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

MUST launches new campaign ahead of season start

August 16, 2010 Tags: Shorts 9 comments

The Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) has released a new video ahead of the season, featuring fans on matchday at Old Trafford. MUST, which grew to 160,000 members on the back of the highly popular Green & Gold movement last season, has also launched a renewed advertising campaign in the city ahead of the new campaign. New central Manchester posters declare: “New Season, Same Goal”.


MUST launches alternative fans’ shirt

June 16, 2010 Tags: , Shorts 5 comments

The Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) has launched an alternative team shirt ahead of the new season, with all profits going to charity, says the organisation. The shirt, which is black and bears the green and gold ‘One Love’ moniker, will retail for £19.99 with the British Heart Foundation benefiting from all profits made.

“This is the fans’ shirt, with all profits going to charity, rather than the Glazers’ shirt, with all profits going to the Glazers, banks and other corporations,” said Oliver Houston, vice chair of the 160,000 strong supporters’ pressure group.

The shirt, which the group claims is of identical quality to the official £40 club colours, joins green and gold scarves, pins and flags sold by MUST in recent months. MUST claims it will also explore other ways of merchandising the ‘One Love’ slogan, which first appeared on billboards around Manchester in April.

“The amount of forecast annual interest alone on the debt amassed by Manchester United under the Glazers exceeds the entire amount needed to fund the BHF’s major new research programme,” said Richard Hytner, Deputy Chair of Saatchi and Saatchi and President of MUST.

“Manchester United fans will be delighted to buy a shirt that demonstrates its desire to see Manchester United less indebted, whilst also showing its support for such an important cause.”

The official club shirt, bearing the Aon logo, will retail from early July to coincide with United’s money-spinning tour to Canada, United States and Mexico. United begins pre-season training on 12 July in Chicago, home of Aon.

The limited edition MUST shirt is available online from www.oneloveshirt.com, made by tekkers. 5,000 number shirts will initially be made available.

IMAGES: Marketing Week / MUST

MUST: supporters can remove Glazers

May 28, 2010 Tags: , , Shorts 13 comments

MUST has accused the Glazer family of panicking on the day that chief executive David Gill dismissed the green and gold protests, while the club released its Q3 financial results. MUST, which is 160,000 strong, claims that the supporters can turf the Glazer family out of Old Trafford, despite the Red Knights’ bid now effectively dead.

“Not For Sale – that has a familiar ring to it. Of course the last time Manchester United was ‘Not For Sale’ was back in 2005 and what happened next – the Glazer family bought it,” MUST chief executive office Drasdo told Goal.com today.

“It is clear from the reactions on the Manchester United message boards that supporters are not buying into the spin coming out through the Glazers’ PR machine.”

“The Glazers are clearly panicking over the powerful Green and Gold campaign, the growing opposition amongst supporters and the threat of a mass non-renewal of season tickets from supporters.”

Drasdo went further claiming – despite the Red Knights’ inability to mount a bid so far this summer – that the Glazer family is running scared of supporter power. The Glazer family’s United States-based property business is also under financial pressure, according to MUST.

“They know that supporters have the power to remove them and they clearly fear that the anger amongst supporters at the millions they’ve taken out of our club has driven many beyond breaking point,” added Drasdo.

“We know their US businesses are in major financial difficulty and there is huge unrest at their American Football franchise too with fans up in arms refusing to renew season tickets due to lack of investment by the Glazers. Sounds familiar?

“If the club really isn’t for sale why would they need to say anything at all? Why are they so concerned about telling everyone they don’t want to sell? If they don’t want to sell they can simply reject any offer. It sounds like the gentleman doth protest too much.”

This bid isn’t dead, it’s just pining

May 25, 2010 Tags: , , Opinion 10 comments

To paraphrase, Manchester United fans may wish to register a complaint. The Red Knights’ bid that fans bought into not six months ago is dead. Passed on, no more, ceased to be and gone to meet its maker. For the 150,000 fans who signed up to MUST and waved green and gold protest scarves this bid is bereft of life. Rest in peace!

