Tuesday, March 02, 2010

This United goal is green and gold

Source: The Guardian

May the Red Knights oust the Glazers. But this campaign should encourage fans to demand real collective ownership

o Gwyn Topham
o guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 2 March 2010 17.30 GMT

Manchester United fans wave green and gold scarves at the Carling Cup final in an anti-Glazer protest. Photograph: Neal Simpson/EMPICS Sport

A consortium of City bankers is planning a £1bn takeover bid. Such news rarely sounds as promising as it will to Manchester United fans today. The deep antipathy to the Glazer family has hardened after the financial results of their ownership of the club were laid bare in January.

Yet optimism should be heavily tinged with caution. While Malcolm Glazer's route to a takeover was to steadily buy up shares when it was a plc in 2005, the club is now his alone to sell or not. And though this consortium features influential financiers described as committed United fans, football is littered with the debris of owners, chairmen and directors who promised much and wreaked havoc at the likes of Newcastle, Leeds, and Portsmouth.

Even the name Red Knights evokes cringing memories of one Michael Knighton, who promised to take the club soaring from the clutches of the unpopular Martin Edwards early in Alex Ferguson's time as manager.

There may be no such doubts over the credentials or affiliation of the likes of Jim O'Neill, a key player in any bid, but there still seems something unlikely about this Goldman Sachs chief economist endorsing the "collective ownership model" that would give ordinary fans a real stake in the club.

The major, overriding reason that United fans will be backing the Red Knights is simple: the endorsement, and partnership, of the Manchester United Supporters' Trust (MUST), whose membership has swelled to 54,000 and is still growing.

Whether it succeeds in ousting the Glazers, the campaign has been an extraordinary one to see. Anti-Glazer feeling has been strong enough to provoke direct action from supporters before now, but it was muted on a wider level – partly by the defence mounted by Ferguson of his American bosses.

After years of subdued resentment, the massive profusion of green and gold – the colours worn by United in the days when they were Newton Heath – has suddenly made visible all that individual anger, the rage shared by the spectators in the next seats and rows. We might look like Norwich fans, but it has been inspiring and energising – the waving scarves and chants have helped create an atmosphere that has not been matched at Old Trafford in years.

The genius of the protest is in providing a way to demonstrate both passion for the club and dissociation from the specific, corporate elements that currently occupy the boardroom.

The green and gold symbolically bypasses the dilemma that Glazer has posed every United fan: do you continue to support, emotionally and financially, a team turned into a company-cum-brand or company run for the speculative financial benefit of a Florida-based family, when the profits are being leached away and the cost of your season ticket is being hiked year after year? Is it better to walk away and start again – as FC United of Manchester did?

Now, to some extent, it feels possible to voice that positive support and massive dissatisfaction at once, as the sight of thousands twirling green and gold scarfs back at the United players and manager parading the Carling Cup at Wembley on Sunday showed.

Whether such a brilliantly simple, visual campaign could work here without the ready-made crowd and constituency of a football club is difficult to know. Yet there are British parallels that go beyond the game: the mass of Labour supporters who have felt their party had been hijacked by a leadership alien to its values, or even those conservative homeowners who want banks for their pensions and mortgages but are outraged by the Fred Goodwins of the world.

In an era where its easy to believe, from the Iraq war to Cadbury, that most people are powerless in the face of bigger, shapeless, forces, even wresting control of Manchester United away from the Glazers would feel a real victory – and a start. The detail that MUST has drawn on some of Obama's campaign consultants should make fans recall that hope doesn't necessarily deliver instead change. Putting ones hope in a group of bankers may not prove enough, but the momentum the campaign already has could make supporters – of all clubs – believe that shared control is an achievable goal.