Prior to Man Utd’s demolition of an ageing and decrepit AC Milan side on Wednesday night, thousands of green and gold scarves swirled across Old Trafford in defiant protest against the debts incurred by the Glazer’s controversial takeover of Manchester United. Avi and Joel Glazer could only look on in disbelief from the director’s box as the fans donned the colours of the original Old Trafford club Newton heath in a cunning visual protest against American rule. Walking through the streets of Manchester it is almost impossible not to come across a brick which doesn’t sport the initials LUHG (Love United Hate Glazer).
One subplot eagerly anticipated by the media was David Beckham’s return to Old Trafford. There were many fairytale storylines that could’ve played out. Becks bending a free-kick past Van der Sar at the Stretford End. Perhaps even stepping up in the 90th minute to score a goal to send United out of the tournament? However Beckham’s involvement was limited to a 30 minute cameo in which, whilst he showed touches of class, demonstrated by a 25 yard volley tipped over by Van der Sar, he rarely influenced the game. Most poignant however was when the ever image conscious Beckham, standing at the Stretford End, donned a green and gold scarf to the chagrin of the united hierarchy. Ever the populist and probably on his last trip to Old Trafford, Beckham showed he was a still a red at heart, capping off a perfect evening for United fans. Such a performance by United demonstrated the ever increasing gap between British and Italian football, especially the Italians’ inability to track back and compete against a fast-paced compact British side. How can an Italian side, in great form in Serie A this year, show such little fight? They were rarely in the tie and this exhibits a sad state of affairs for Italian football.
I digress, the real thrust of this article concerns United’s finances. It was recently revealed that not only has the Glazer’s reign left Man United with over £700 million worth of debt, but further still the Americans plan to take 70% of all match day income in the next seven years to pay interest on the debt incurred, resulting in over £220 million pounds leaving the club in addition to the debts already at United! This amounts to what only I can describe as a violation of the highest order.
The alternative offered to the fans comes from the Red Knights. A group of wealthy individuals, they are led by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill, lawyer Mark Rawlinson and financier Keith Harris. They are planning a bold takeover, aiming to establish a new ownership model in which fans worldwide would be at the heart of everything the club does. With the support of the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) they aim to further spread their message and no doubt the fans protests are doing that. The trust has seen an 80,000 increase in membership since the protests began and so their message seems to be having an effect.
Whilst the finances of the club have been stabilised in the short term by a £504 million bond issued in January, United are in a precarious position. The problem they face is that if they want to buy the club, they would have to pay far more than the £800 million the Glazers paid, with analysts estimating up to £1.6billion with an extra 700 million to cover the debts incurred. It is a truth held self evident that everybody has a price, however the Glazers clearly state that United is not for sale and that they are in it for the long term. They believe they can exploit United’s 333 million fan-base by exploiting new media and selling overseas rights so as to further increase their cash flow.
The Red Knights have urged fans to boycott games however the fans stand defiant and fill the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ each week. The irony of this all is that this does not affect the Glazers, for, protest as they might; they continue to line the pockets of the American owners through exorbitant ticket prices.
Here Man United fans face a conundrum. They love the club, however in supporting, they provide money to the evil enemy that they despise. Perhaps a half empty Old Trafford is the solution as the Glazers show no willingness to sell. However it is only when the money dries up, that it would be time for the owners to get out. Fans have talked of supporting FC United, however how many of the green and gold cavorting supports are willing to sacrifice supporting the best club in the world in exchange for Non-League football?
The enduring image from the game will be Beckham leaving the pitch with a green and gold scarf round his neck. There’s no doubt that Beckham’s gesture is a boost to the anti-Glazer campaign. Have the fans found a new poster boy? Only time will tell.