At least that’s what the BBC’s Business Editor Robert Peston would have us believe, blogging today about the investors who are unwilling to put money into a Red Knights bid this summer. Peston’s story, following so quickly on from Daniel Taylor’s exposé in the Guardian last week of machinations within the consortium, is a body blow for those who wish to see the Glazers depart Old Trafford this summer.

Former stockbroker and Financial Times correspondent, Peston has strong links into the investment community but his failure to quote a source is telling. The wider investment community may well see no value in a bid for United, which is massively over-leveraged at a time when the financial sector barely dares to raise its collective head over the parapet. The Knights’ bis was never purely about economics.

Peston’s failure, much like that of Taylor, is the frustrating anonymity of sources. While the Guardian man claims the word of senior Knights who chose to break rank, Peston’s highly ambiguous piece adds little clarity to an increasingly murky picture.

Interesting then that Peston’s BBC colleague, newly appointed Sport’s editor David Bond, added to the debate today, having been briefed by the Glazers’ commercial team this week. Bond argues, with a hugely embarrassing misunderstanding of the facts, that the Glazer family is more interested in building a team than paying off Payment in Kind (PiK) debts this summer.

It’s an argument that falls down on even the most superficial of analysis. After all if the Glazer family had no wish to pay down the PiK debt then the January bond issue had the effect of adding to the club’s interest bill and little else, while the PiK debt balloons to more than £600 million by 2017.

In truth while the Glazers will take large amounts of cash out of club funds this summer it will probably take place after the quarterly accounts are published on 28 May. It makes little sense for the Glazers to tacitly admit there will be no investment in the playing squad this summer before the 13 June season ticket renewal deadline.

If Bond is right, then the Glazer family will surely release millions for investment in a leading player prior to  the World Cup’s opening match on 11 June. Few with even the most basic financial understanding believe the BBC man.

Even if the Knights’ bid is permanently dead – the group itself has not yet publicly admitted defeat – the Glazers have reacted to events on the ground by freezing season ticket prices after five years of huge rises. It cost the family just £1 million for the significant media publicity.

Indeed, the phony PR war between MUST and the Glazers has taken a turn in the past few weeks with first the ubiquitous ‘Glazer family spokesperson’ and now the club’s chief of staff regularly briefing journalists against the Knights. PR 101 – create fear, uncertainty and doubt.

With a huge vacuum created by the Knights’ inability to communicate the media have lapped it up.

Meanwhile, Sir Alex Ferguson continues repeat the same tired line that there is no value in the transfer market while competitors seek to bolster their playing staff. That’s one parrot which remains alive at least.

Anatomy of a bid

May 22, 2010 Tags: , , Opinion 3 comments

The revelation in the Guardian – effectively confirmed by an ever-changing Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) statement – of serious divisions within the Red Knights comes as a blow to many supporters. Already considered a long-shot, a successful bid for the club by the Knights now appears utterly dead.

The consortium’s limp-wristed, one-line statement of protest Thursday afternoon hardly helped defer that impression. While MUST has fronted an aggressive anti-Glazer media campaign, the Knights’ tacit endorsement of supporters’ protest but lack of substantive communication has created only a frustrating void.

One that the consortium could not fill with any conviction on Thursday.

So much for the shining Knights, riding to Manchester United’s rescue. The group have become the little more than self-parodies, beset by factionalism and over-heated egos. Sickeningly, the separate agendas now coming to the fore are little more than the inevitable confirmation of the group’s divisions that the Glazer’s stooge, David Gill, had warned of.

The Knights set out with genuine intentions of making a bid though, attracting diverse figures from the business world including Jim O’Neil, Keith Harris, Richard Hytner, Paul Marshall, and Mark Rawlinson among others.

But the strain of funding a bid large enough to satisfy the Glazers’ desired profit margin, while meeting the investment needs of the super-rich has seemingly broken the group’s back. Or at least prompted two Knights to break rank.

