Thousands turn out for march – where now?

November 3, 2010 Tags: , , Opinion 33 comments

Around 5,000 fans – perhaps up to 10,000 – turned out for the anti-Glazer protest march held before Manchester United’s fixture with Tottenham Hotspur last weekend. With disappointment palpable over the Red Knight’s failure to launch a bid for the club this summer, the march was in part an attempt to kick-start the protest movement.

Indeed, with green and gold now largely a busted-flush the real question is how to mobilise the thousands of match going fans and millions worldwide against the Glazer regime.

‘Forever in your debt’ read one banner, while another declared that the club’s principal sponsor, AON, is an acronym for Americans Out Now. Smoke from green and gold flares rose high into the air and thousands chanted the now well versed refrain that ‘Glazer is going to die’ as fans gathered for the start outside the Toll Gate Inn, Trafford Bar.

Indeed, Saturday’s march confirmed one thing if nothing else: the protest movement is as passionate as it ever.

Yet, even among the crowd, United in its aim to rid the club of the Glazer family, diversity of cause was clear. Saturday’s march included banners with the old Love United Hate Glazer moniker, green and gold scarves and flares were widespread, and the Fight Against Glazer march logo was evident, among a plethora of other slogans and chants.

Nothing wrong with that of course, unless that very diversity provides a barrier to decisive action. Diverse opinion – and therefore action – has been the major characteristic of the protest against the Americans for some time.

Perhaps the greatest failure of the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) and Independent Manchester United Supporters Association (IMUSA), despite mobilising fans to great effect last season, is one of leadership. Green and gold offered a central hook for collective anger over the Glazer regime and perhaps for the first time since the 2005 takeover supporters were mobilised with a unity of thought.

The movement forced a one-time freeze in season ticket prices and – for the time being – a delay in the Glazer family’s plan to fleece United of £125 million in dividends.

The failure of green and gold is, and will always be, that of tangible output; the Glazer cancer rolls on unabated. It’s why so many United supporters felt so disappointed that a bid for the club did not materialise this summer. Investment in a cause bares a return only in decisive change. That day has not yet come.

Those helping to organise the march on Saturday trumpeted a unifying theme – United Against Glazer. There is much to admire in the aims of a loose group of people in organising a large-scale event at relatively short notice. The turnout was good given that no single event had sparked a further outpouring of anger, as the Glazers’ bond document did last January.

Despite this, there is still no unified strategy to rid the club of the Glazer family, which is causing so much lasting damage to the club. After all, collective anger is not the same as conjoint and organised action.

Some fans permanently walked away to found FC United, the Red Rebel team that has made the first round of the FA Cup this season and is raising funds for its own £3.5 million stadium in central Manchester. Others – perhaps as many as 50,000 – have given up their season tickets since 2005, some, such as On The Road author Daniel Harris have boycotted home matches.

These actions, for the most part, were the result of personal not collective response driven by supporters’ groups.

We have been here before. 10,000 marched against Glazer in May 2005 to little effect, even if there was an amusing outcome, with the family forced to retreat to the sanctity of a Greater Manchester Police meatwagon.

The lack of major media coverage of Saturday’s march says much too.

Then there is, of course, some irony in United supporters protesting before a Premier League match, presumably walking straight into Old Trafford afterwards and handing over up to £49 to Glazer family for the pleasure.

That is the rub. While United supporters continue to underpin the Glazer business model, rowdy protest is little more than a collective expression of anger. Heartfelt and necessary, but ultimately unlikely to unseat the family.

It is the circle that United supporters have not squared since the Glazers walked into Old Trafford five years ago.

Gallery and videos

Photo’s courtesy of Jeremy Knowles, www.jjphotos.co.uk

United Against Glazer

United Against Glazer

United Against Glazer

March: United Against Glazer

October 17, 2010 Tags: , , Shorts 17 comments

Manchester United supporters will march in protest against the Glazer family’s ownership of the club ahead of the home fixture with Tottenham Hotspur on 30 October. The ‘United Against Glazer’ march, starting at 3.30pm by Trafford Bar station, will allow fans to voice their protest at the £700 million debt piled on the club by the Glazer family.

Following last season’s Green & Gold campaign, the march is the highlight in a day of direct action at Old Trafford. The match and other activity is supported by the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) and Independent Manchester United Supporters Association (IMUSA) but encourages all Reds to join a united front against the Glazer family.

The march begins at Tollgate Inn, Trafford Bar metro station, with fans gathering at 3.30pm for the short walk to Old Trafford. More information can be found at www.unitedagainstglazer.org.uk or download the flyer.

