He came, he spoke, and he left Man Utd fans despising him more than ever. Joel Glazer’s appearance at the United Fans’ Forum on Friday 4 June went down like the proverbial lead balloon with the general United fanbase (aka social media), even if those in actual attendance seemed ‘cautiously optimistic’ about the outcome of the meeting.
What exactly did the keyboard critics expect?
That the billionaire owner of one of the biggest football clubs in the world would prostrate himself to the fans and apologise profusely for being such a meanie and proclaim that he had seen the light and whip out £500 million from his wallet to pay off the club’s debts and announce that he was donating the club to its long-suffering fans and heading off to a mountain in Tibet to become a monk and naval gaze with the Dalai Lama on how to end poverty and bring about world peace?
Wasn’t really going to happen, was it?
Instead, Glazer offered a mildly contrite-sounding apology, agreed to a Fan Share Scheme with equal voting rights, a Fan Advisory Board, expansion of the Fans’ Forum, a commitment to investing in team, stadium and training, but remained unmoved on paying the debt and not taking dividends. Small, but potentially important concessions, if followed through.
Yet the preoccupation of the fans was with what was not on offer rather than what was, epitomised by Gary Neville’s tweet about what Joel Glazer should have done.
Yes Gary, everyone wants the debt cleared and for the owners to stop treating the club like a cash cow. The question is how do you make them do it? By telling them off? ‘Joel, you’ve been a very naughty boy. It’s time you grew up and started taking your responsibility as a Man Utd owner seriously.’ ‘Sure, Mum’.
It’s not a particularly effective tactic since people in power aren’t very keen to give that power up. It was only to be expected that Joel Glazer would be big on platitudes and vague on detail.
The reality is that fans are never going to get their way whilst they remain passive consumers rather than active stakeholders in the game. Protesting can only draw attention to the fans’ lack of power; if fans want influence at their clubs, they have to fight to get into the boardroom.
United fans will never get the Glazers out until they get the fans in.
Which is why the real focus of attention should have been on the Fan Share scheme advocated by MUST (Manchester United Supporters Trust) and their clarion call to United’s global fanbase to give their scheme the weight of support:
“MUST is today signalling their intention to recruit the millions of members of Manchester United’s huge global fanbase to unite behind their campaign and sign up to their pre-launch “Sign For United” campaign site at www.SignForUnited.org so they can be part of the campaign when it launches in the next 10 days.
The aim of the campaign is to demonstrate the huge appetite amongst United support for a better model of ownership which embraces the fans at its heart and in so doing compel the club to deliver a really revolutionary Fan Share Scheme which will both excite the fans and also exceed their demand for shares.”
If United fans want real change at the club, they have to demand better fan representation because that is the only way to achieve it, not writing a wish list on social media. However sceptical fans are about the possibility of implementation it is essential they back the concept of fan ownership and sign up to MUST’s campaign.
For their protests to be truly effective, United fans need to protest for a cause, not simply against one.
Campaigning to get the Glazers out is all very well, but it will remain as futile as it has been for the last 16 years without advocating for an alternative model of ownership to replace them. Even if the Glazers eventually leave, without some form of fan ownership the club will just end up swapping one greedy, uncaring billionaire for another, because who else is going to be able to afford to buy Manchester United?
And fans will continue to remain powerless customers with their unstinting loyalty easily exploited by unscrupulous owners who will continue to have the power to treat the club they love and support as their personal plaything.
Without getting the fans into the boardroom, even getting the Glazers out of the club will only ever be a Pyrrhic victory, and that is no victory at all.