Friday, May 13, 2005

The Times: Supporters are united against Glazer

Source: The Times

Supporters are united against Glazer
By Oliver Kay

THERE were angry demonstrations outside Old Trafford last night after news broke of Malcolm Glazer’s takeover of Manchester United. Supporters congregated near the Sir Matt Busby statue and burnt their season-ticket renewal forms in disgust and despair.

There were protests in London, too, outside the offices of JPMorgan, Glazer’s banker, with the militants heading from there to The Valley for a reserve match against Charlton Athletic. It is unlikely that there will have been a ritual burning of effigies of Glazer in the Far East, where the significance of the threat may be lost on some of the club’s newer fans, but otherwise there was an unmistakable sense that this was a club united.

There will be fans of other clubs who cannot comprehend the hostility towards Glazer, whose sugar-coated promises of millions of pounds to spend on players would be greeted enthusiastically elsewhere, but United’s supporters have become so fiercely protective of their club in recent years that yesterday’s news that the American was closing in on his goal was met by either despair or, in many cases, belligerence.

The level of hostility is explained by Andy Mitten, editor of United We Stand, a successful fanzine since 1989. “United is different,” he said. “It’s not like Chelsea, who were going bust when (Roman) Abramovich came in, or Liverpool, which is in need of investment. Manchester United doesn’t need someone to take over. It can already compete at the highest level. It has been hugely successful for 15 years. United is the wealthiest club in the world. It already makes handsome profits. We’re not Chelsea.”

The message seemed to be lost on Chelsea’s supporters, though, when Old Trafford rose as one on Tuesday to declare “United: Not For Sale”. Why would United’s fans want to turn down the promise, hollow as it may prove to be, of millions of pounds that would enable them to compete with the newly-crowned champions? Simply because, as one United fan put it recently: “We want success, but (not) at any cost, not when the club’s entire heritage is at stake.”

The reality, of course, is that United is for sale and has been since the club was floated on the stock market in 1991. “I just wish there had been organisations like Shareholders United in place back then and that the fans had been able to build up an even bigger stake in the club,” Mitten said. “My dream is for us to have a club owned by the supporters, like Barcelona. The fans didn’t want the club to be floated back in 1991 and, when it was, the timing of it was bad. When the shares went on sale, we were saving to go to Rotterdam (for the Cup Winners’ Cup final).”

It could be said that United have been fighting a losing battle ever since, yet they will argue that it was their refusal to yield that blocked the attempted takeover by BSkyB in 1999 after its $1 billion offer was accepted by the club’s board. “A takeover is never inevitable and I urge all other shareholders not to sell,” Mark Longden, spokesman for the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association (IMUSA), said. “There are far more people opposed to the Glazer bid than last time because people are more politically aware. The fight goes on until we are FC United.”

FC United is the working title of the club that rebel supporters have threatened to form if Glazer’s bid is successful. The idea is similar to that put into practice by Wimbledon fans who, having felt that their club died when it became Milton Keynes Dons, set up AFC Wimbledon, whom they are cheering through the lower divisions of English football’s pyramid system.

Whether many of United’s global fans would be willing to turn their back on Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo et al is doubtful, but the club’s more militant supporters insist they are deadly serious. “If this is to be the end then we will go down kicking and screaming,” Jules Spencer, chairman of IMUSA, said. “If he (Glazer) gets control, we’ll do what we said, which is up sticks and form a new club which will continue the traditions and the legacy of 125 years of Manchester United. We don’t want Malcolm Glazer. We want a club run for the fans — and that is what we will do.”