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Lobby of Parliament 27th October 1998

Tuesday October 27th, seven o'clock in the morning, pissing down with rain and forty dedicated Reds are gathering outside 0'Brien's in Stretford for a five-hour coach journey to the smoke. Heading off to speak to our elected 'leaders', the movers and shakers that could finally give us the time we so desperately crave in the bid to stop Murdoch swallowing MUFC. Since the announcement of the BSkyB bid for United at the beginning of September IMUSA has had the target of a referral to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (MMC). All company mergers over £70 million are referred to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and IMUSA lobbied hard to get as many submissions as possible to the OFT with the hope that this would lead to an MMC referral. Part of Murdoch's game plan was to get the deal over and done with before MPs returned from their summer holidays. So IMUSA first needed to get the OFT decision delayed, with over 350 submissions the OFT had to ask for an extra three weeks - Fat Cats 0 - Fans l.

On the journey down a couple of radio stations phoned up for interviews and reported that Sky had only secured 44% of the shares in pledges. This had included their own and the PLC Board, so only a further 16% of shareholders had bothered to send back their forms. The Manchester Evening News and the Sun were later to run the story that Sky were only '5% away from their goal'. Pardon me for asking, were Sky not after 100% anymore? Were we now supposed to believe that Sky only ever wanted a controlling interest?

Anyway, MPs were now back at work and serious lobbying had seen an Early Day Motion (EDM) backed by around sixty MPs, this wasn't enough, more support was needed and quick, as time was running out, a visit to Parliament was deemed necessary. An advance party was despatched on Monday evening to cover the early morning press calls in London as well as organise all those who were travelling to Parliament direct. These included southern-based Reds and supporters of around twenty other clubs. As it turned out due to the bad weather and heavy traffic we only just made it for our 12:30 photocall. With the pouring rain and over 150 football fans to contend with the Metropolitan Police didn't take too kindly to us blocking up the entrance to the House of Commons so our rallying of the troops outside had to be curtailed. The huge numbers meant that only around two-thirds could get into the meeting room to lobby the MPs, a football match was hastily arranged on the lawn where you normally see all the politicians interviewed outside Parliament. A proper job with coats on the deck and fly-goalie, luckily somebody had the foresight to bring a ball - well we are football fans after all's said and done.

Terry Lewis; life-long Red and North Stand season ticket holder, as well as MP for Worsley and IMUSA's first Member of Parliament was our guide for the day. Terry had sponsored the EDM and booked a room for MPs to come and meet us. It has to be said, 'the cradle of democracy' is a very impressive joint, on top of the impressive architecture our meeting came complete with a view of the Thames and attracted around three dozen MPs. Joe Ashton MP Chairs the Parliamentary Football Group and is one of the first to arrive. He explains that the concerns about BSkyB extend far beyond those gathered, that MPs from all sides of the House had already signed the EDM and along with Terry Lewis he would ensure that yet more would do so in the coming weeks. Attempts to get a Parliamentary debate had hit a stumbling block but that may yet happen.

The MPs then fielded questions from the assembled fans. Representatives from clubs as far apart as Newcastle and Slough Town had made the journey and deadly rivals to match anything between MUFC and Liverpool were set aside as Portsmouth and Southampton fans sat in opposite corners of the room but declared joint opposition to the Sky deal. Most fans declared that the feelings were mixed 'back home' but that many supporters across the country had declared a deep-seated worry about the Sky deal. A Newcastle fan had admitted that he wasn't a lover of MUFC but had gained a great deal of respect for United fans by the way they had stood up to defend their club from Murdoch. A theme echoed by Joe Ashton and the other MPs when they pledged to assist in anyway they could to bring our arguments to Government. After two hours the meeting wound up and we went off to meet our own, local, MPs before grabbing a swift pint or three in the Red Lion.

Little did we know what an impact we had had until one of our number declared that he had quite literally grabbed hold of Peter Mandelson outside Parliament. Mandelson was apparently off for a stroll back to his office when he was first confronted by someone trying to flog him a 'Save Our Game' T-Shirt and then a large northerner put a friendly arm around his shoulders and, complete with Radio Five Live microphone, proceeded to explain why he should refer BSkyB's bid to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Maybe this explains why Mandelson made his announcement four days earlier than expected. He must have heard that IMUSA planned to make a further trip on Monday 2nd November when he was scheduled to make his announcement and couldn't face being bear-hugged by an hairy-arsed milk float mechanic for the second time.

Now the referral has been secured it is down to everybody who cares about the game of football to make their views known to the MMC. For the first time football fans have the opportunity to say how they think the game should be run in this country, miss this opportunity and lose the chance to shape the future. No longer can you say that your views don't count, IMUSA has shown this last two months that by going about things the correct way and with a mountain of determination fans can make a difference. But, it is only half-time, the MMC enquiry gives us the opportunity to have our say but they could still approve the deal. On the other hand let them know what you think, together we could change the face of English football, fans may have a say in the way the game is run in the future. If you don't believe it could be true ask yourself, 'Did you think IMUSA would get this far?' Well IMUSA have. It is now down to each and everyone of us to fight for the future of the game we love. It may only be half time but the Half time score reads Fat Cats 0 - Fans 2.