Manchester United have risked straining relations with discontented fans still further by taking the extraordinary step of suing one supporter over action he took to oppose the Glazer family’s ownership of the Old Trafford club.
Lawyers acting on behalf of the Premier League leaders have filed a writ at the High Court accusing Thomas McKenna of damaging United’s business by posting the names and addresses of 400 of its corporate clients on the internet.
United’s case states that Mr McKenna, of Greater Manchester, published the list in a campaign to stop companies renewing their membership in an attempt to put pressure on the unpopular Glazers, who took over at Old Trafford in 2005, to sell their stakes in the club.
Despite a high-profile inquiry by United, revealed by Telegraph Sport last year, the club admitted in the High Court writ that they had not identified who supplied Mr McKenna with his information.
However they are pursuing 44-year-old Mr McKenna for “losses and damages” they claim the club suffered as a result of its client information appearing on the website wewantglazerout.com, the public face of anti-Glazer group United Supporters for Change.
The writ also details that Mr McKenna was arrested by Greater Manchester Police in August last year in connection with the incident. Data relating to Manchester United’s client list was allegedly found in his possession. Telegraph Sport understands the police are not pursuing their enquiries.
However, it is not certain what United can achieve through their court action as it can be difficult to value the type of information that was leaked and therefore calculate what damage was caused. There is no value set on how much the club expects to recover if its claim is successful.
Johnno Spence, a sports marketing expert at JSC Sports, said: “It is hard to see how you can put a value on information a researcher could pick up by spending a Saturday afternoon at Old Trafford. If this information was worth hundreds of pounds I would be surprised. There is no great secret about who buys corporate boxes.”
Despite this, United are asking the courts to order an “enquiry as to the damages (including additional statutory damages) for infringement of its database”, as well as requesting that Mr McKenna deliver up or destroy all the related information he has in his possession. The club are also asking for an injunction preventing him from repeating his actions.
In April last year, the website wewantglazerout.com published the list of 400 United corporate clients. The move came as a separate body, a group of bankers collectively known as the Red Knights, was trying to put together a bid to buy the club.
A press release published on the website together with the list claimed: “With the assistance of senior employees of MUFC who oppose the Glazer family’s asset stripping of our club, we are today publishing an edited list of the more than 400 companies which have hospitality facilities at the club.”
United denied the information could have come from a senior executive, but admitted they had not identified the source of the leak.
Though United are currently leading the Premier League and seem set to clinch a record 19th title, the Glazers continue to endure fervent opposition from a significant portion of supporters and the suggestion that the club are suing one fan for publishing information on the internet is unlikely to bolster the owners’ popularity.
Red Football Joint Venture, the holding company through which the Glazer family own United, announced earlier this week that it had made a £108.9m loss for the year ended June 30, 2010.
That figure included an £83m loan from the club itself - revealed in October last year – as well as more than £30m in interest fees for a PIK loan, paid off last year.
That such losses should be possible despite season-ticket prices increasing some 42pc since the family bought the club continues to raise doubts over United’s long-term viability. Fans are concerned the club may yet need to sell more playing assets to balance the books after both Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tévez left Old Trafford in 2009.
David Gill, the club’s chief executive – who opposed the Glazer takeover, suggesting that the vast debts the family’s bid would incur were “the road to ruin” – has denied that selling players, including Wayne Rooney, would ever be necessary.
Mr McKenna declined to comment. A spokesman for Manchester United said: “We take data security very seriously therefore we saw this as something important to pursue. We believe this was an attack on private property and significant personal distress.”
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