Friday June 4th was an important day in recent Manchester United history. Club ownership has spoken directly to fans.
Not once before, in a management dating back to the summer of 2005, has a representative of the Glazer family hired supporters.
But that day, Co-Chair Joel Glazer spoke to 11 representatives at a virtual fan forum.
He began with an apology, followed quickly by an admission that the distant nature of United’s American ownership “wasn’t fair.” Over the next two hours, Glazer took a look at some of the plans he says will make the club more inclusive and give fans what they want.
However, many do not trust the 54-year-old.
They argue that Glazer’s presence at the meeting was entirely due to the latent discontent around United homestead ownership that erupted after the collapse of the European Super League.
They say the £ 8million to be paid to the family in dividends announced on June 17 is proof that nothing is going to change.
These fans are not interested in listening to the Glazers. They just want them to quit their club.
During the meeting with the fans, Glazer set up his stand.
“There are many factors that lead to the success of a club,” he said. “However, we realize that at the end of the day for a club to be the most successful, everyone – the club and its supporters – has to work together.
“While no team can win every game, everyone shooting in the same direction gives us all the best chance of success. We believe there is a bright future for the club, but we must try to break through the areas of conflict. “
But many fans argue that the main area of conflict is with the Glazer family – and their complete lack of communication before.
“The fan cynicism is understandable,” said Ian Stirling, vice chairman of the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST), who attended the forum.
“There have been 16 years of family ownership of Glazer – hardly any communication. But cynicism was in order when the Super League plans were announced, when people said it couldn’t be stopped. It was there for the Fan Forum offer, said Joel Glazer would never meet with us or commit to anything. ”
Glazer is committed to strengthening the forum. In addition, he said that a Fan Advisory Board would be established, which “would advise and consult regularly with the club’s senior management.”
He also wants to continue discussions with fan groups on a “mutually beneficial fan shareholding program” that carries the same voting rights as Class B shares which are almost exclusively owned by the family.
Can Fans Really Own Ownership?
This has been a stated goal of MUST for United fans to have a say in the management of the club.
On June 25, MUST launched the Sign for United campaign. Backed by legendary former United captain Eric Cantona, the program asks fans to “register their commitment to become a supporter shareholder”. In four days, 50,000 people had registered.
However, there are issues.
The fanzine Red Issue, which has more than 58,000 followers on Twitter, questioned the motivations behind this.
They support ‘direct action’ such as the protest ahead of the Premier League match with Liverpool on May 2 which saw two large fans storming security around the stadium – and the match called off as the coronavirus bubble around ‘Old Trafford has been raped – is the only way to completely force the Glazers, which they want.
While it has been suggested to BBC Sport that the will to rehearse these scenes may not exist, rumors have been made of further protests during the pre-season game against the Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road on the 24th. July.
In practice, it is not clear how a fan ownership regime would work.
First, there are already large investors in the club whose shares do not have voting rights. United has also done extensive work on how the issuance of shares might fit within the legal and regulatory realities of the club’s listing on the New York Stock Exchange, but the thoughts of these Class A shareholders are unclear. unclear as to the provision of a new batch of shares. exclusively to fans who theoretically have more power than theirs.
And how many fans will register?
On June 27, the Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust said it had received more than £ 100,000 in pledges as it tried to raise funds to buy a stake in the club amid massive discontent over the owned by Mike Ashley.
Still, the belief was that Ashley was going to sell the club to a consortium in Saudi Arabia for around £ 300million. Even to get a 5% stake in that valuation, it would take £ 15million. Manchester United is worth around £ 1.8bn depending on its share price, so a 5% stake would cost £ 90m.
“In Newcastle, is there a prospect of building a meaningful stake? Said Stirling. “Does Ashley want supporters at the center of the club?”
“If this prospect of change was given to supporters and they knew their actions were protected, you would see sums of money well over £ 100,000.
“We believe the Manchester United fans want to build up a meaningful turnout. It doesn’t happen overnight. It will take years.
“We are not asking for £ 1bn in shares to be returned to us immediately, but this vehicle has to be in place for supporters to invest.
“We have to build for the future. Unless you start, you’ll never get what you want. Look at where we were three months ago compared to where we are now. Look at where we might be if legislation is introduced after the government fan-led review. It would be foolish not to plan this. ”
Is the 50 + 1 realistic?
MUST is one of many fan groups who have already met the government review team as the campaign for a reset following the European Super League storm continues.
The German 50 + 1 model, where supporters have a gold share that prevents private investors from taking control of clubs, is seen by many as the ambitious goal.
However, there is no clear solution on how to reach this state in England, where almost all clubs are private.
For now, the best United fans can hope for is for the Glazer family to honor their commitment to be more inclusive with the people from whom they have enjoyed such a significant financial benefit.
“Direct action has played its part in speeding up the process of bringing the Glazers to the table, but there is a lot of work that has been done to get us to this point as well,” added Stirling.
“People come into these things at different levels with different motivations. Ours at MUST is long term.
“Joel Glazer’s words weren’t blurry. There were commitments in there and we have to hold it to account.
“We want to get the best possible deal for the supporters. Not for ourselves, but to protect the club. It doesn’t matter whether he looks genuine. What follows and what is delivered. “