Ever since Malcolm Glazer acquired his first Manchester United shares in mid-2003, there has been an undercurrent of disquiet amongst the Manchester United faithful, who have seemed deeply distrustful of the American tycoon from the very start.
Ever since Glazer acquired a controlling interest in the club on 12th May 2005, when he agreed to purchase the shares of J.P.McManus and John Magnier, and then four days later when he took his shareholding in the club to 75%, allowing him to delist the club from the London Stock Exchange, there have been increasing calls from a large swathe of the Manchester United support that his actions were not in the best interests of the club.
The First Protests Begin...
A small group of United fans created FC United of Manchester in the wake of the inevitable Glazer buy out. Protests at games have continued almost unabated since, there have been peaceful protests outside Old Trafford before, during and after games. This season, fans have shown their disapproval at the new chairman by wearing Green and Gold scarves throughout the current season, (the green and gold being the colours first worn by Manchester United when they were formed in 1878 and named then as Newton Heath F.C.)
Currently, we have the situation where a group, dubbed the “Red Knights” are planning a bid to oust the Glazer’s from overall control at the club, with the support of the 125,000 strong (and growing) Manchester United Supporters Trust who have expressed grave concerns as to how the club is being run under the stewardship of the Glazer family.
Debt. The Glazer Legacy.
The question is, why?
The answer is simple: Debt, a staggering amount of it and just how it has been divided up between the owners and the club.
The cost of the total Glazer takeover at Manchester United, from the procurement of his first share in 2003, until he increased his share to 98% on May 2005, forcing a compulsory buy out of all other shareholders, amounted to around £800m. Unfortunately, Malcolm Glazer at the time did not have this money available from his own funds to use, so what he did was use his assets to secure this debt.
That asset being, Manchester United Football Club and it is this which has so incensed fans.
The legacy of the Glazer takeover is debt. As part of the deal to take over the club, Glazer was forced to borrow vast sums of money, which was subsequently secured against the club, in effect using the assets of the club to safeguard the debt, rather than his own personal wealth.
The net result, the profitable Manchester United PLC became Malcolm Glazer’s Manchester United FC and as such is in debt, as of accounts published in March 2010, to the tune of £507.5m. Believe it or not, this was a £155m improvement from the accounts of June 2006, when they were in debt shortly after the takeover by £660m.
So where is the money needed to service and eventually reduce this debt, going to come from?
As far back as 2006, the Manchester United Supporters Trust were wary stating:
“The amount of money needed to be repaid overall is huge... The interest payment is one thing but what about the actual £660 million? It is difficult to see how these sums can be reached without significant increases in ticket prices, which, as we always suspected, means the fans will effectively be paying for someone to borrow money to own their club."
Supporters Feel Taken Advantage Of
That is the crucial factor. Manchester United fans feel that Glazer has used them, their support and their undoubted love for the club as a bargain chip at the table to further secure his already vast own personal wealth and esteem, with little risk to him or his family. Instead the majority of risk is being taken by Manchester United Football Club and it is the fans who are being asked to pay for the honour of this risk.
If the financial situation at the club cannot be resolved and the club starts to struggle, Glazer will be able to walk away, bruised and bloodied yes, but still in healthy economic shape.
Manchester United, on the other hand, could face insolvency, or worse still, going out of business altogether.
It is perhaps an extreme vision. One of the world’s biggest clubs brought to its knees through debt. However it has happened this season already in the Premier League, albeit on a much smaller scale, with Portsmouth. However the fear is very real and tangible at Old Trafford every time Glazer or his sons, who are now all members of the board at the club, walk into Old Trafford into a sea of Green and Gold scarves.
The Glazer Era Positives?
In order to retain some perspective, it is worth pointing out that the Glazer take over has had some positives for Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson’s fractious relationship with former owners J.P.McManus and John Magnier, primarily over racehorse Rock of Gibraltar, was immediately resolved when they relinquished their shares to Glazer. Glazer then backed Ferguson to the hilt. United certainly haven’t been frugal in the transfer market since 2005 either. Players like Nani, Hargreaves, Carrick, Berbatov, Valencia and Anderson have been brought into the club (though critics will point out, that millions have also been recouped through player sales during this period).
The club has also signed the largest sponsorship agreement in its history with AIG and Old Trafford has continued to be redeveloped into the largest club ground in the United Kingdom and this has all been further enhanced by continuing levels of success on the field in both domestic and European competition. Glazer’s communications indicate that all is healthy at Old Trafford and this view is shared by David Gill who has claimed recently that the Glazers were “running the club the right way”.
So Where Is The Truth?
The truth is probably divested somewhere in between the rhetoric of both parties. In no way could any club, saddled with that amount of debt, be as comfortable as the Glazers suggest Manchester United is. By the same token, the club isn’t broken and penniless as perpetuated by those groups intent on removing Glazer from the helm.
However what cannot be questioned is that the loading of what United fans perceive to be his own financial burden, onto their club, is Malcolm Glazer’s biggest crime. It may well be a standard business practice, but it has raised the hackles of many a fan who now see their clubs owner as public enemy number one and the man primarily responsible for turning the club from a profitable PLC, into a debt ridden asset, somewhat cynically used to perpetuate the already obscene wealth of an American businessman, with relatively little or no risk to himself.
That’s why Old Trafford these days is a sea of Green and Gold and will continue to be so until either the Glazer family, the debt or preferably both, leave Old Trafford for good.
Ian John - www.puntersrealm.com