HIBS supporters yesterday launched a search for a ''white knight'' to

fight off a takeover by city rivals Hearts, but there was an early

setback when chairman Mr David Duff conceded he had a duty to

shareholders to consider the offer.

As angry fans set up their ''Hands Off Hibs'' campaign, and Hearts

chairman Mr Wallace Mercer spoke of threats and intimidation to his

family, Mr Duff, shortly before an emergency board meeting at a secret

venue, said news of the Hearts bid had come out of the blue on Sunday


However he emphasised: ''I am a chairman of a public company. I have

certain duties and obligations and my first obligations are towards my

shareholders. We have a duty to consider it as an offer.''

In a brief radio interview, he also conceded that at this stage he did

not know of another bidder or offer, highlighting the difficulties the

supporters campaign will have in attracting a ''white knight'' to their


Nevertheless it appeared that principal shareholder Mr David Rowland

would not carry the board with him in pledging support to Mr Mercer.

As well as a report of a consortium of Borders businessmen anxious to

acquire a stake to block the takeover, Kwik-Fit millionaire Mr Tom

Farmer and Mr Kevin Doyle of the Coronation Inns group were among the

names mentioned. However Mr Doyle said he was not interested in becoming

involved and Mr Farmer was not available.

Despite the speculation surrounding the buy-out deal, there was no

movement in Hibs shares. They remained at 31.6p with dealers reporting

no activity.

Earlier yesterday Hibs and Hearts fans were urged to march shoulder to

shoulder in Edinburgh on Saturday to block the bid to ''bury'' the

Easter Road club.

Leaders of the ''Hands Off Hibs'' committee, a pressure group formed

at the request of the club's supporters to fight the takeover and which

is led by former Hibs vice-chairman Mr Kenny McLean, are hoping for a

huge turn-out of both sets of supporters at the rally.

The organisers are being given access to the stadium and anticipate a

lock-out. ''You are looking from a safety point of view at around

25,000,'' said Mr McLean. ''The issue is so important that we really

have to have this rally without any tribalism of any sort.''

Mr McLean, whose colleagues on the nine-man committee include

Edinburgh East MP Gavin Strang, former Lothian region convener Mr James

Cook and Mr Jim Martin, general secretary of the Educational Institute

of Scotland, claimed yesterday that the bid by Mr Mercer was a ludicrous


He told a news conference that he believed there were numerous Hearts

supporters who were equally ''aghast'' at the merger proposal and would

be prepared to lend their support to the campaign of opposition.

He said the committee was looking at a number of avenues which

included talks with members of the Edinburgh business community.

''I think the matter hinges on Mr Duff, our own fraternity and,

hopefully, the support of the institutions,'' said Mr McLean who

appealed to the supporters to hold on to their shareholdings.

''I hope that some 'white knight' certainly comes on the scene and

puts in a counter-bid but it has to be said that you are looking at

somewhere between a #12m and #14m offer.''

Mr McLean said he had discussed the situation with the Hibs chairman.

''I was totally assured that Mr Duff's shares would not be sold. After a

lengthy and searching meeting with him I have agreed to stand by him on

that premise.''

The committee distanced itself from the incidents against Mr Mercer

and his family. ''We in no way encourage any vandalism or hooliganism,''

he stated.

''It would seem that Mr Mercer's bid is primarily to bury Hibs,'' he

went on. ''That is an aggressive statement but that is the way I see it

at the moment.''

Clarification of the Scottish Football League rules governing take

over bids by directors or nominees of other clubs was also being sought

last night.

The league's rule on dual interests in clubs states: ''Except with the

prior written consent of the management committee no club or nominee of

a club may at one time either directly or indirectly hold or acquire or

deal in the securities of another club.''

Mr Jack Steedman, league president, said: ''We have no plans to get

involved.'' He added: ''It seems there has been no breaking of any


Last night Mr Mercer said they had not broken any league rules as they

had not purchased any securities or shares. ''We have an option to buy

30% of the shares. When we get to 70% of options to buy an offer

document will be drawn up and we will seek the permission in writing of

the league. I informed League President Jack Steedman of what was

happening as a matter of courtesy.''

Meanwhile Mr Mercer, at a news conference, spoke of his shock and

suprise at the treatment he had received in the media and its knock-on

effect of threats and intimidation.

He referred to police with alsatian dogs guarding his home, broken

windows in the early hours of the morning at his office building,

graffiti attacking him, and other threats against him and his family,

adding: ''I say to myself where are we at? Is this Scotland, is this


''I mentioned tribalism yesterday. I have experienced it in the past

24 hours. It's so puerile and so short sighted, and in the end it's

really quite sickening. I'm staggered.''

Saying he didn't want his friends and family dragged into the gutter

over this issue, he gave notice that as of today he would be in Genoa

supporting Scotland's World Cup campaign.

He made it clear that he resented the fact that he was the only one

answering questions. ''There are other people who are accountable and

should be making statements,'' he said.

He said the Hibs fans had been led astray, misguided and mistreated,

under the present

management, and called this treatment disgraceful.

Although he refused to speculate on what he would do if his bid fell

short of his target of 75% of the shares, he gave warning: ''We are in

for the trip. I would ask you, what happens to the share price if we

pull out? But if we lose we will lose with a straight back and dignity,

with no innuendo and no plotting behind closed doors.''

Asked whether his merger plan might not inflame the very tribal

passions he was pledged to eradicate, possibly leading to conflict among

the two groups of supporters on the home terracings of Tynecastle next

season, he conceded this danger but said: ''Is that therefore a reason

why we should all fail to play our roles in creating a new dawn for

Edinburgh football?''

Meanwhile a group of Labour MPs last night tabled a Commons motion

criticising the proposed takeover.Ian PaulBack Page