United Against Glazer march route

Click for a full sized map

IMUSA and club clash over protests

May 4, 2010 Tags: , , Opinion 1 comment

Manchester United and the Independent Manchester United Supporters’ Association (IMUSA) clashed this week over ongoing green and gold protests. Fans’ groups have long accused CES security of match-day bullying tactics, with now IMUSA now claiming the firm refused fans entry to a reserves match at Old Trafford this week.

United’s second string played Aston Villa at Old Trafford in the reserve league play-off on Monday night, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s young reds winning out on penalties following a 3-3 draw in 90 minutes.

IMUSA has accused CES staff of refusing some supporters entry to the match, which attracted a crowd of around 4,000, because of involvement in the protests.

“Many fans were prevented from seeing their victory as large groups of CES stopped people in their two’s and three’s from gaining entry because of their supposed involvement in protests on other occasions,” claimed an IMUSA statement this week.

“We are also told that the local police intelligence officer joined in with this intimidation, giving people ‘verbal warnings’ for having engaged in legitimate peaceful protests at other matches.

“This same officer told whoever cared to listen that ‘he didn’t need a reason’ when asked why he was evicting a small number of young teenagers from the ground.”

IMUSA has previously accused the club of ejecting supporters from Old Trafford for wearing green and gold scarfs or bringing anti-Glazer protest banners to Old Trafford on match-days.

The Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) backed the claim, saying that supporters who had previously taken part in peaceful
protests against the Glazers ownership were refused entry to the reserves game agai

“Supporters were also ejected from the stadium after being identified from video and photographic footage of previous protests,” MUST claimed on its website today.

“We understand that photographs of about 20 individuals were circulated to security personnel with orders to intercept them and deny them entry.”

CES previously fired a staff member, who had worked match-days at Old Trafford for more than 18 years, for returning a confiscated ‘Love United Hate Glazer’ banner to supporters and a member of the catering staff lost his job for wearing a green and gold scarf.

United denied restricting protests today, claiming that discussions between IMUSA and the club had resulted in an agreement about how banners could be used on match-days at Old Trafford.

“As a result of meetings between the club and IMUSA, banners are allowed at Old Trafford that conform to our regulations,” a faceless United spokesman told newspapers today.

“Fans are free to protest providing it is in a peaceful way.”

The club’s chief executive officer, David Gill, reiterated the club’s stance by claiming that nobody at the club will  stop the protest movement, which has grown hugely since the Glazer family released its bond prospectus in January.

With barely a red scarf in sight on match-days, Gill’s is a position of practicality, with even CES’ notorious staff unable to eject 75,000 Old Trafford spectators. Indeed, IMUSA claims that 99 per cent of supporters now back a change in ownership at the club, with a Red Knights bid for the club expected in June.

“If your question is ‘would I prefer all red and white instead of gold and green when you have a full stadium and you are playing host to famous opposition’, of course I would,” Gill told Rollin’ Reds magazine.

“If the question is ‘would I prefer not to look out of my office and see the scarves they are selling on the street’, of course I’d prefer that. But as Alex has said, people have a right to protest.”

Gill, no doubt be relieved that the rather less famous Stoke City visit Old Trafford for the season’s final game on Sunday, will face a sea of anti-Glazer placards planned by MUST for the match.

In the meantime, with season ticket renewal forms due at the club by 13 June, Gill continues to insist that Sir Alex Ferguson has money available to spend in the transfer market this summer.

He’s right – but only if you count United’s £75 million bank overdraft facility.

Whether supporters who disagree with the ceo are allowed back into Old Trafford to see the fabled new signings is another matter altogether.

IMUSA calls for ST boycott but groups still split

April 29, 2010 Tags: , , Opinion 18 comments

The Independent Manchester United Supporters Association (IMUSA) has called for fans to renew season tickets late – if at all – as the campaign to force the Glazer family out gathers momentum. United’s oldest supporters’ group has come closest to calling for a full boycott by urging season ticket holders to starve the Glazer family of cash.

IMUSA, which is separate from the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST), argues that matchday tickets are readily available, with the sole benefit of a season ticket that “you get to sit in the same seat each week.”

“We all know that hundreds of millions are going out of the club in interest payments,” added an IMUSA statement this week

“What has recently also become apparent is the Glazers’ intention to take upwards of £400 million out of the club for themselves.

“We can stop them doing this but only if we starve them of cash, so that what money there is has to be spent on Manchester United Football Club, not funding the lifestyles of its unwelcome owners.”

The group’s three-point plan urges season ticket holders not to renew and refrain from purchasing anything that will add to the Glazer family’s profit, including on matchdays.

