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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 9 September, 1998, 08:12 GMT 09:12 UK
Who's afraid of Rupert Murdoch?
Rupert Murdoch: Not welcome by most Man Utd fans
Everyone has an opinion on Rupert Murdoch and when the UK's national sport is thrown in to the mix a storm bigger than Hurricane Bonnie is guaranteed.

Predictably the fans made the most noise about the magnate's 623.4m bid for Manchester United, with the usual cast of media savvy pundits acting as cheerleaders.

Former United manager Tommy Docherty predicted a BSkyB-run club would become a "giant Old Trafford fruit machine".

Andy Walsh, the chairman of the Manchester United Independent Supporters Association, managed to be even more pessimistic.

"Rupert Murdoch will rape and pillage Manchester United," he warned.

Among the hundreds of e-mails BBC News Online received on the subject, few backed the takeover.

Ryan Giggs: Top player
Jason Evens, a UK fan, expressed the feelings of many: "Surely a club cannot be allowed to take such a momentous decision with such drastic consequences when there is so clearly and overwhelming body of protest amongst the fans."

But if United supporters are concerned about having to pay more to see their side at work, other Premiership teams could face a squad composed of the best players a magnate can buy.

The FA also welcomed the Trade and Industry secretary's decision to refer the matter to the Office of Fair Trading.

In his first major test since taking the job, Peter Mandelson promised the bid would be examined "completely and extremely searchingly" by the director general of Fair Trading.

Mr Mandelson added: "The director general will examine the competition aspects and will then report to me and I will take whatever action I need to take."

While fans are scared by the prospect of a TV company that owns the live broadcast rights to the Premiership snapping up the biggest club in the game, the government is worried it will come under fire for its relationship with the 'Dirty Digger'.

Allegations of favouritism towards Mr Murdoch have been levelled at the prime minister and his cabinet ever since The Sun decided to back Tony Blair in the run up to last May's general election.

Unsurprisingly, both The Sun and its big brother The Times came out strongly in favour of Mr Murdoch's plans for Manchester United.

Equally predictable, the remainder of the press were extremely hostile - and quick to point out BSkyB's recent sponsorship of Mr Mandelson's other key interest, the Millennium Dome.

Elisabeth Murdoch: Friend of Peter Mandelson?
The Guardian went furthest, alleging a close friendship between the Trade and Industry secretary and Mr Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth Murdoch, who is the general manager of BSkyB.

The newspaper asked: "Can Mr Mandelson, given his friendship with Elisabeth and the government's relationship with the Murdoch empire, put aside his personal feelings and reach an impartial decision on whether or not the club takeover should go ahead?"

But as news of the deal spreads, the attacks are likely to keep coming.

The chairman of the government's Football Task Force, David Mellor, is among those who describe any such deal as "a cardinal act of folly".

Choosing an unlikely target in a man who can come closer than most to describing the world as his oyster, Mr Mellor also slammed Mr Murdoch for his poor geography.

"Is this proud club with all its traditions just to be a pawn in a global media power-play by Rupert Murdoch, who hardly knows where Manchester is?"

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.


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