The rise of the Red Rebels of Manchester: ’I didn’t want to put any money into the pockets of Malcolm Glazer and his family’
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DURBAN - Since the American Glazer family acquired majority stakes in Manchester United in 2005, fans have disapproved of the ownership as there is a perception that the leadership hierarchy does not value the club’s traditions and fans, instead placing profit first.
The frustrations boiled over recently after the club initially agreed to be part of the controversial European Super League. Fans stormed the Old Trafford field earlier this month ahead of the club’s Premier League encounter against arch rivals Liverpool, displaying “Glazers Out” posters.
The unhappiness towards the Glazer family is nothing new. In 2005 when the American family acquired the club, a group of fans took the radical step of breaking away and forming their own club called FC United of Manchester that currently plays in the Northern Premier League Premier Division, the seventh tier of English football.
With more than 800 000 followers on social media platform Facebook, it is hard to imagine that there is any semi-professional club in the world that has more traction on social media.
“The issue with Manchester United is that it is now a commercial team that I don’t recognise from my youth. Since 2005, it has been about greed, money with the fans at the back of everyone’s minds. 2005 was when I didn’t want to put any money into the pockets of Malcolm Glazer and his family,” said David Edwards, 58, a lawyer and FC United director, speaking exclusively to IOL.
Aptly nicknamed Red Rebels, FC United are the largest fan-owned football club in the UK with an average attendance of between 1800-2500 and aims to be everything that Manchester United is not by giving its members equal voting rights and one share in the club each.
“All the Glazers are interested in is the money that the club could generate. They bought the club for £600 million but did not put one penny from their own pockets. It was a leverage buyout which raised the money through an American bank. They laid the debt on the club which was previously debt free. Since then, the Glazer family has cost the club £1.1 billion.
“In 2005, some fans said no more. The ticket prices were going up. Sky changed the kick-off times to suit TV and there was no regard for fans. The fans decided to set up a club in the image of United that we knew and remembered and by doing things that we felt should be done,” said Edwards, a former Manchester United season ticket holder who has not set foot at Old Trafford since the late 2000s.
With elite football facing increased accusations of being overly-commercialised, models of “fan ownership” as used by FC United could start to become more mainstream as fans get frustrated and start to take things into their own hands.
“With the trouble that United have, it has brought focus back onto FC United and fan ownership. We have attracted new members and it is £15 to become a member and have a vote with the club. There are banners around the terrace with arrows saying ‘meet the owners’ because the fans own the club. Members can take a vote on all matters relevant to the club and we have had a spike in season ticket sales which works with a pay what you can afford model,” said Edwards.
Naturally, the reaction to FC United from the football community and Manchester United fans has not been all positive. Some, including legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, publicly criticise the club and label its fans traitors while questioning the true extent of their loyalty towards the Old Trafford giants. Ferguson also once stormed out of a press conference when he was asked for comment on FC United’s first promotion under former manager Karl Marginson, a former fruit and vegetable delivery man who led the club to four promotions to National League North before he plateaued and left by mutual agreement in 2017.
“I’m sorry about that. It is a bit sad, that part, but I wonder just how big a United supporter they are. They seem to me to be promoting or projecting themselves a wee bit rather than saying, “at the end of the day the club have made a decision, we’ll stick by them. It’s more about them than us,” stated Ferguson of FC United in 2006.
Ferguson was not the only Manchester United legend critical of FC United with former forward Alan Gowling also stating that the club would be “done and dusted by Christmas”.
“Ferguson is a man who is used to getting his own way. I think Ferguson’s view on FC United is a poor reflection on the man. He was a great football manager in my opinion but I’m not sure of his values. It’s lovely that a group of FC United fans send Gowling Christmas cards every year to remind him that the club is still active,” said Edwards.
Not all of the reception towards FC United from former Manchester United stars has been negative and in 2010, former United attacker Eric Cantona publicly lauded the club, even saying that he would be willing to play for them.
“They (FC) have a great idea. I hope they will become a great club and win the European Cup in 50 years,” said the Frenchman.
Who knows what the future holds for both Manchester United and FC United ...