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.

But the activism of committed fans helped oust the previous American owners – or helped persuade them to seek an exit – and were Liverpool’s results not to pick up, the chorus will grow again. Should there be a home defeat tomorrow, anger at Liverpool’s handling of the transfer window will resurface.

Even naïve new owners come to realise investment is not just about acquiring players, it is about buying another essential – time. It in turn produces patience, which is vital not least because impatience is corrosive and disruptive.

Newcastle United have experienced this. But fans’ tolerance of owner Mike Ashley changed when the team started winning. It brought a pause to resentment. That allowed development.

South in Leeds, however, is proof that time does not heal all. There is blossoming frustration again with chairman Ken Bates after back-to-back defeats. The sight of three former Leeds midfielders performing well for Norwich City a grade up in the Premier League has added fresh annoyance to existing disillusion. Now there is an injury glut.

Leeds fans had displayed patience over the summer regarding a proposed takeover that still has not come. Now they are displaying something else. Judging by recent attendances at Elland Road, powerlessness and a recession are forcing some to choose to exercise their ultimate right: they have stopped going to a club they thought of as theirs.

Today Leeds host Nottingham Forest. Were Leeds United buoyant, was their confidence born of investment in the team, then Elland Road would be busy and hostile. As it is, it can still be intimidating but Forest will not expect to lose. Every empty seat is a plus for them.

It is also the greatest modern reminder to those who run the game of the power of those who sustain it, who have always sustained it. That is its own kind of ownership.

Tomorrow everyone at Anfield, Liverpool and United, knows the cost of fans being taken for granted.

On differing levels, a variety of owners have a duty of respect.

Kompany opts for head over Hart

Much has been made of Joe Hart’s emotional response to defeat at Real Madrid on Tuesday night. It came in the seconds after Manchester City had seen three points whittled to one and then none in the last few minutes of a dramatic match at the Bernabeu. Some seemed to blame Hart for the third, decisive Real goal, scored by Cristiano Ronaldo.

But if there was a question mark against the City goalkeeper, it was over the Real equaliser from Karim Benzema. What should surely have been asked after Ronaldo’s winner is why a man and a leader such as Vincent Kompany ducked out of heading Ronaldo’s shot. That left Hart exposed. He had no chance.

Manager Roberto Mancini then responded to Hart’s post-match response with a verbal slap-down. For City’s sake this has to be a literal heat-of-the-moment spat. If not, then there is fragility.

It is just one reason why City could do with a convincing performance against Arsenal tomorrow.

The way football works, Kompany will score with a header.

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