The Glazer Protests: Where Do They Go From Here?

The Glazer Protests: Where Do They Go From Here?

By on Jan 29, 2010 in English League Football, Latest | 10 comments

It was one of the stranger sights of the season, for sure. During the League Cup semi-final between Manchester United and Manchester City on Wednesday night, a large number of (what to the untrained eye may have appeared to have been) Norwich City supporters seemed to have infiltrated Old Trafford and were sitting in their seats, cheering on Alex Ferguson’s team. It was, of course, nothing of the sort. Those wearing green and gold scarves were showing their distaste at the Glazer family’s control of Manchester United and the club’s proposed bond issue. Green and gold – the colours of the original Newton Heath Football Club that changed its name to Manchester United – have been designated those of this protest. Some, however, are calling into question what the protest means and what it hopes to achieve, especially when the thousands wearing the scarves on Wednesday night were quite obviously and notably inside Old Trafford, having spent a large amount of money on tickets – money that will, ultimately, keep the Glazers at Old Trafford.

For a number of former Manchester United supporters, the club is lost and has been for some time. Whilst it is perhaps unfruitful to get involved in debates that run along the lines of, “Where were you lot in 2005, when all of this was going through?”, it is certainly worth asking the question of what this protest hopes to achieve. The first thing that the Glazers did when they took control of Manchester United was to delist it from the stock market. Having played its rules to take control of the club, they weren’t prepared to subject themselves to the scrutiny of being publically listed. As such, the club is now completely prone to the whims of the owners and, so long as they don’t break the law, there is nothing that anybody can do about it. Those that left to start FC United of Manchester were frequently decried as “splitters” or “Judases”. It seems unlikely that many FCUM supporters will take pleasure in having been right about the Glazers’ intentions, but this is only part of the story behind the breakaway club.

Whilst the Glazer take-over of Manchester United was the deciding factor for many, the formation of FCUM was also about a feeling of wider malaise with “big” football. A lack of affordable tickets, an increasing lack of atmosphere at matches, the constant manouvering of kick-off times to suit television companies and the more or less constant selling of the very soul of the game to whomever would put up the most money for the (often dubious) privilege were also factors that informed people to make the break and form a club that would make its own rules and make an ultimate decision that was obviously one of the most heart-wrenching that any football supporter could ever have to make. Most still feel an allegiance to Manchester United, but many will never return to Old Trafford. Over the intervening years, they have forged a unique identity which is likely to be cemented with the construction of their own ground.

There is nothing wrong with protesting at Old Trafford, and it is encouraging to see that the status quo of the current ownership model of football clubs in England is finally starting to be questioned. However, the question of what the green and gold campaign hopes to achieve remains. It seems highly unlikely that the actions of the supporters on Wednesday night will have any affect on those running the club, especially when those supporters are still paying the money that keeps the Glazers at Old Trafford. If the news over the last couple of weeks has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that they are at the club for money, and money alone. Those behind the protests argue that the green and gold protest is merely to bring supporters together under one banner, but if the protests are to step up, they will require less and less convenient action. It’s one thing to wear a green and gold scarf but act in every other way as you would at a match. It’s quite another to vocalise a protest at Old Trafford, risk being banned from the ground or having your season ticket confiscated or boycott the club altogether.

The suspicion remains that it may be too late to protest at Old Trafford. The cost is likely to be too high for supporters groups to be able to buy the club, and the amount of money required to lever the club away from the Glazers would deter the majority of potential buyers even if it wasn’t leaking money from every orifice. There is also no guarantee – far from it – that, no matter how bad the Glazers are (and let’s not forget that they are terrible for the club), new owners would be any less voracious than they. The argument that those protesting now should have been protesting in 2005 may have an element of one-up-man-ship about it, but it doesn’t, in all honesty, make it any less valid. Still, though, the message is getting through. One of the starkest messages to be seen on the television on Wednesday night was the advertisement hoardings around the ground for the availability of tickets for their upcoming match against Portsmouth. Manchester United, one of the best-supported football clubs in the world, can no longer guarantee a sell out at Old Trafford for a Premier League match.

Meanwhile, a short hop on the tram away from Old Trafford at Gigg Lane, the protest that started in 2005 continues apace and has taken a sentience of its own that transcends the Glazer family, bond issues or losing at home to Leeds United in the FA Cup. Should the people protesting at Old Trafford on Wednesday night wish to extend their protest further, there will be plenty of space for them at Gigg Lane for the next FCUM home match. Or, to put it another way, the protest has already started and they are invited. However, human nature and the rapt nature of the majority of football supporters means that this is unlikely to happen, and also that protests that involve more than wearing a scarf to matches are likely to see a reduction in the number of people taking part. This isn’t a criticism of Manchester United supporters. It’s a criticism of football supporters in a more general sense. Most of us put up with too much, and most of us have put up with it for too long. FC United supporters, though, are at making their voices heard and the fact that their club, which many said would never work, is still here after this amount of time, is the most potent sign of protest, not only against the Glazers, but also of so many other things that are wrong with English football.

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    10 Comments

  1. So the thrust of your article means exactly what, Ian? You really don’t seem to know which side of the argument to hang your hat on.

    You also seem to be suggesting that it’s somewhat pointless to express an opinion when all seems lost anyway. That’s pretty defeatist, and also inaccurate. The Glazers’ may have delisted the club from the stock exchange, but they are highly vulnerable to the very people they are royally pissing off – the supporters. The green and gold scarves (Why just misplaced Norwich fans, when it could have been a throng of Aussies visiting the game?) are just the first signs of what will hopefully prove a wave of dissent that will oust the Americans through sheer financial desperation.

