You have a season ticket because you love your club.
You wear the shirt because you love your club.
You want to win trophies because you love your club.
You want the Glazers out because you love your club.
Only the Glazers aren’t going anywhere because the club remains so profitable for them.
£125 million. That’s how much the Glazer family have made personally out of Manchester United Football Club. Why would they sell a club that has become their private cash bank thanks to the leveraged nature of their takeover?
Worse, if Man Utd start winning trophies on a regular basis again, the club is going to be even more profitable, so how can United fans want their team to win and want the Glazers out at the same time?
The stark reality for United fans is that in order to incentivise the Glazers to sell up, the club has to fail – badly. Even the relative mediocrity of the last eight years has not diminished the club’s capacity to generate profit. Since the Glazers’ leveraged buyout in 2005, the club has made a whopping £5.9 billion in revenue (to 2020) – bigger than any other English club by some way. The club’s operating profit during that period was £467 million. The club is currently valued at £3.05 billion. Any campaign to withhold custom from the club is unlikely to do more than make a miniscule dent in the club’s brand image.
The truth is football has always had its fans over a barrel. It is misleading to claim that football clubs are a business. Football clubs can never be a business because fans are not customers. If they were, they would walk the moment their clubs started to treat them badly. Poor customer service is usually bad for businesses. If a business treats its customers badly the customers can walk away and the business – and its owners – will soon go bust.
But football is not a business. When clubs treat their fans badly, the fans cannot walk away. As the old footballing adage goes: you can divorce your wife (or husband), but you never divorce your club. A fan is a fan for life. And that’s great news for parasitic profiteers like the Glazers. It means they and their ilk can exploit fan loyalty and fill their own limitless coffers to their heart’s content.
This trap has left United fans in a bind ever since the Glazer takeover in 2005. They want the Glazers gone but so many cannot walk away from actively supporting the club because football – and United – is their life.
That bind has also caused unhelpful divisions between the fans who have been able to walk away and those who cannot. Those who can have slammed their brethren for betraying the cause by giving money to the Glazers through their active support.
But likewise you could make a similar argument against those who are staunchly Glazers Out and Not a Penny More, yet are passionately critical of the team when they lose. How can you want the Glazers out and still demand the team win trophies when it is that very success that will ensure they never leave?
That’s the inescapable paradox for United fans.
However, the universal anger over the (Glazer-led) ESL breakaway and the Man Utd fans’ subsequent anti-Glazer protest and invasion of Old Trafford that got the Liverpool game called off may just have helped tip the balance of power towards football fans for the first time.
Thanks to fan action the government is undertaking a very public fan-led review into the way football is governed. A key item on the agenda will be the viability of fan ownership. The protests have also inspired famous football voices such as Gary Neville and fellow players and media personalities to demand an independent regulator for the game.
For United fans, the protests have forced Joel Glazer into finally communicating with them. It has only taken him 16 years! Remarkably, Glazer is actually going to meet them for the first time at the end-of season Fans’ Forum on 4 June. There’s even a possibility – hold the front page – that he may be open to a fan share scheme, though United fans shouldn’t get too excited on this one. Still, it’s all progress thanks to the continued protests of United fans determined to get the owners out of their club.
Although it is unlikely that the Glazers will leave Man Utd in the foreseeable future, it would seem the real victory for United fans isn’t going to be Glazers Out but Fans In. If and, more hopefully, when it happens, it will be a victory for football itself.