IMUSA’s call is in stark contrast to MUST, which has successfully lobbied the political parties to include football club ownership on the election agenda but made no clear stance on a boycott.

Indeed, the groups have maintained a – friendly – split although it has never been clear why separate supporter group agendas are necessary. Or even productive.

While IMUSA campaigns on fans’ issues such as prices, access to tickets and a long-running safe standing campaign, MUST focuses tightly in on the ownership issue.

IMUSA, founded in 1995, grew from supporters’ frustrations with the matchday experience, while MUST is the evolution of Shareholders United Against Murdoch – the group that successfully lobbied against BSkyB’s bid for the club in 1998.

Sadly, the strength of a single voice supporters’ voice has as yet not been manifested and the split offers only indecision over the issue of supporter ownership. Nobody wants the Glazers but there’s little agreement on how to rid the club of its leech.

IMUSA’s call to not renew is admirable though and behind the scenes it is hopeful that the group is working with MUST and the Red Knights to build a coherent strategy.

Hopeful but somehow doubtful as factionalism and personal agendas dominate.

There’s the rub. While the Glazer family’s overwhelming drain on club resources over the next seven years is without doubt, fans groups and potential bidders alike show no consistency of thought in how to deal with the problem.

Perhaps Smiley’s Red Issue editorial this month has something to it.

“We’ve really shot our bolt now with this green and gold thing haven’t we?” ponders the somewhat defeatist commentator.

“Day-trippers roaming in and out of the Megastore laden with plastic bags and a protest scarf around their neck isn’t really doing any favours.

“MUST will no doubt still be wasting their money on meaningless posters while actually doing nothing of any use while… renewals will be posted back to the Old Trafford ticket office without a second thought.”

While Smiley’s column is symptomatic of RI’s general disdain for MUST, it also represents the split between different factions. And if supporters can’t agree on how to rid the club of the Glazers what hope is there?

“Part those hairy cheeks and grimace,” concludes Smiley.

“It’s quite obvious to anyone who isn’t on the current owners’ payroll that the club’s going to spend 2010/11 getting royally f*cked by the Glazers.”

Glazers will take £120 million next year; £600 million in seven years

January 19, 2010 Tags: , , , Opinion 4 comments

The true extent of the Glazer family’s astonishing impact on Manchester United will come home to roost over the next seven years, reports the Daily Telegraph. The family, currently marketing a £500 million bond issue debt swap, will drain £600 million from the club in interest, management fees and dividends before the bond matures in 2017.

“Analysis of the £500m bond prospectus distributed to investors reveals that in addition to annual interest payments of more than £300m the Glazers can take a guaranteed £160 million in dividends, one-off payments and fees out of the club,” states the Telegraph.

“The device allows the Glazers to take a dividend equal to 50 per cent of net cash profits, as long as gross profits are more than double the interest paid figure. If, as the Glazers forecast in the prospectus, income continues to grow at Old Trafford, over the seven-year life of the bond the total dividend could reach more than £140m.

“This comes on top of about £260m in interest payments already paid since the Glazers bought the club in 2005, and a further £23m already taken in fees and personal loans to the six children of Malcolm Glazer who sit on the club board.

“The Glazers are expected to use the dividends to pay off payment-in-kind loans that stand at £200m but, accruing rolled-up interest at 14.25 per cent annually, are set to grow by £30m this year.”

United will pay annual interest on the bond of at least £45 million if priced at nine per cent, although some City analysts have urged the Glazer family to push up the yield. Each one per cent increase in the interest rate will cost the club a further £5 million per year.

The total interest payable on nine per cent is £315 million. Additionally the family intends to remove £70 million in cash immediately plus a further one-off dividend of £25 million, annual ‘management’ fees of £6 million per board member plus further fees detailed in the 322 page prospectus being hawked around the City.

United supporter groups have urged further action against the Glazer family, including a protest at tonight’s match with Manchester City, late entry to the ground for the club’s Champions League fixture with AC Milan and the symbolic donning of United’s old green and gold colours.

“It is a shocking picture. These are immense amounts of money being leaked out of United to pay banks, lawyers, the Glazers themselves and interest, to pay for a takeover none of the supporters, or the United board itself, wanted,” said Duncan Drasdo, chief executive officer of the Manchester United Supporters Trust.

“United’s success and profits could have been used to keep ticket prices affordable or invest in the team but instead we see this heartbreaking waste, just because one family ultimately hopes to make a profit from the club.”