It’s hardly surprising, with the Knights’ challenge manifestly difficult.

Firstly the group is required to raise a significant war-chest that will meet the Glazers’ behind-the-scenes demands of between £1.5 billion cash for the club. In February Harris claimed money was no longer the object.

Indeed the Knights reportedly turned away two ‘super-Knights’, each offering £500 million to the fund. The truth appears a little different now, with the consortium intimating it will not – cannot even – fund a bid of more than £1 billion, including the £504 million bond.

The complexities of weaving together up to 40 separate investors in a way that offers long-term security, a potential exit strategy but precludes the kind of block-building that led to United’s acquisition by the Glazers has also proven impossible. While the bid terms had reportedly been agreed a fortnight ago, they are clearly not to every investor’s liking.

This is not a philanthropic act after all. While rich, none of the Knights – at least those who are public – can call upon the billions of Roman Abramovich at Chelsea or Sheikh Mansour from Manchester City. As such the promise to effectively hand over shares to United’s many supporters through a rights-issue did not sit well with the entire group.

The consortium is not aided by the Glazer family’s demands. While maintaining a ‘not for sale’ stance in public, privately the leaked reports of a £1.5 billion Middle East bid – it was £1.2 billion but what’s a few hundred million between friends – confirmed the Glazers are willing sellers.

The club has huge leverage but the Glazers are not yet desperate. However with profit ultimately only gained through sale of the asset the real question is one of price.

The Americans will take that profit eventually. For now the Glazers appear happy to milk the club for its worth, while reducing the family’s personal exposure by paying down the Payment in Kind debt through club funds.

The Glazers have spoken of untold riches yet untapped in India and China, or through new media. Realists need only look to GDP per capita or broadband penetration in those two nations to dismiss that fallacy as nothing more than a very long-term dream. Moreover the Premier League’s collective bargaining mantra precludes United from profiting more than any other club from domestic or overseas rights.

The truth is that a bid can succeed but only one that forces the Glazers hand.

Amid the now rancorous speculation the Knights may indeed put an offer to Glazer family but if the consortium is true to its word then £1 billion will be the sum.

No matter how excessive a £1.5 billion bid is for United – based on any normal Enterprise Value (EV) definition or revenue multiple – it seems that the price is set until the club or Glazer family’s finances become distressed.

The fragmented Knights now have few choices: stump up the money, force a sale through mass boycott or disappear into the ether whence they came.

Only the latter now seems realistic.

Shining Knights risk tarnished reputations

May 20, 2010 Tags: , , Opinion 4 comments

Stories of the Red Knights’ imminent demise amid in-fighting and a realisation that the Glazer family will not accept an offer this summer are wide of the mark, according to the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST). The trust, now more than 157,000 strong, dismissed newspaper reports of the Knights’ failure as little more than spin.

But it’s a charge not as clear-cut as fans may hope.

The ongoing media war for Manchester United is a prelude to a firm offer from the Knights for the club this summer. Yet, if the Guardian’s sources are sound disagreements in the consortium over the bid’s structure could derail any serious challenge to the Glazers’ five-year regime.

At least two Knights, according to today’s reports, now seriously doubt the consortium’s approach.

“Senior figures involved with the Red Knights have told the Guardian there are internal divisions and that they suspect they are fighting a losing battle when it comes to putting together a takeover bid of sufficient value to end the Glazers’ unpopular regime,” says the Guardian’s Daniel Taylor.

“One of the businessmen prominently involved has lost confidence to the point that he believes they might not even submit a bid were it not for the criticism they would attract after such a highly publicised campaign.

“His belief is that, if they did lodge an offer, it would be for “face-saving” purposes, in the knowledge that it would be turned down.”

After all the £504 million bond issued by the club in January – the small print of which instigated the latest round of anger from United’s supporters – restructured the club’s finances to allow the Glazers more breathing room. The bond, although increasing annual interest payments on United’s £716.5 million debt, enables the family to pay down the punitive Payment in Kind loans from club finances.

