Neil Humphreys: United fans face impossible decision
Glazers have forced Red Devils to make a choice no supporter wants to consider
Every football supporter should sympathise with the Red Devils. They face an impossible dilemma. They protest, they’re damned. They accept the status quo, they’re damned.
They walk away from the club, they’re damned. The options are clear.
The choices are not. And supporters of other clubs might want to hold back on the gleeful condemnation and remember the only rhetorical question that matters.
If the world’s biggest football club can fall into the wrong hands, then what chance has your team got?
Those Manchester United protesters at Old Trafford last Sunday were canaries in the coal mine, testing the toxic air and gauging the public mood for supporter activism.
They were not striking a blow for equality. They were the desperate pleas of the disenfranchised.
The power was and remains with absentee billionaires. The Glazer family’s position is the same today as it was yesterday. They are going nowhere.
Unless any sport-washing oligarchs fancy stumping up £4 billion (S$7.4b) to buy out the Glazers, the power imbalance remains. So what are fans supposed to do now?
Further protests are reportedly being planned, but cynics are already questioning the timing, claiming that fickle followers would be less strident if the English Premier League title was up for grabs.
Such cynicism requires a jaundiced view of the Glazer era to make this revisionist history work. First, there were many protests when the Americans saddled a rich club with over £500 million in debt, thanks to their leveraged takeover in 2005.
FC United of Manchester, a semi-professional club, was literally born out of the collective protests, with fans turning their backs on Old Trafford and forming a new community club.
Still, the cynical argument then follows that gullible Red Devils were essentially pacified and paid off with silverware, which is half-true in the sense that it’s half-true of all clubs.
Look at Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and even Newcastle United when it comes to the awkward, hypocritical relationships between fans and owners – actual or prospective.
Blind eyes have been turned for decades.
Even then, the argument does the United fan base a disservice. In 2010, there was another attempt to remove the Glazers with the “Green and Gold” campaign. David Beckham sported a green and gold scarf in support.
Sir Alex Ferguson, it should be noted, did not.
Consider those uncomfort able implications. The revered manager was not only still winning trophies under the Glazers, he was also reluctant to criticise them. Were the Red Devils expected to turn against their untouchable manager, too?
In reality, the Glazers were never accepted within the United community. The grotesque quest for profit has always rankled.
The Guardian estimates that the Glazers have taken more than £1 billion out of the club in debt payments and share dividends. Meanwhile, Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour has invested a similar amount, turning noisy neighbours into European titans.
One set of owners take a bil lion pounds out of a Manchester club, another puts a billion pounds into a Manchester club, and the Red Devils are expected to roll over as more than a hundred years of history gets sliced into shares and sold off?
They didn’t. Protests in 2005, 2010 and now 2021 were about the boardroom, not the league table. What else could they do? Walk away? The club belongs to the fans. They should be the last people to walk.
Jamie Carragher rightly praises the Spirit of Shankly, the supporters’ union that constantly harassed previous Liverpool owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, but the fans didn’t bring down the Americans. Finances did.
Once the credit crunch hit, the money ran out. Hicks and Gillett were no longer in a position to pay their debts. Wealthy owners rarely leave on any other terms but their own.
And now, similar power brokers with identical interests will slyly apportion blame to a nihilistic minority of bottle-throwing thugs, conveniently ignoring the vast majority of peaceful supporters seeking representation.
In short, the United supporters are going to be damned on all sides, criticised for any decisions made, for a situation they neither created nor wanted.
They deserve sympathy, not scorn, for an explicit reason.
If they are silenced again, then what’s happening to their club will almost certainly happen to yours.