Supporters join forces to stop bids for United

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The Independent Football

Manchester United fans will ask all small shareholders to sign a pledge not to sell their shares in an attempt to ward off any potential takeover of the club.

Representatives from Shareholders United, the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association, plus fanzines Red Issue, Red News and United We Stand were joined by the Manchester Central MP Tony Lloyd yesterday in a show of unity ahead of today's encounter with Leeds.

During an impassioned press conference, a succession of speakers launched attacks on the major shareholders Malcolm Glazer, and the Cubic Expression pair, John Magnier and JP McManus.

In recent weeks Old Trafford has been awash with takeover talk as both Glazer and Cubic have increased their stakeholding in the club. Between them the two groups own over 40 per cent of United, yet neither have confirmed whether they intend to make an outright bid.

Magnier and McManus gave an indication of their attitude by turning down the chance to buy shares which would have taken them over the 30 per cent threshold for making a formal offer.

Glazer confirmed in a statement to the Stock Exchange earlier this week that he has not yet decided on his next course of action. That was enough to persuade the fans groups to join forces and plead with fellow supporters not to allow 125 years of history to be swallowed up.

"Football is not a commodity to be bought and sold like baked beans," said Lloyd. "The game belongs to the fans. They are the emotional and moral lifeblood every club is built around, not mere customers who can choose to shop elsewhere if they don't like what they see. This is not just an argument for Manchester United. What is happening here could happen anywhere."

It is estimated that 17 per cent of the club's shares are owned by fans which, if grouped together, would prove a hefty disincentive for anyone trying to purchase a majority stake because of company regulations regarding public accountability. All the shareholders will be sent letters asking them to sign a form confirming they will not sell up as the battle against Glazer and Cubic intensifies.

Magnier's private legal battle with Sir Alex Ferguson over Rock of Gibraltar has seen him targeted for verbal abuse from the Old Trafford terraces, and a planned protest at next month's Cheltenham Festival is set to go ahead whether the course give official approval or not. A banner declaring 'Manchester United is Not for Sale' will be unveiled at the Stretford End before today's match.

Supporters have also been quick to dispel the theory that Glazer is emerging as the good guy in the battle, suggesting they will be prepared to take the fight to the American billionaire's doorstep over the next few months.

"The team are on tour in the United States next summer and it's not too difficult to get a flight from New York to Miami," said PJ O'Neill of the famous Red Issue fanzine.