The row among Marks & Spencer shareholders has gathered momentum ahead of Wednesday’s AGM, with former chief executive Sir Richard Greenbury lambasting shareholders for their “vindictive” attitude towards executive chairman Sir Stuart Rose.

Greenbury said that shareholders are holding a “vendetta” against Rose – whose dual role as chairman and chief executive of the retailer has ruffled feathers – and said that he is unable to identify anyone “big enough” to replace Rose when he steps down.

M&S shareholders are adding their weight to calls for a special resolution to be passed at the meeting demanding that the retailer finds an independent chairman to replace Sir Stuart Rose a year early, by July 2010.

The UK Shareholders’ Association, which represents M&S’s 200,000 private shareholders, has said that it “might well support” the resolution, which will be put to shareholders at the AGM.

The M&S board wants shareholders to reject the resolution. Company secretary Paul Oakley said: “They urge this without consideration as to whether this would prompt his departure from the board entirely, also forcing early appointment of a new chief executive.”

The resolution calling for M&S to find a new chairman was submitted by Bradford Council on behalf of other local authority pension funds, backed by lobby group Pirc.

According to The Sunday Times, M&S might insist that the resolution is merely an “advisory” vote that does not need to be acted upon.

However, the retailer might be granted some reprieve after reporting better than expected trading figures last week.

Sir David Michels was made M&S deputy chairman last year to appease shareholders opposed to Rose’s plans to take on both roles. Michels has said he wishes to become chairman but has had no backing from Rose.

Meanwhile, The Financial Mail on Sunday reported that Rose is expected at the AGM to approve internal candidates seeking to replace him. Finance chief Ian Dyson, head of food John Dixon and clothing chief Kate Bostock are the preferred candidates to take over as chief executive next year, according to the newspaper.