The extent of Malcolm Glazer's contact with Manchester United's major shareholders, John Magnier and JP McManus, stretches no further than one answer-phone message to which he has yet had no reply, fans' groups have been told.
Glazer, the American businessman who owns 19 per cent of United and is plotting a takeover bid, will rely on co-operation from Magnier and McManus, who own almost 29 per cent. Yet anti-Glazer activists cast doubt yesterday on claims that Glazer is close to a deal.
"While we don't doubt that Glazer wants to buy their stake, or that he is trying to find the money to buy United, we've been assured that there has been no discussion on price," said one fans' representative. "It's far from a done deal, and any talk of specific price is likely to be nothing more than fabrication on behalf of people 'spinning' for Glazer."
Weekend reports suggested that the Irishmen might listen to bids of between 310p and 320p per share. A source close to them seemed to vindicate what some fans have been told, dismissing this as "pure speculation". Another source said: "Saying we're in talks about talks might be closer to the mark."
With speculation sure to intensify, fans' groups are plotting their next moves. The most militant "direct action" groups, such as the so-called Manchester Education Committee, will "step up" action against companies linked to Glazer, such as the London-based PR firm, Brunswick.
One circular being distributed on the internet provides the company's fax number, and adds: "Under no circumstances must anyone fax endless sheets of black paper. Toner is very expensive and fax machines tend to go on the blink." It also includes an address and urges: "If you must post dodgy packages, don't send them to . . ."
In a separate development, the Shareholders United group distanced itself from reports that it was in talks about a bid with Keith Harris, chairman of the stockbrokers Seymour Pierce. "Fans will remember Harris as the man who tried, as a broker, to flog United to Rupert Murdoch," Oliver Houston, of Shareholders United, said. "If anyone wants to talk to us about a bid where fans are truly at the centre, they know where we are."
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