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 Manchester Central MP Tony Lloyd today in an impressive show of unity ahead of tomorrow’s encounter with Leeds.
During an impassioned press conference, a succession of speakers launched a series of attacks on major shareholders Malcolm Glazer and Cubic Expression duo 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% of United yet have so far failed to confirm whether they intend to make an outright bid.
Magnier and McManus gave an indication of their apparent attitude by turning down the chance to buy shares which would have taken them over the 30% threshold for making a formal offer.
Glazer though 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% 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 will be sent letters asking them to sign a form confirming they will not sell their shares 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 in recent times.
A planned protest at next month’s Cheltenham Festival is set to go ahead whether the course give official approval or not, while a banner declaring ’Manchester United is Not for Sale’ will be unveiled at the Stretford End ahead of tomorrow’s Premiership encounter with Leeds.
However, fans have been quick to dispel the theory that Glazer is emerging as the good guy in the battle and suggested 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 popular Red Issue fanzine.
“United fans do not see their club as purely a business venture and we are prepared to take action to voice our disapproval as we saw at Hereford races the other day.”
“Anyone suggesting that is not a representative of the fans,” added Oliver Houston, spokesman for Shareholders United.
“He is buying shares purely to exploit Manchester United fans and we are determined to fight him.
“We have had Robert Maxwell, Michael Knighton and Rupert Murdoch trying to buy our club down the years, now we have this.
“Manchester United has been a community asset for 125 years. We can’t allow that to be put at risk.”