Manchester United and Malcolm Glazer- The Working Class vs Wall Street
May 15, 2005. A London Sunday Times headline screamed "PUTTING ONE THROUGH THE LEGS OF THE MAN U MOB." It was the purported takeover of Manchester United by Malcolm Glazer for one and a half billion dollars. The most paid for a sporting franchise. Glazer is the owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. An American who owns a football team. With zero knowledge of soccer. Nada. Nil. Zilch. He is also one of the biggest shopping mall developers in the US and a well known corporate raider.
From an article by John Cassidy in the New Yorker, Feb 6, 2006 (subscription needed)
"What alienated United fans was not just that Glazer was an American who knew little about soccer. The club's previous directors had been cautious, avoiding debt and risky investments- a fact in which the its supporters took great pride. (Many English soccer clubs are heavily burdened by debt.) To a corporate raider like Glazer, however, a public company that make steady profit and lacks debt is virtually inviting a takeover; a potential buyer can borrow money to finance a bid kowing that; it it is succesful, he can shift some of the loans onto the company's balance sheet. This was Glazer's method: he borrowed almost the a billion dollars to take over United and transferred a big chunk of the debt onto the club's books- and fans were outraged. "
What would this means in terms of how soccer is played at Manchester United? Even before Glazer's takeover, Man U fans were paying an average of $55 a ticket. The matches no longer started at 3:00 PM on Saturday. To satisfy Sky TV programming requirements matches would begin at noon, sometimes in the evening, and some would take place on Sundays or even Mondays. To top it all there were crackdowns and heavy penalties on drinking, obscenities, and excessive celebration. To be fair, this is the story in all the EPL teams. But with Glazer taking over Man U, the fans felt that the last vetige of control was being taken away.
How has this affected Man U's play? Well, they're out of the running to win the EPL title, Chelsea is far up and away to catch up now. They have been eliminated from the European Championship League. And they're out of contention in the FA cup. To cap it all, David Beckham, their most successful player and well known metrosexual- ever a fixture in Man U's history from 1992 to 2003 and instrumental in Man U's most successful year in 1999, when they won the EPL; the FA cup; and the European Championship, was traded to Real Madrid where he endures the scorn of the fans warming the bench.
In disgust, many Mancusians have stopped going to Man U games and invested instead in a local team the FC United of Manchester, a team in a division ranked ten places below the EPL. The players include and I quote Cassidy watching a match between FC United and their opponents, Eccleshall FC," a plumber, a schoolteacher, a stock boy, and a window fitter, were wearing red and white- Manchester United's colors- and, in the stands, a fan had unfurled a large banner that read "FC UNITED. MUFC EXILES." Another banner said "OH, FC UNITED. THE ONLY TEAM IN MANCHESTER THAT'S NOT IN DEBT." FC United ran up the score against their opponents, 7-1 and each time the Eccleshall goalkeeper touched the football, some FC United supporters would yell; "You fat bastard."
To the fans, this is democratic - they hold the power in this club. They own the club. They elect the board. Bad language is tolerated, even encouraged. You can drink beer and eat fish and chips till your arteries burst. There is no morality police. And best of all, the tickets cost 7 pounds.
More on Malcolm Glazer and Manchester United as well as Roman Abramovich and Chelsea in forthcoming posts.