    United fans are faced with two choices. They can either sit back, accept the inevitable, and watch their beloved club die a slow and painful death under the aegis of the Glazer family, who to all intents and purposes are raping Old Trafford for the sake of their own pockets, or they can stand up and be counted by putting on a United front (pun intended) and assailing the Glazers in such a way that their financial hold on the club will collapse. To elaborate on your own point, every time a disgruntled United fan puts his bum on a seat at Old Trafford, every time he buys a team shirt or other merchandise, every time he pays to watch United online, and every time he indirectly buys a product from one of United’s sponsors, he is contributing money into the very coffers that keep the Glazers afloat and in control of our beloved club.

    It is a pointless exercise, though a noble one, for scattered individuals to make a stand by boycotting United games as a protest against the Glazers. What is really needed is for everyone, from fan clubs, MUST, online sites and all, to get together and organize major boycotts and protests against all things associated with the Glazers’ hold on United. Yes, it may hurt United in the short term, but it’s the team’s long term welfare that’s at stake. Better to act now and bring about a collapse of the Glazers’ financial structure at United while the club still holds its world-wide reputation and some kind of dollar value, rather than wait until the Glazers’ gut it by selling off Old Trafford, Carrington, and all the players of value, leaving behind a shell of a team little better off then where a once glorious Leeds now finds itself.

    Manchester United is at a crucial crossroads in its existence. Down one path lies despair and a trivialization of all that was once glorious about the club. Down another lies salvation through people power. It’s the same old story. As long as people sit around doing nothing, as long as a few die-hards put together sporadic and relatively futile gestures, nothing will happen. But if people who really love the club stopped for a moment to just realize what kind of absolute power they wield as a mass, the consequences could be astounding.

    How many weeks of an empty Old Trafford on game days do you think it would take before the Glazers’ initiated desperate talks to sell off the club before their finances collapsed? How much do you think their revenue streams would be affected if people stopped buying merchandise completely? How do you think the Americans are going to feel if supporters started boycotting the products of the club sponsors, even going so far as to write to them to let them know they’ll snub their products as long as the Glazers’ remain at Old Trafford?

    The power to bring about the desired change is there, if supporters but knew how much of it lies in their own hands bound together as one.

    timbo

    January 29, 2010

  2. You could argue that had the FCUM contingent continued to take the fight to the Glazers rather than turning their attentions towards forming a new club within a matter of weeks of the takeover, the fan movement at Old Trafford would be in a much better position now than it ever could be.

    You could argue…

    Jonathan

    January 29, 2010

  3. I disagree,let’s see Old Trafford full of green and gold.It will provide a peaceful message to all—— that UNITED fans are of one mind———GET THE GLAZERS OUT

    graham wyche

    January 29, 2010

  4. Something I’ve never understood about UK-based complaints about the modern game is the switching of kick-off times. Does it really matter if it’s 3pm or 5pm? or 1pm? Or 11am? You guys have the luxury of playing in one time zone, whereas in North America our games start at various hours depending on where they play. 5pm puck drop one game, 7:30pm the next game, maybe a 4pm later in the week. I wonder if you aren’t all mythologizing about a golden era of 3pm Saturday football, like it was somehow more perfect because it was played at the same time as last week.

    Brenton

    January 29, 2010

  5. Jonathan – yes you could argue that, but then you could argue that FCUM was the biggest protest possible

    Jertzee

    January 29, 2010

  6. The fact that not many of Man United’s customers have chosen to become fans of and support FCUM tells you the biggest problem with English football: fans themselves.

    If only they understood just how powerful they actually are as they ultimately pay for EVERYTHING.

    It would be just the same at any other club too BTW.

    Martin

    January 29, 2010

  7. If the Glazers are as clever as I think they are, they will have bought shares in the company making the green and yellow scarves already…

    It’s hard to see how their cancer can be removed from any club without almost killing the club in the process.

    Martin

    January 29, 2010

  8. Jertz, indeed. Our experiences with peaceful protests against the MK move during 2001/02 shows just how utterly ineffectual they are.

    People like Koppel and the Glazers only understand one thing: money, and your choice to deprive them of yours.

    Martin

    January 29, 2010

  9. The thing is, Brenton, unlike most Americans, we prefer to watch our football *at the ground* rather than on television. Most people – especially travelling away fans – are deeply inconvenienced by kick-offs at (eg) 12.45 to fit in with the lunchtime TV game or 5.15 for the early evening game.

    Football wants fans to fill her grounds, to create the ‘vibrant atmosphere’ so beloved of Andy Gray et al, and to pay the increasingly exorbitant ticket-prices (which have increased by over 1000% in the last 20 years – what other industry has suffered inflation of that order?); but the game still treats us as subordinate to the sprawling and fickle mass of couch-potatoes claiming allegiances to teams they never see in the flesh and support financially only through an annual purchase of a replica shirt. I fail to see why season-ticket holders should be inconvenienced for the benefit of TV viewers who contribute nothing to the club and nothing to the game. And before you start, yes, the game would be a great deal better off without the Sky millions. No Glazers, no Sheikhs, no Abramaovich for starters.

    Jim

    January 29, 2010

  10. I guess with the greater distances, there are no such things as traveling fans in North American sport, excepting a few places on the east coast. Jim, we also prefer to watch our teams at the ground, and we do when we can: sell-outs or at least mostly full stadia are the norm for most teams. Only a few shitty baseball teams and and some hockey teams in the south seem to worry about what the crowd is like. The other factor is that we don’t have the same depth of leagues.

    Brenton

    January 29, 2010

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