Unless the club’s finances slip into what economists euphemistically dub a ‘distressed state’ the Glazer family has bought itself at least seven years grace, with the bond maturing in 2017. This is not news though and the Knights’ bid has always been dependent on an offer which matches the American’s required profit multiple.

The Guardian’s report also follows club ceo David Gill’s assertion that season ticket sales are “on track” with previous campaigns, with supporters required to submit renewal forms by 13 June.

However, MUST challenges both the newspapers’ sources while questioning the club’s belief that support will remain robust in the coming season.

“It obviously wasn’t a rogue knight who contacted all the various journalists/business desks with this story,” claimed the organisation this morning.

“Clearly the Glazers’ anonymous spin doctor has been putting a bit of work in. They ARE worried about the ST renewals (and no boycott has even been called despite reports), sponsorship and the general opposition to their ownership so are seeking to undermine supporter morale.

“They are severely underestimating the determination of Manchester United supporters and the anger they feel about the millions of pounds the Glazers are taking out of our club every year.”

The real question is whether fans have over-estimated the Knights’ ability to fund and organise a bid for the club. Led by Goldman Sachs Jim O’Neil, the consortium’s diverse interests may indeed fuel divisions. In truth, debate is no barrier to a formal bid; the real question is one of money.

Should the Knights’ not come up with a figure that is to the family’s satisfaction then ownership will not change hands in the short-term. It would be a blow not only to supporters’ hopes of Old Trafford regime change but to those who have led the Knights’ high-profile media campaign.

Perhaps three events will dictate this summer’s events and the club’s future.

Firstly, the club announces its quarterly financial results on 28 May where it is widely expected the Glazers will have drawn down United’s £122 million cash reserves. Then – potentially – will come the Knights’ bid before the World Cup begins on 11 June.

Finally, as season ticket renewals land on the Old Trafford mat the club will learn whether supporters’ anger is tangible or not.

In public at least the Knights’ stance is firm, while MUST continues to ask supporters to delay renewal until the last possible moment.

“Talks have been going better than ever and are progressing very positively,” a Red Knights source told the Press Association today.

If they are not, reputations will suffer for it and the Glazers’ stranglehold on the club will likely continue.

*update Thursday 20 May*

MUST changed it’s statement this afternoon, removing the group’s assertion that a Red Knight had not spoken to the press and implicitly confirming the premise of a divided consortium. Repeating the claim that the Glazers are “attempting to frighten supporters into renewing season tickets,” MUST said that the American family is concerned about the Green & Gold movement.

The adage about organising a drink in a brewery comes to mind.

The £437m that buys a new team

May 19, 2010 Tags: , , Just for fun 12 comments

Andersred’s breakdown of the Glazer family’s £437 million cost to Manchester United since the Americans acquired the club is shocking for the massive waste. Spent on interest, management fees and loans to the family, MUST argues that the money would have allowed United supporters into the ground for free in the past five years.

No wonder Sir Alex Ferguson has said United won’t spend this summer, with the Glazers taking out at least £70 million in dividends, the Scot has no money for transfers despite ceo David Gill’s continuous assertion to the contrary.

Aside from offering United fans free entry to Old Trafford what else could the £437 million do? Buy an entirely new team that’s what!

Drawn from players likely to move this summer, Rant’s team of new players is based on fees speculated in recent media reports. Unfortunately we couldn’t spend enough of the Glazers’ wasted cash so we bought seven substitutes too.

We’ve even got £6,500,000 left over to throw the biggest Glazer Out party the world has ever seen!

