Clubs owners should remember dangers of taking fans for granted
SOCCER ANGLES:Liverpool and Manchester United might have common cause – unease about their US owners
WHO OWNS a football club? Perhaps that question should be: who really owns a football club? Or: what constitutes ownership? These questions have grown in number and are around the game all the time now, but there are certain weeks when they are brought sharply into focus.
Reading some of the views of Manchester United supporters as they prepare for tomorrow’s tense, first post-Hillsborough Panel game at Anfield, this is one such week. It is apparent there is a strong feeling Old Trafford and Manchester United belong to them and not the on-paper owners or their boardroom appointees. Hence, these fans believe no one can tell them how to behave, such as be silent.
With anxiety high about what tomorrow could bring in terms of verbal abuse on a day of intense sensitivity in Liverpool, United fans are being beseeched to bite their collective lip. If there is not a real belief that a show of respect for Liverpool’s 96 dead at Hillsborough could mark a watershed in supporter relations, there is at least a hope there can be a one-match truce.
But silence, like noise, comes from within. It is only the hardcore who travel from Manchester to Merseyside on lunchtimes like tomorrow and they take their football and their rivalries very seriously.
And one of those rivalries is with their own club.
The name above the door at Old Trafford is that of Malcolm Glazer, an American businessman who has effectively purchased United on the back of debt realised by their financial might, which stems from a worldwide fanbase and the accumulation of trophies stretching back to Matt Busby’s first great team.
That fanbase had and has a Mancunian core. These are the supporters who create the culture, who write and sing the songs, who turn up home and away, frequently paying exorbitant prices. These are the fans whose very presence justifies the concept of corporate expansion.
They pre-date the Glazer family, chief executive David Gill and even in many cases manager Alex Ferguson. These are the fans who will still be at Old Trafford after Ferguson and the Glazers depart. They have a sincere sense of themselves as the bricks and mortar of the club.
And a section of them, when they hear Ferguson call for a form of behaviour at Anfield, think his closeness to the Glazers mean they can consider his plea but will decide of their own accord how they will behave. They feel Ferguson has lost the moral authority he once had at the club.
Gauging the size of this group is difficult. They are not the majority, but the green-and-gold protest was broad and sustained. It demonstrated a level of awareness of ownership matters.
This remains an issue at United and, ironically, were tomorrow at Anfield not so important, Liverpool and United fans might actually have common cause.
Who owns United? American businessmen. Who owns Liverpool? American businessmen.
And among Liverpool supporters, rumbling on beneath the reaction to the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s shocking revelations, is a red grumble about how Brendan Rodgers was allowed to let Andy Carroll leave for West Ham on loan on the basis that Clint Dempsey was about to arrive from Fulham.
But Dempsey never did arrive because, apparently, Liverpool’s on-paper owners did not want to sanction an extra £2 million (€2.5m) payment. The other owners – on the Kop – are aggrieved, they have just not shouted so loudly about it over the past 10 days. Understandably.