In all the bucket load of chaos that was football in 20-21, the biggest game in English football was postponed due to fan protests spilling over. In extraordinary scenes at Old Trafford before they were scheduled to play Liverpool, a large group of protestors painted the sky red with flares and bellowed chants making their voices soar with frustration, directed at the ownership of the club.
The protest spilled onto the pitch as fans infiltrated the stadium and clashed with police, as well as protesting outside the Lowry Hotel where United players stay before home match days, to cap things off fans also slashed the Liverpool bus team’s tyres.
There was a clear underestimation of the manner of these protests. This wasn’t exactly Bane storming Gotham City Hall and letting prisoners loose, but there was more than enough affirmative action to saliently see United fans had had enough. Whilst there have been plenty of worse scenes of fan behaviour (think the savage England showing in the recent Euros final) damage to the stadium was done and police officers were injured.
United fans felt their point was made as they cheered in celebration when the game was called off. Let’s digest that point once more, one of the biggest fan bases of one of the most prestigious clubs in the world was playing its biggest rival and the fan base managed to get the game called off, with an eruption of hugs and cheers when they achieved their goal.
The flip side is, the events that occurred combined with the ESL debacle may have jolted the owners of Manchester United to take more care of the appalling reputation they’ve had since taking over the club in controversial circumstances. United fans have never took a liking to their American owners, their main gripes being the debt they plunged the club into and the sheer profit-comes-first approach since their tenure, but then why else would they buy the club, these men are businessmen first.
Strikingly for the first time since The Glazers took over the club, the Americans directly spoke to the fans by joining the fan forum call for over 2 hours even answering questions from fans directly for an additional 20 minutes. Could you imagine a Mike Ashley at Newcastle doing this? Joel Glazer a man who is worth 1 billlion dollars sat in and spoke to regular disgruntled Man Utd fans for two and a half hours waxing lyrical about everything that irks United fans about the ownership. It felt like a revealing celebrity interview on an Oprah Winfrey talk show.
Joel Glazer amongst other things spoke about Old Trafford’s condition and investing more in the creaky old stadium, as well as the much-maligned fact that The Glazers collect yearly dividends which Joel Glazer said was ‘modest’ and less than 3% of overall revenue of the club.
When it came to the infamous debt the club has been plunged into since the ownership took charge, the part-owner of NFL team Tampa Bay Buccaneers said that they have been paying off and reducing the debt at a reasonable interest rate, never really addressing the original inception of rancour which is the heaps of debt Manchester United went into because of the takeover happening.
In a fascinating exchange between fan Chas Banks and Joel Glazer we got into the fundamental main beef dish of the main cause for all the disdain for the Glazers. Banks explained that he felt ‘hurt’ by the fact that he had bought Man United shares and was saving them for his son, but with the takeover, his shares were necessarily purchased in 2005 by the Glazers.
United fans before 2005 were happy with the way the club was being run, they never wanted the Glazers as they thought ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. The Glazers were always an anathema because their ownership initiated them to turn the club into a superpower, the priority being not on the pitch but off it. The Glazers transformed the club into a commercial behemoth for their own monetary gain, something United fans never asked for.
It feels like the successful bakery that was going along just fine under solid ownership but then became part of a big commercialised American chain. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not making out Manchester United to be the lovable club that came from nothing but when it was floated on the stock market in 1991 it didn’t need to be touched, The Glazers avaricious thirst led them to acquiring the club, commercialising it and turning it into a money-making machine, there wasn’t an understanding or care for the sport or the history of the club.
It must be said the Glazers have actually spent before in the transfer market during the reign of Louis Van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer there have always been marquee signings and money spent. The debt though alarming seems to be manageable. It is more the sheer flippancy confirmed by the ESL ‘doomed before it began’ power grab, that assured United fans how solipsistic The Glazers are when it comes to the club.
Candidly speaking The Glazers have been shook out of their radio silence because the business they own has started to hit them where it hurts, their pockets. In the aftermath of the protests The Hut Group pulled out of a 200m sponsorship deal, United’s shirt sponsor TeamViewer has been flooded with poor reviews from United fans and now holds a 1.8 ‘Poor’ rating. Not to mention the fact that getting Man Utd vs Liverpool cancelled would’ve had the alarm bells ringing in Florida that this could well happen again and they could lose quintessential TV money.
The sheer audacity of the ESL and the gluttonous greed involved was the last straw for United fans, now what we are witnessing is a desperate attempt at repairing the strained relationship with fans they never would’ve had an inclination to do so in the first place if not for the events that have occurred.
It is not just in the attempted reach out from Joel Glazer where things appear different. Manchester United seem to be surprisingly aggressive in the transfer window. Already acquiring Jadon Sancho and looking well-positioned for Raphael Varane it is just, well a bit odd to see United operate in this manner.
Considering this is a club whose recruitment and transfer strategies in the last few years have been highly mocked and looking every bit the operation with a man who’s an accountant by trade at the helm. This window is a far cry from previous where United orchestrated a mad trolley dash trying to get Josh King and other odd targets like Ousmane Dembele.
Perhaps the Glazers instructed club directors that they can’t afford to have more outcry or deal with one of the Glazers being confronted by a journalist at his car. It could also be the fact that since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement this is the best United have looked for the present and future this is the best plan we have seen since the great scot’s retirement and the reigns of Mourinho and Van Gaal of ‘sign big players and see what sticks’ were valuable lessons for all those involved.
The green and gold scarfs were out in swathes even when United were winning trophy and trophy but of course it helped to smooth things over that the club’s greatest ever manager backed them in press conferences then got the results on the pitch. With every passing day Ferguson left, the seething revile for the Glazers grew.
The American owners were cajoled into putting more hours into showing they care or feigning as if they do, about the impact on fans because of that rage. The pot had boiled and spilled over for the Glazers because they put too much in it, they are now attempting to cool things over and lower the tension. Not because they ever wanted to, but because they were coaxed into doing so.
By: Dharnish Iqbal / @DharnishSizlak
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Popperfoto