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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 October, 2004, 12:45 GMT 13:45 UK
Man Utd fans draw up defence plan
Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium
Shareholders United wants Old Trafford fans to join its ranks
Manchester United fans are organising shareholders and supporters to fend off any bid for the world's biggest soccer club by US billionaire Malcolm Glazer.

Mr Glazer is believed to be the so-far unnamed investor behind a preliminary approach made to United's plc board.

Influential group Shareholders United, which collectively owns 1.4% of MUFC, wants to raise the fans' stake to 10%.

And it is contacting the 17% of small shareholders in United, asking them for help in rebuffing any takeover.

It is looking good in the long-term - we just have Mr Glazer to deal with now in the short term
Nick Towle, Shareholders United

On Tuesday, Manchester United's share price eased 0.55% to 269.5 pence, after having jumped by more than 5.0% on Monday.

Shareholders United has 10,000 members. It said a further 400 fans joined their organisation after news of the unnamed potential bidder's approach to United on Monday.

'Debt-free club'

"We have got various plans going forward at the moment," Nick Towle, chairman of the group, told BBC News Online.

"Fans are aware of the dangers and pitfalls of the club falling into the hands of Mr Glazer or some other individual.

"Mr Glazer would have to take out a number of loans to achieve any takeover, which would turn United from a debt-free club into a debt-laden model."

The company is seeking clarification of this proposal
Man United plc spokesman

The group, set up in 1999 to see off BSkyB's approach for Manchester United, is planning to write to 37,000 small United shareholders, asking them to join Shareholders United.

"If they do not want to join us, we would ask that they 'pledge' their shares to our cause, not in a legal sense, but to agree not to sell their shares to Mr Glazer."

Mr Glazer already holds a 19.17% stake in Manchester United, but has remained silent over the past couple of days.

Mr Towle said Mr Glazer may be gambling on a break-up of current television rights in a few years' time - with clubs winning more control - and the formation of a European Super League.

GLAZER FACTFILE
Malcolm Glazer
1928: Born in Rochester, NY
1943: Inherits father's watch business
1950-90 Makes fortune via series of ambitious investments
1995: Buys Tampa Bay Buccaneers for $190m
2003: Buccaneers win Super Bowl and are valued at $671m
2003: Fails in bid to buy LA Dodgers. Ups stake in Man Utd
2004:Gradually ups Man Utd stake to 19.7%

"That could double the value of the club, and Mr Glazer is looking very clearly at the bottom line. However he does not care about football or this club," said Mr Towle.

Shareholders United initially hopes to increase its stake to above 10% in the club, and as a matter of priority before any formal bid for Manchester United is made.

If any bidder was successful in obtaining the majority of shares, but was unable to acquire a 90% holding, they would then still be required to conduct their affairs in public.

However, if they could secure above 90% of shares a compulsory purchase order would come into effect requiring the remainder of shareholders to sell up, and allowing the majority holder complete control.

But, if Shareholders United was successful in rallying 10% of shareholders behind it, then they would hope to press on and obtain 25% support, which would prevent the company being removed from the stock market by any majority shareholder.

'Cubic stake crucial'

Shareholders United realises the Cubic Expression partnership of John Magnier and JP McManus, which owns 29% of MUFC, could hold the key to the future.

So far the pair have not made any comment about the approach to the club.

"The Cubic stake is crucial in this affair, " said Mr Towle.

"We have no knowledge of what their intentions are, and clearly (this is) something we will be thinking carefully about over the next couple of days."

Shareholders United is also planning to set up a dedicated trust, where shares can be held on behalf of the fans generally.

Fans will be able to donate cash towards buying up shares on the market for the trust.

The move would ensure that the fans' trust would have a sizeable stakehold in Manchester United in case of any further takeover bids.

"It is looking good in the long-term," said Mr Towle. "We just have Mr Glazer to deal with now in the short term."




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
How Malcolm Glazer could buy Manchester United



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