GK – Hugo Lloris (Lyon, £15m)
DF – David Luiz (Benfica, £21.5m)
DF – Jack Rodwell (Everton, £20m)
DF – Jerome Boateng (Hamburg, £11m)
DF – Cesar Azpilicueta (Ossasuna, £12m)
MF – Angel Di Maria (Benfica, £38)
MF – James Milner (Aston Villa, £25m)
MF – Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal, £35m)
MF – Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich, £45m)
FW – Fernando Torres (Liverpool, £70m)
FW – David Villa (Valencia, £34m)

SUB TOTAL: £326.5m

GK – Manuel Neuer (Schalke, £10m)
DF – Neven Subotic (Borussia Dortmund, £15m)
MF – David Silva (Valencia, £28m)
MF – Joe Cole (Chelsea, £0m)
MF – Sergio Canales (Racing Santander/Real Madrid, £6m)
MF – Luka Modric (Tottenham Hotsupr, £25m)
FW – Edin Dzeko (Wolfsburg, £20m)

GRAND TOTAL: £430.5m

Supporter ownership faces Conservatives challenge

May 16, 2010 Tags: , , , Opinion 10 comments

Labour’s pre-election commitment to mutualism in football is worth little with the Party now deposed. While the Liberal Democrats added a lukewarm policy response, the Conservatives initially dismissed supporter ownership as an election gimmick. So what now for supporters’ hopes for a legislative initiative?

Labour’s promise – a story initially broken by the Guardian’s Owen Gibson – included a commitment to enable supporters to buy 25 per cent of their clubs. Although the manifesto pledge was a little watered down, football finally moved out of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and onto the mainstream political agenda.

“We will work with governing authorities to ensure that professional clubs are accountable to their stakeholders, and run transparently on sound financial principles, with greater involvement of local communities and supporter representation,” promised Labour’s manifesto.

“Sports governing bodies will be empowered to scrutinise takeovers of clubs, ensuring they are in the long-term interests of the club and the sport. We will develop proposals to enable registered Supporters Trusts to buy stakes in their clubs.”

Labour’s commitment was necessary, with Manchester United, Liverpool, Portsmouth, Southend, Cardiff, Notts County and Leeds United suffering either financial problems or supporter unrest due to ownership issues this season.

Indeed, the business of football now garners almost as many column inches as the game on the pitch.

The proposal won strong support from fans’ groups, including the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST). At governance level, although the Premier League has steadfastly remained ‘ownership neutral’ – read weak – UEFA President Michel Platini offered a positive response

“Personally, I think it is a great idea… that the supporters invest in a club because they at the end of the day defend the club’s identity, they are always there,” said to the Frenchman, who is also driving through financial fair play rules much to major clubs’ chagrin.

Naturally MUST, which has worked tirelessly behind the scenes during the Glazers’ tenure at Old Trafford to create political pressure for change, welcomed the manifesto commitment.

However, nothing in politics, especially in a tight race for Number 10, is ever clear-cut and initially both the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives criticised Labour’s proposals before offering tokenistic manifesto pledges.

Conservative Hugh Robertson, now Sports Minister in the new government, challenged the Labour proposal as unworkable.

“After 13 years of inactivity by the government on this issue this has all the hallmarks of a pre-election gimmick,” said Robertson, who will work under Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport Jeremy Hunt in the coalition administration.

“There are massive, massive implications for company law and insolvency law.”

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat shadow culture, media and sport secretary Don Foster, marginalised in the post-election shake-up, dismissed the idea as a pipe dream.

Even with the understandable political rhetoric pre-election there are now other priorities for the new administration such as cutting the structural deficit and managing a coaltion of unlikely bedfellows.

It seems that supporter ownership will not head the legislative agenda anytime soon.

Groups pushing for governmental administration may also find little support from a party that has rarely ‘got’ football. Many match going fans remember a Thatcherite proposal to register all football fans in the 1980s – effectively an attempt to criminalise a generation.

MUST may also find little favour from Oxford graduate Hunt, whose background in public relations and directory publishing – including a personal wealth of more than £4 million – offers little in the way of mind share with ordinary football supporters.

Hunt’s agenda – aside from managing the 2012 Olympics in London – is also likely to include a pre-election promise on digital economy legislation, an initiative to scrap the BBC Trust and now potentially a 2018 World Cup bid on the rocks.

Football ownership, it seems, is no longer the political football is once was.