Offside, 19 May
United’s anti-Glazer drama queens need to take a bow.
Malcolm Glazer’s claim that he is an ‘avid’ Manchester United fan is palpably ludicrous. But that doesn’t mean that Glazer’s takeover signals the death of the football club, as some overexcited fans are suggesting.
‘Manchester United’s heart and soul has been sold today’, declared former manager Tommy Docherty on the day that Glazer acquired a majority shareholding. ‘You were my life, goodbye Manchester United football club, RIP’, proclaimed a melodramatic banner at United’s final game of the season at Southampton – a club that really is in peril following its relegation from the top flight.
Opponents of the Glazerisation of United are urging fellow supporters to dress in black to this Saturday’s FA Cup Final to mark the ‘funeral of Manchester United’. ‘I’ve been a United fan all my life, but I will not be setting foot inside Old Trafford as long as Malcolm Glazer is in charge’, insists Oliver Houston of the fans’ group Shareholders United. Some self-styled ‘real fans’ are even threatening to set up a breakaway club – a kind of Continuity United.
United fans are widely seen as arrogant, prawn sandwich-munching glory hunters, but their vocal opposition to Glazer has won them a considerable degree of sympathy among those authenticity-seeking nostalgists who yearn for a pre-Sky Sports Golden Age. But these anti-Glazer drama queens won’t be getting any sympathy from me. Glazer, who has borrowed heavily to finance the buy-out, is certainly no Roman Abramovich but nor is he planning to give the club an American makeover and name-change, install Mickey Mouse as manager, or relocate to the other side of the Atlantic.
There are, it is true, very good reasons for United fans to be concerned. The chief worry is the high level of debt with which the club will be saddled. Some analysts estimate that United would need to make additional profits of £50-70million a year in order to service that debt. There are widespread fears that Glazer will hike ticket prices in order to maximise income from gate receipts. ‘It’s a working-class city and people are worried they’ll be priced out of supporting the club’, says Andy Mitten editor of the United We Stand fanzine.
Glazer may also seek to curb spending on wages and transfer fees. Shareholders United has reacted angrily to reports that Glazer will provide a £20million a year transfer kitty. ‘£20million a year? That’s less than Wigan will be spending this summer’, sniffed Shareholders United committee member Eric Halsall. But while £20million a year won’t be sufficient to match Chelsea, the current United board were not exactly planning to lavish money on players – it is reported that Fergie will have only £5million to spend on a goalkeeper this summer.
Glazer’s problem is that, as tycoons go, he isn’t in the same metaphorical tycoon league as Abramovich – more yer Coca-Cola Championship tycoon than Premier League oligarch. Unlike Glazer, whose primary interest in United is commercial, Abramovich is a proper patrician benefactor, happy to treat Chelsea as a vanity project, bankrolling success and underwriting its losses. United fans might wish to reflect on the fact that when a proper filthy rich über-tycoon, namely Rupert Murdoch, did try to buy their club, they were instrumental in scuppering the BSkyB takeover.
A large part of the reason that Glazer’s takeover inspires so much animosity is that he is a foreigner – worse still, he’s a Yank, who by definition cannot possibly comprehend English football. When Tommy Docherty complains that Glazer ‘knows nothing about football’ he echoes the sentiments of many fans. It was a charge initially levelled at Roman Abramovich when he bought Chelsea, though you won’t hear many Stamford Bridge regulars complaining about their Russian benefactor now.
So Malcolm Glazer can’t explain the offside rule, so what? Did the Irish racehorse owners and institutional investors who sold their shares to Glazer understand football? I doubt it. Did former chairman Martin Edwards understand football when he inherited the club from his father Louis? No, he was a privately educated rugger bugger, while his father Louis was more interested in selling meat pies. But even though the previous owners may not have been particularly concerned about preserving the ‘heart and soul’ of Manchester United, their commercial policies were instrumental in financially underpinning United’s domestic domination. Glazer’s motivations may be nakedly commercial but that is no break with tradition; in fact he is upholding the money-making traditions of the plc board and the Edwards family before them.
The fans are right to be concerned about Glazer’s business plan – mortgaging the club to buy success is a high-risk strategy, as Leeds United discovered to their cost – but I do wish they’d stop all this pitiful bleating about the death of Manchester United. I know some United fans desperately want to shake off the glory-hunter tag but there really is no need to behave like Brighton fans.
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