Leffler's words spur Man U fans to action

Protest against Glazer to land at Baltimore party

Soccer

December 13, 2004|By Ed Waldman | Ed Waldman,SUN STAFF

More than 190 years after they attempted an attack on Baltimore, the British - at least some of them - are planning a figurative one.

Spurred by a comment made by advertising executive Bob Leffler in Tuesday's editions of The Sun, some supporters of Manchester United are planning to protest Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer's attempt to buy controlling interest in the most famous soccer team in the world at Leffler's annual Christmas party this week at City Lights seafood restaurant.

Because of their 12-year relationship, Glazer last month called on Leffler to help run interference for his bid, which has been decidedly unpopular among Manchester United's fans in England - and around the world.

"The only reason they hate [Glazer] - if they hate him - is xenophobia and fear of the unknown. It's not logic," Leffler said in the article. "Our job is to change that. To show that this is a true sportsman who will run your franchise like it should be run and win you championships."

The comment received wide play across the United Kingdom, and reaction was swift - and negative.

Opposition to Glazer's bid has nothing to do with his nationality, fans said, and everything to do with the financials of the deal making it ruinous for the team.

"It wasn't a nice thing to seen written up," said Paul Dempsey, a freelance journalist from Manchester who has lived in Falls Church, Va., for about two years.

"He has gone into something where emotions were already running high. I'm very surprised, given his very long association with Glazer, aware of how high those emotions were running. I think he has - and probably realizes this now himself - misread the situation very, very badly indeed."

The Daily Telegraph of London, in a story published yesterday, said Manchester United fans have used Internet sites to encourage supporters to sabotage Leffler's annual Christmas party, which typically draws more than 700 of the agency's friends and clients.

Since The Sun's story was published, Leffler's offices in Tampa, Fla., have been the target of mischief, with unordered pizzas being delivered and large e-mail files being sent that slowed the firm's computers.

The Brunswick Group, Leffler's predecessor as Glazer's PR firm for the bid, saw similar tactics used against its offices.

Leffler declined to comment.

Alexandria, Va., native J.D. Deitch is the U.S. representative of Shareholders United, a worldwide group with the long-term goal of accumulating enough shares of Manchester United to make it fan-owned. He said his group does not condone illegal actions against Leffler.

"Other than that, we can't tell them not to be passionate," he said. "You're talking about millions of people here who are fans of Manchester United. Bob Leffler is on the wrong side of the issue. If he wasn't expecting this, then he clearly doesn't read the newspaper."

When asked whether he planned to be outside Leffler's party, Deitch was coy.

"I don't know what my plans are yet," he said. "But it would not surprise me if the passion of some of the supporters led them to try to make a more visible statement."

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