Wednesday, June 15, 2005

How Naïve

More bloated whinging from Manchester United fans. Yes, they might be disappointed with Malcolm Glazer's takeover. But they've been playing with the devil for many, many years now, and they can't complain now it's come back and bit them.

Fans have been powerless to stop the Glazers moving in.

Of course they have. In case you didn't notice, Mr Chapman, Manchester United was a plc. That means anyone with the money could take them over. The fans have no say in it. And a boycott, in the case of Manchester United, really won't work. Chapman himself says later in the article "I have kept my ticket for next year because if I gave it up, it would go to somebody from Copenhagen who would treat Old Trafford like Disneyland." That's what Glazer knows. He knows full well that there are millions of Manchester United fans across the globe who would kill for a seat at Old Trafford. It's not some situation in Luton where if 6,000 fans boycott the game, no-one is there supporting. Manchester United has been cultivated into a global brand. And, ironically, it is the passion of the fan from Copenhagen which will keep the club alive.

Glazer is a businessman. He needs to make money just to cover interest payments on his debt.

So Martin Edwards, Peter Kenyon, John Magnier et al weren't businessmen? Manchester United has been run as a business for many, many years now. Indeed, it was the fact that it was run as a business which allowed them to enjoy such extravagant success in the 1990s. But I didn't see any Manchester United fans complaining about it then.

...making money and success do not go hand in hand.

Mr Chapman may well find that the punters who possess the money Glazer craves will demand success. As big as the Manchester United global brand is, the fans won't continue to turn out to support a club that's sliding down the Premiership table like molten butter. In football, at least, success is the fundamentally necessary starting point to making money. Manchester United pay Champions League wages and Champions League transfer fees. For that to be sustainable, they need to be in the Champions League. Simple as that.

I am not helping this man make money out of my football club. And that is what it comes down to. He sees it as a business and not a sport.

In so many ways, it already is. Why has it taken the arrival of Glazer for United fans to realise this? Simple - in the plc era, they seemed to be the beneficiaries of a benign capitalism. Now they are realising capitalism operates under forces that don't take stock of local sentiment, history, tradition, etc. So many of Chapman's criticisms can, and should be applied to the plc era. Yet they were successful at that time, and it didn't seem right to rock the boat. They're only complaining because they think they have a God-given right to pre-eminence. Let me let you in on a secret, Mr Chapman - you don't.

And finally, the coup de grace:

I am naïve but why could our national sport not go back to being just that - a sport?

Well, it's not been "just a sport" for a long time. And it's Manchester United that have been the trailblazers in that regard. The TV deals with BSkyB; the lavish amount of money spent on buying players from across the globe; the money-spinning tours to the Far East which have nothing to do with sporting merit and everything to do with how many replica shirts can be sold; the deliberate styling of Old Trafford as the "Theatre of Dreams"; the long-standing ploy of giving tickets to fans from further afield because they spend more at the club shop - all of these things were pioneered by Manchester United. And they were done with a knowledge of the risk involved - that the club was for sale. They succeeded in the 1990s because they were run like a business and no other club was. If things don't look so rosy now, it should serve as a warning. Don't dance with the red devil.