Manchester United are investigating how a full list of the club's hospitality facility users has been published on the internet as part of a campaign of resistance to the Glazer family's ownership of the club.
The fact that the protest group United Supporters for Change (USC) has managed to get hold of the list of more than 400 corporate clients reveals that there are staff within Old Trafford prepared to assist in the campaign against the owners. The club would not comment last night on the publication of the list though there will be anxiety at Old Trafford that the availability of the list of names – ranging from Vodafone, Jewson and Brother to small local firms – could place some of them at risk of direct action and reduce the inclination of others to take up lucrative new packages which contribute substantially to United's match day revenues. USC insists it is a "non violent direct action group", but lead sponsor AIG's offices in the US have been the subject of protests in the past.
The protest might offer some encouragement to the Red Knights, who have said they expect to table a bid for United by the end of the season. But a Forbes study of the 20 most valuable clubs in the world published today reveals United to be top – with a value of $1.8bn (£1.16bn), despite a two per cent fall in the value of the club last year. The rating, which places United ahead of Real Madrid and Arsenal, provides an indication of why the Glazers are so reluctant to sell and why some estimates of the Knights needing £800m to buy out the Americans may be well short of the mark.
USC said they had "the assistance of senior employees of MUFC who oppose the Glazer family's asset stripping of our club" in securing access to their published list. The aim is to encourage many of the companies not to renew hospitality next season. and the club's income could be cut if protesters make inroads into it.
"USC strongly encourages the companies on this list to withhold any decision on renewing their facilities at Old Trafford," the group said yesterday. "USC believes the companies on this list should recognise their wider responsibility."
Meanwhile, Wes Brown has returned to full training and Rio Ferdinand trained yesterday with United's reserves, which suggests he has recovered from the groin strain. Both should be back in first team action this season – a timely boost for Fabio Capello and England amid a host of defensive injuries.