and the vast majority are against the world's biggest sport takeover. The targets will be the club's chief executive, Martin Edwards, whose board accepted BSkyB's increased offer of 240p a share, and Rupert Murdoch, the major shareholder in the satellite television company.

Gillian Howarth, of the Independent Manchester United Supporters' Association, said: "With that sum of money I suppose it was inevitable they would accept, but it proves that they don't listen to the backbone of the club - to the match-going supporters who don't want the deal.

"They don't take our views into account, but that doesn't surprise me either. Money talks.

"It's very disappointing for us. I don't understand why they have to sell at all. There has been a slippery slide into commercialism for a while but at some stage the fans will stand up and say enough is enough."

IMUSA, who will distribute thousands of leaflets this evening, met last night to formalise how to express their opposition, but already there have been calls from other fans to boycott Murdoch's newspapers and to return subscriptions for his satellite television broadcasts.

"I'll not take up my season ticket next year if he takes over," one supporter outside Old Trafford said yesterday.

Meanwhile, the manager, Alex Ferguson, who knew nothing about the takeover until Sunday but is expected to endorse it today, has been preparing to meet Charlton with the attention of the football world centering off the field rather than on it.

Yesterday he insisted that no matter how vehement the demonstration is before the kick-off, supporters will refocus once the whistle goes. "I don't think the fans will take it out on the team," he said. "They recognise it's nothing to do with the players. It's Manchester United they'll be watching and that's the important thing.

"There has been great loyalty shown by the players over the years and that has been shown by the fact they've signed long contracts. They love the club, as I do myself, and I think the supporters recognise that."

Ferguson agreed the atmosphere had changed this week, but that it had not affected his staff. "It's a Plc thing and we're cut off from all that," he said. "The players have got on with training and I've got a million things to do during the day. It's been business as usual.

"You read about it in the paper and obviously you hope that anything that happens is good for the club and for the supporters. Really that is all I know."

Ferguson will be without Nicky Butt tonight as the midfielder recovers from dental surgery. Jesper Blomqvist, the pounds 4.5m signing from Parma during the summer, is fit again and will be on the bench.

Billionaire leads football

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