One more phrase I wanted to add to the title [but thought it would make it too long and unwieldy] was ‘some perspective’. The Times reports that Manchester United’s bonds are among the worst performing in a ‘benign’ market.
But more distressing was David Gill’s comments, earlier this week, calling United fans’ protests ‘ridiculous’.
Here’s a sample:
“I would appeal to the fans to be sensible and get behind the team,” he said. “We are a very well-run club and given what’s happening at other clubs, people should be proud of what’s happening at Manchester United. It [a protest] serves no purpose and it won’t change a thing. [Milan] will be a tough game and we can’t afford for the fans not to be there. Let’s not have ridiculous protests of that nature.”
Now for a person who gets paid over a million pounds a year it’s only expected that he would toe the party line. However, to show utter disdain, treating a decision taken by the supporters (with much deliberation) like it never really mattered, shows a complete lack of understanding of ground realities. What makes this shocking is he was opposed to the takeover in 2005.
Gill hasn’t been alone in this. Ferguson expressed similar sentiments a week back.
This, however, brings up a wider concern for United fans (and football fans in general): how does one really succeed in overthrowing a regime bent upon sucking the life blood out of the club, first and foremost, and then worry about on-field success almost as an afterthought? The official line trotted out will obviously point to a period of sustained success since the Glazer takeover. But supporters were opposed to the takeover when it happened back then and now — success or not. Where other fans embraced foreign ownership from day one (refer: Liverpool), United fans — the vast majority — have vehemently opposed the takeover. Once the hostile takeover happened, it gave most of us little choice but to give them the benefit of the doubt — the alternative being to sit grumbling along as United swept all that was before us on the pitch. And for a while the murmurs died down to a whimper.
Success can do that.
Things have changed now, and I wouldn’t want to go into how this happened, because that part has been done to death over the course of this season. The protests — the green and gold campaign — have grown out organically and caught every United fan’s fancy: this is, by the way, a wonderful thing that must be celebrated. The protest planned ahead of the Milan game is obviously a stand against the Glazers, not the team. Even a half-wit, who chances upon back pages of broadsheets in England, would get that much. How hard is it for someone supposedly astute as David Gill to grasp this?
But setting aside David Gill’s comments, where do these protests leave us now? Nowhere really. We as fans can voice our displeasure, scream at the top of our voices, unfurl LUHG banners, at the risk of getting frisked away by stewards, but the status quo will remain for a while at least. Fans under single ownership like the Glazer regime have little leverage until they decide to vote with their feet. But that would go against the grain of being a supporter. The principle is to support the team regardless of the goings on in the board room. Everyone giving up season tickets [hypothetically assuming it would create the first series of semi-populated Old Trafford matches in the league next season] would be counter-productive to the team we so love.
Voting with our feet is a cliched and idealistic solution simply because football is an addiction. The owners know fully well that fans put up with a lot of shit to support their club. No one in their right minds would put up with so much exploitation in any other sphere of life. It’s what make this a unique situation. Indeed, every fan has a tipping point, when he realizes he’s had enough of this. I know a lot of United fans who have already given up their season tickets after being OT regulars for over 20 years. But would a league title at the end of this season, wash over this new-found enthusiasm among fans to protest against the ownership? We’ll need to wait till May for that.
But what of a supporter-backed buyout of the club? This is once again tricky because, regardless of the money supporters raise to buy out the club, [which, by the way, is a tall ask considering its value] how much more does one have to put into the running of the club? How well can one trust the new representatives [presumably elected by supporters] to efficiently run the club? Ok, don’t answer that: supporters love the club, surely they’ll run it well, no? Well, then refer to Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia — all victims of fiscal mismanagement throughout their history; all supporter-run. I don’t mean to pour cold water over this endeavour, mind. My personal opinion: supporter-run football clubs would work if the club is not in debt after a buyout. And I honestly hope this solution somehow works out for us [magically, I would presume].
Finally we come to the idea of the ‘Red Knights’ mooted lately, which is really a mysterious consortium of ‘United fans’ who want to buy out our club from the Glazers. One of them is the owner of Bet Fred, a betting company, and he is supposedly a United fan.
Now I won’t have a problem with this kind of a takeover if I am convinced they will run United as well a business as (or better than) the Glazers, without sucking the amount of money the Glazers did. But these people are investors at the end of the day. I am not prepared to believe they won’t look for a sizeable return on investment.
In our efforts to drive the Glazers away we should be really careful to whom we handover the ownership. Which is why a proper understanding of the plans of future investors need to be calmly heard out. New owners — who are not the Glazers — don’t automatically translate into brilliant owners; refer Portsmouth. Which is why I would ask all supporter associations [if you are all reading this] to investigate the background of any other potential investors to ensure they have the best interests of the club at heart to the extent that:
1. yes, they might have a profit motive, but they won’t saddle the club with unmanageably large debts;
2. they would reinvest a bulk of the profits (if not all) back into the squad.
But despite all this, it’s ridiculously hard to judge intent of ownership. And it’s even more difficult to dislodge an existing ownership.
Supporters of most Premier League clubs these days, sadly, are stuck between a ditch and a dirty puddle where owners continue to spray muck on their faces [in the form of annually increased ticket prices] without a semblance of accountability. And despite media and public sentiment more sympathetic to these paying supporters, there’s very little one can ultimately do in the face of privately owned establishments other than hope they get sold to someone more understanding. Small mercies…
Some good reads: