Fans fight to the last

Battle of Old Trafford: Shareholders United claim a sweeping increase in membership and share pledges as resistance to Glazer goes to the barricades
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The Independent Football

Malcolm Glazer was yesterday labelled a "parasite" as the campaign to block the American billionaire from taking complete control of Manchester United gathered pace and support. Nick Towle, the chairman of Shareholders United, who reported a one-day growth in membership of a thousand people on Friday to add to their existing 28,000, said: "We regard Glazer as a parasite attached to the body of Manchester United. One of the ways to get rid of a parasite is to starve it of food, and Glazer's food is money. Fans provide 80 per cent of the club's revenues, so we will use customer power. If you have no customers there will be no profit - and no Glazer."

Malcolm Glazer was yesterday labelled a "parasite" as the campaign to block the American billionaire from taking complete control of Manchester United gathered pace and support. Nick Towle, the chairman of Shareholders United, who reported a one-day growth in membership of a thousand people on Friday to add to their existing 28,000, said: "We regard Glazer as a parasite attached to the body of Manchester United. One of the ways to get rid of a parasite is to starve it of food, and Glazer's food is money. Fans provide 80 per cent of the club's revenues, so we will use customer power. If you have no customers there will be no profit - and no Glazer."

Towle, a corporate lawyer of 20 years' experience, Old Trafford season-ticket holder and lifelong fan of United, vowed: "We are going to carry the fight to Glazer until such time as we win it." Shareholders United acknowledge that by tomorrow the owner of the American football team Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have acquired the 75 per cent of shares needed to take de facto control of United, which means that he can begin to prepare to delist the club from the London Stock Exchange and call a general meeting to pass legislation to turn it from a registered to a private company. The £265m of debt Glazer is planning to transfer into Manchester United as part of his £790 million takeover can only be switched once the club are a private company.

"Although our 25 per cent barricade is gone, we are looking at other barricades," Towle said. "Glazer's next intention will be to buy 90 per cent of the outstanding 25 per cent of shares in order to control 97.5 per cent and enable him to make compulsory purchases of those remaining shares. We are absolutely confident of gathering the 2.5 per cent we need, about 6.5 million shares. We are all committed. We already have around 2 per cent, possibly more, and are gathering pledges from other shareholders all the time.

"There is also the possibility of 50 shareholders going to court to stop him taking the company private. We have to talk to our legal team about this but we are confident we can build a very good financial case. An emotional one, too, because of the circumstances surrounding the case, based on the fact that he wants to dispossess us of all our stockholding in the club."

Shareholders United, a professionally run organisation with a volunteer-staffed office in Manchester, are not short of funds, since membership is due for renewal next month and guaranteed to provide a further £250,000 from members, who pay £10 a year and receive one share in the club on joining. SU will be backing the fans' call to boycott the products of sponsors such as Vodafone, Nike, Budweiser and Audi. "We want to send a signal they are going to suffer along with the club if they support Glazer," Towle said. "It will be a rolling and growing campaign.

"In the first year, when Glazer hikes the ticket prices and renames Old Trafford the Coca-Cola Theatre of Dreams, a lot of fans will get disillusioned with him and stop going to the ground," he predicted. "Glazer doesn't understand the heritage or tradition of the club. He should not be there and we are going to make sure he isn't there, by using the fans and customer power."

It has emerged that several United players, including Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Ruud van Nistelrooy, were advised by police to stay away from a charity event at Old Trafford last Thursday evening because of a demonstration by hundreds of fans, who bombarded arriving guests with beer cans, accusing them of "putting money into Glazer's pocket". There are certain to be more demonstrations at United's final Premiership match of the season this afternoon in Southampton, where extra police will be on duty. The plans range from anti-Glazer chants to a mass walkout.

Towle and his organisation, while fully in support, hope that nothing on a massive, disruptive scale will take place at Saturday's FA Cup final against Arsenal in Cardiff. "It is a game we are concerned to win," he said.

United's assistant manager, Carlos Queiroz, claims the team will not be distracted, even by a major demonstration today or on Saturday. "Nothing can affect our concentration," he insisted. "We have one thing on our minds, to prepare as best we can to play the Cup final." Queiroz also described reports that Sir Alex Ferguson might walk away from the manager's job this summer as "rubbish".

Towle had one final rebuttal for those who have pointed out the benefits brought by foreign ownership to some Premiership clubs. "Roman Abramovich came into Chelsea when they were four days from insolvency, so the fans must love him after that. Mohamed al Fayed did the same for Fulham. But United is profitable, debt-free. And Glazer isn't putting money in, he is taking it out. He is a profiteer, an asset stripper. There is nothing he cares about except money. But love always wins out over money."

The Glazer family may resort to challenging the Premier League in the courts over their collective TV bargaining deal. They feel United can maximise revenue by negotiating their own contracts.

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