The sheer size of cash draining out of United’s coffers over the next seven years means that any spending undertaken in the transfer market by Sir Alex Ferguson can only be from further debt. Ferguson, who has consistently claimed he has money to spend, will almost certainly be shopping in the bargain basement for years to come.

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Fans step up Glazer protest

January 18, 2010 Tags: , , , Opinion 6 comments

Manchester United fans, sick of the Glazer family’s ownership of the club, have intensified their protests this week following confirmation that the club’s American owners plan to raise £500 million of new debt on the bond market. More than 300 fans attended a protest meeting in Stretford, while anti-Glazer chants rang out around Old Trafford.

The Glazer family’s glossy prospectus – designed to sell the club to potential investors in the upcoming bond issue – has also handed far more information to the supporters than in the past. Shielded from any deep scrutiny of the club’s books, fans have been blind to the hand in the till that has seen the owners take more than £20 million out of the club’s coffers in recent seasons.

Supporters are also now acutely aware of the £300 million drained away from the club in interest payments and management fees during the four and a half years the Glazer family has been in charge of the club, with Sir Alex Ferguson unlikely to have any transfer funds available in the current window.

More than 300 angry supporters attended a joint Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST) and Independent Manchester United Supprters’ Association (IMUSA) meeting, held in Stretford on Saturday, reports Republik of Mancunia. The meeting, aimed at creating a strategy for the removal of the Glazer family from Old Trafford, is one of a number of initiatives held by fans in recent days.

At Old Trafford on Saturday a large banner, reading “Lover United, Hate Glazer”, escaped attempted censorship by over zealous stewards before both slogan and owners were forcibly removed from the stadium. The action prompted widespread anti-Glazer chanting for the majority of United’s 3-0 victory over Burnley.

“I was shocked by the treatment of anti-Glazer youths by MUFC Stewards. I protested but it needs more people to join in,” one IMUSA member told IMUSA.org.

“The leaders of the Stewards claimed it was safety and security but a perfectly peaceful demo by a small group was brutally quashed. I really was shocked.”

Meanwhile, Jonny Flacks, a founding member of IMUSA, called for Sir Alex Ferguson to resign in protest at the Glazer family’s ownership, which has left the club indebted to the tune of £720 million.

“This is not intended as an Alex Ferguson rant,” said Flacks, who was quoted in The Observer.

“But he claims to be a socialist, a former shop steward and a man of the people, so he must be horrified by what is going on. It would work only if thousands of people sent a copy of this letter to Ferguson letting him know that our fear, if the Glazers stay in control, is that his legacy is going to be destroyed. We wouldn’t want that and I don’t think he would either.”

While any call for Ferguson’s resignation will inevitably meet fierce opposition from many supporters, it will also fall on deaf ears with the Scot. Ferguson is a prominent and vocal supporter of the Glazer regime he sees as more co-operative than the old PLC board. MUST, subsequently distancing itself from Flacks, has said it is “100 per cent” behind Ferguson

Indeed, whether Ferguson is ignorant of the true scale of United’s financial predicament or simply ready to ride out the storm and keep his job, the manager has never wavered from contemptuous dismissal of Glazer’s critics.

“We have to look at the greater good and at the moment we have the ludicrous situation where a club that gets over 70,000 supporters is losing money,” Flacks continued.

“This would be Ferguson’s chance of saying that something had to be done. He would be looking after the club in the longer term if it meant the Glazers would sell more quickly. And if he said he was going to resign, maybe that would also encourage potential buyers to hurry up.”

More realistic is the planned demonstration at United’s upcoming Champions League second round match with AC Milan. Supporters will enter the stadium late following a pre-match march as opposition to the Glazer regime grows by the day.

MUST: Protest on today

January 16, 2010 Tags: , , , Shorts 6 comments

The Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST) and Independent Manchester United Supporters’ Association (IMUSA) will today hold a protest meeting to formulate a response to the Glazer family’s ownership of the club. With more financial information released in the club’s glossy financial prospectus this week, anger is rising among Untied supporters.

“MUST and IMUSA, the two independent democratic fans groups, are inviting all interested Manchester United supporters to a meeting before this Saturday’s game against Burnley to discuss the response to the Glazers’ ownership of Manchester United,” said a statement released on Friday.

“This has been prompted by the financial news coming from Old Trafford and the revelations made in the brochure issued to sell the bonds that are to be used to refinance the loans.

“The meeting is intended to offer supporters the chance to contribute their ideas and become involved in the campaign. We want ideas and energy.”

Saturday’s meeting takes place at O’Brien’s pub in the Stretford Arndale Centre at 1pm ahead of United’s 3pm match with Burnley at Old Trafford.