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Sunday 11 December 2016

Glazers have torn United from their grassroots origins

Jim White

Published 13/05/2011 | 05:00

In May 2005, the majority of Manchester United's fans heading to the Millennium Stadium for the FA Cup final were dressed in black. It was symbolic mourning, marking the arrival of the club's new owners, the Glazers from Florida.

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Using the then-fashionable financial instrument of the leveraged buyout, the family had saddled United -- until then an entirely loan-free institution -- with hundreds of millions of pounds of debt to facilitate control. When Arsenal won the Cup on penalties, it seemed to mark the start of a grim era for United followers, a lifetime of paying for someone else's indulgence.

Six years on, things appear rather different. United are poised to win their fourth Premier League title since then, a bauble to set alongside three League Cups and one Champions League trophy. And all this with a third European Cup final in four years to come.

Meanwhile, since that Cardiff meeting, Arsenal -- carefully run, living within their means, accruing debt to develop infrastructure rather than merely to gain ownership -- have won nothing.

As predictions of doom have proven exaggerated, a gathering momentum is building behind the notion that the Glazers should be cut a little slack. Far from being harbingers of disaster, they have actually ushered in a golden age for United. Maybe it is time to give them some credit for their stewardship.

That might be an increasingly favoured argument, but personally I would rather run around Old Trafford wearing a sky-blue shirt with Tevez emblazoned across the shoulders than I would be prepared to give the family any credit.

I believe United's success has arrived in spite of the Glazers, not thanks to them. Rather than astute custodians, they are merely monumental leeches, blessed, in their endless requirement for blood, to be attached to such a healthy host body.

Yes, it is true, in this respect, the Glazers have been good owners: they have left Alex Ferguson alone. Said to be intimidated by the old knight, the family has never challenged his judgment. Allowed to do what he wishes, according to those who know him, the manager has grown into his role, relishing being ever more king of his castle and, as a result, performing at the top of his game.

And yes, it is unarguable that they have substantially increased United's revenue stream, introducing hundreds of expensively accrued sponsorship deals.

But -- and this is the crucial point -- most of the extra money they have raised has come from the turnstiles, via a year-on-year hike in ticket prices. And it is in the stands at Old Trafford that you get a glimpse of the real change the Glazers have wrought on United.

I watched a game from the East Stand recently and was taken aback by the make-up of the crowd. In the recent BBC drama 'United', Jimmy Murphy was seen standing in the middle of an empty stadium explaining to Bobby Charlton his responsibility to his audience.

These were the people who paid to be uplifted by his efforts, said Murphy. And, pointing to the terraces, he spoke of the mill workers, the dockers, the miners to whom the players had a duty of enlightenment.

Were Mike Phelan to do the same with Javier Hernandez these days, he would be obliged to pick out the software engineers from Singapore, the human resources managers from Oslo, the hedge fund directors from Prestbury. At United, in the past five years, the crowd has been financially cleansed.

The local working man has been deliberately disfranchised, not necessarily out of malice but because he does not have adequate monetary wherewithal to be of use.

It is, in truth, not that different at Stamford Bridge and the Emirates.

abandon

This was a process begun at the start of the Premier League era. But the Glazers have accelerated it with reckless abandon. And the fact is, at United it need never have happened. The club were so big, so successful, they could have maintained a fair pricing structure.

As one senior member of staff recently told me: "Had we still been a plc, we'd have been ankle deep in cash." But they aren't. And since the Glazers arrived, £300m has had to be found -- largely from the pockets of match-going fans -- simply to service the debt.

It is telling to make comparisons with Barcelona, United's opponents in the Champions League final and their most significant rivals for the title of the world's biggest club. Next season the Catalans are to charge £525 for a season ticket. That works out at £17.50 per game. At United, it will cost £1,030 (£36.75).

Six years ago, United were less expensive than the Spanish champions.

This is the biggest charge the Glazers face: they have done nothing to develop and enhance the club in order to maintain its social fabric. They have no interest in the wider civic role of their property.

No one can deny United are thriving on the pitch. But every year, as the prices rise to service the debt, the club disconnect further from their roots. You can call that the sentimental view, perhaps.

The fact is, this is now an institution almost entirely divorced from its origins. Once it was a place dedicated to illuminating the lives of all those who called Manchester their home. Now its purpose is to enrich a family from Florida.

Never mind how many trophies have been accrued coincidental to their ownership, that is the true legacy of the Glazers. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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