United shareholders put pressure on Gill

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As Manchester United yesterday condemned the anti-takeover protests that disrupted Thursday's reserve game, the club's chief executive, David Gill, received a letter from shareholders reminding him of recent public statements in which he rejected the notion of a buy-out by a "sugar daddy."

Thursday's protest at Altrincham's Moss Lane ground, involving 30 campaigners from a group called the Manchester Education Committee, was aimed at Malcolm Glazer, the owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who has been working on a bid for United.

"Encroaching on the field of play is against the law," a United spokesman said. "The club does not condone what happened. It would be unacceptable at a first-team game and it is unacceptable for the reserves."

The letter to Gill was from the influential Shareholders United group, whose membership is comprised of small stakeholders and stands at 10,000 and rising.

"If and when a full offer does come in... then SU expects the Board to hold to your public statements in the last 12 months or so," it read.

Gill was reminded that at United's AGM last November, he said: "United doesn't have and doesn't want a sugar daddy. We want to become a long-term sustainable business that is not reliant on one single person. We believe we have a model for a successful business and it is the appropriate thing for us."

Glazer would almost certainly have to rely on large-scale borrowing to fund a takeover. The SU letter also reminded Gill that he told an SU meeting less than two months ago: "We could borrow money but it would not be good business for a football club. Borrowing large sums of money is the road to ruin".

The MEC and other groups are planning more "direct action" protests in England and America. United's Arsenal game on 24 October is one high-profile target, as is a Tampa game on the same day. A plan for two fans to invade the pitch in America - one dressed as a red devil chasing one as a leprechaun (Glazer is nicknamed "Leprechaun") - is being explored.

Major clients of the Brunswick Group PR firm, which is acting for Glazer, may also be targeted, with the aim of pressuring Brunswick to drop Glazer. One major supermarket chain, mistakenly linked to Brunswick by some activists yesterday, sought to distance itself for fear of a boycott.