There can be no doubt that the Glazer family’s reign at Old Trafford has been one of the most controversial in football history. Never has the subject of club ownership come under such intense scrutiny and attention as the Glazer’s residency at the worlds biggest football club. I’m going to avoid quoting various financial facts and figures as you could find dozens of other websites that you can research the debt and financial misgivings for yourself. Instead I want to focus on the effect that the Glazer ownership and the actions of the club and those connected with it has had on United fans.
The facts are simple, United are in debt, debt laden onto the club from the Glazer’s takeover and without these United would be self-sufficient, able to make enough money to support itself and fund the transfer funds for the spending spree that every fan (and maybe even Fergie himself) crave so much. Instead the debt, interest, and personal payments that the Glazer’s take out of the club are restricting how United can operate and compete at the highest level. It’s fair to say that under the current regime United fans are viewed more as consumers than football fans. The ones that spend fortunes in the megastore and in the ground valued more than those you’ll find up by the chippy’s or in the pubs pre-game.
Since their 2005 takeover of Manchester United, the Glazer’s have divided both opinion and the United fans. So where did it all begin? Those that opposed the takeover in 2005 and made a decision to force themselves away from the club that they loved, the club that they followed to show their disgust at the takeover led to the formation of FC United Of Manchester. This at the time the most public statement of opposition to the ‘ getting their hands on United. And whatever your opinion of FC and the reasons behind it, you have to acknowledge the effort made by them and their followers and their achievements (including being in touching distance of the Third Round of the FA Cup).
As time moved on the Glazer’s invested into the team and many fans opposition was placated by a hat trick of Premier League titles, a few domestic cups and one unforgettable night in the Moscow rain when we won the Champions League. But last season (2009 – 2010) saw the anti-Glazer protest movement gather a juggernaut pace. Spurred on by United’s seemingly insurmountable debt and a lack of investment in the team the fans again said ‘enough is enough’. The lack of investment made even more prominent given the eye watering £80 million that United received for Ronaldo from Real Madrid in the summer of 2009. This mobilised the anti-Glazer movement and their protests gathered momentum and support. Many fans who hadn’t opposed in 2005 now joined the varying supporters trusts, web pages, and Facebook groups in their thousands. Then came the most visual and engaging statement of opposition since the creation of FC in 2005. The Green & Gold campaign. Harking back to United’s roots as Newton Heath this evoked a long since dissipated feeling of belonging to United. It was a marketing masterstroke. The 2009-10 season had seen Love United Hate Glazer (LUHG) banners unfurled at Old Trafford, only for those banners and the people in possession of them subjected to over zealous stewarding, but the club couldn’t stop the scarves. And they came. In their thousands. Before the club knew what to do there was a sea of Green & Gold at Old Trafford, and the bank of red that normally dominated was now aglow of Green & Gold. The literal embodiment of the United fans opposition to the Glazer regime right their in their faces, on the TV and in the media.
The Green & Gold campaign hit a particular high point following the Champions League match with AC Milan when one of the most famous footballing faces (and ex United son) David Beckham adorned his neck with a Green & Gold scarf. Score a massive point for the campaign. But as much as the Green & Gold campaign was in force last season it has undoubtedly lost some of the momentum this season (2010 – 2011). And once again we find United fans divided over the Glazers.
Many of the fans who boycotted and made the difficult decision to walk away from something they loved in 2005 looked upon the protests in 2009/10 with a certain amount of disdain. They wondered why those so vocal at the latter protests hadn’t joined them in the boycott of the former protests, and it’s this line of thought that is still visible now. Only those who boycotted at the end of the 2009/10 season now questioning the ideology of those still attending United games. There is no doubt that there are many fans around OT on matchday who don’t understand the protests, that don’t understand the depth of feeling that those who have boycotted have for the club and the anger they have for the ownership and what they’ve done to United. You can see many a fan walking around OT with their club shirt on, clutching a Megastore bag yet have a Green & Gold scarf draped around their neck. A dichotomy in terms in view of many of the protest movement crowd. But it doesn’t stop there. People who have boycotted calling for those that still go to games to follow their lead and disapproving of those that still want to indulge their love for United.
It is true that whilst United remain successful and competitive then the boycotting will never become a major enough issue to force the Glazer’s hand and get them out of United, out of Manchester and out of the UK. There will always be someone willing to take your season ticket whilst United continue to win silverware. But we now find ourselves at a crossroads. United have been distinctly average this season and with the retirement of Van Der Sar, the age of Scholes and Giggs, and the persistant injuries to Hargreaves and Ferdinand, United need major investment in the team now more than ever. We were told that investment in the team was a guarantee made to Rooney that made him withdraw his transfer request (that and the nice little payrise) and the time for the owners to ‘put up or shut up’ is now looming. The club insist that there is money to spend and Sir Alex insists that there is no value in the transfer market. We’ll never know whether that is his true feeling or a pre prepared line given to him in order to avoid telling us what we all fear. That we have no money to spend.
The decline of the Green & Gold campaign has left many wondering what is the next step for the opposition movement, and this remains to be seen. Whatever the next stage is we must ensure that United fans are united in the campaign. Those that have made the decision to boycott and those that haven’t shouldn’t be opposing each other but coming together in their love for the club and their desire to see it support itself, and above anything else give something back to the fans that adore it.