Saturday, 4 August 2012

Double Glazing

I'll get to the crux of this post in a minute, but before I do, here's two quick caveats. Firstly, I've attempted to write this blog post in a balanced manner. I'm not mightily impressed with the Glazers but, as you'll see, this isn't really a piece debating their pros and cons. Secondly, as this is my personal blog and not a site dedicated to Manchester United, some of my "regulars" might need a little bit of context on this subject, so here it is.

In 2005 Manchester United - the football club I support - were taken over by an American called Malcolm Glazer. Now Mr Glazer is an old dude, so nowadays his business undertakings are co-ordinated by his sons. There's a few of them, and I always forget their names, but the list is something like: Joel, Avram, Bryan, Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, and Grub.

Now Uncle Malc took over United thanks to a thing called a "leveraged buy-out". I'm fucked if I fully understand what that is, but here's my rather crude knowledge on the subject - it's a special kind of acquisition where the purchase price is financed using debt, debt which is repaid (eventually) by the company's assets and profits. So the thinking for the Glazers was pretty clear:

1) Manchester United is an extraordinarily well run football club - a profit making machine and always very successful on the pitch
2) Buy the club - make sure it's a leveraged buyout, so that the club itself is saddled with debt and not on the owners personally
3) Pray to fuck that United keep on winning, keep on getting big crowds and sponsorship deals and basically keep on printing money
4) Use the money to fuck off the debt
5) ????
6) Profit!

(And if it all starts to go tits up, you get out ASAP and sell it to a Qatari oil tycoon for $1bn)

Now I mention all that because the nature of the leveraged buyout meant debt, and that didn't sit very well with United supporters. Still doesn't. Overnight, we (when I say "we" in this post I mean United) had gone from a club who were doing very well thank you very much, to a club saddled with about £650m of debt (plus interest). Some supporters were so appalled by this they effectively walked out on their club, instead choosing to form a new team called FC United of Manchester, whilst others joined MUST (Manchester United Supporters Trust) and came up with the catchy acronym "LUHG" - Love United, Hate Glazer. There was a brief flurry of activism against the Glazers when a campaign based on the "Green and Gold" of United's original colours was abuzz, but it soon died down, and for the last few years there has been constant ill-feeling towards the Glazers, but it's never manifested into something bigger.

OK, that's enough context.

The nasty Glazer business has reared its head again recently because of a thing called an IPO. Now if I struggle with "leveraged buy-out", I don't stand a chance with this thing, but a quick read of Wikipedia has helped slightly. An IPO (Initial public offering) is a scheme where shares in a company are offered to the general public to buy, though not enough shares to put the ownership of the business under any doubt. In essence, it's a crafty way to raise a bit of dosh pretty quickly. A good thing, right? Well, no, not according to MUST and Glazer critics, who point to the fact that even though some of the money raised will go towards repaying the club's debts, the vast majority of it will instead go to the Glazer family themselves.

Who's right, and who do I side with? In fairness, that's not what this post is about.

Because the IPO has brought out the worst in Manchester United fans, particularly on Twitter. Nowadays it seems that we're not united in supporting the team any more. Pro-Glazer, anti-Glazer, pro-Sir Alex, anti-Sir Alex, and let's not even get started on David Gill - every United supporter now comes with a label, and it's all down to the finances of a company owned by a family we've never met. This has led to stupid, stupid, STUPID arguments, some of which are so mind-bogglingly unnecessary it beggars belief. The latest came when anti-Glazer supporter (see?) Andy Green raised the point that due to the terms listed in the IPO, there was a strong chance that Sir Alex Ferguson would benefit financially from the whole shebang. "What a cunt, I've lost all respect for him!" screeched a few. Others castigated Green for even daring to raise the issue - to even hint at criticising Ferguson a sign of some form of betrayal to the "Man Utd family". Finally, some others thought that it was only right that Ferguson, possibly the greatest manager of all time and certainly a long-standing employee, would receive some financial gain from this scheme.

Ferguson was forced to release a statement, categorically stating that he wasn't in line to benefit in any way from the IPO, yet the cease-fire was only in existence for a matter of hours. Last night, it was announced that the club had signed up to a shirt deal with Chevrolet, and we'll receive a total approx to $560m by 2021 off the back of it. Minutes after the news was announced, and before it had even begun to sink in, people took to Twitter to furiously claim how that amount of money per year would be "peanuts" by the time 2021 rolls round, before they in turn were criticised for being negative and instantly critical of anything the Glazers do. And so it goes on, and on, and on, and on.

I can't quit on Manchester United - the emotional bond is too strong. Yet with all the angst swirling round on the internet over my football club - from our own "supporters" - I do find it difficult to enjoy the experience of being a fan as much as I used to. (In that respect, the less said about MUST's latest scheme the better. I can't say I take favourably to being told which bottle of wine I can or cannot buy by someone I've never met.) Partly this is because it's August, and there's no football to talk about right now, but mostly I think the problem is that fans, itching to be called "Top Reds", fall over themselves to analyse and dissect anything and everything to do with the club. For financial experts like Andersred that's fine - I enjoy reading his blog and agree with him often by the way - but I can't say my life has been enriched by swathes of people weighing in on the subject of an IPO listed in New York, and the endless arguments that inevitably ensue.

What does the future hold for United, then? I don't know, but what I hope is for three things. Firstly, that the debt is paid off, and United can go on with no financial worries hanging over them - whoever owns the club. Secondly, that the manager who comes in after Ferguson is given time and adequate resources to do his own thing and try to continue the success we've had recently. Thirdly, that the fanbase becomes a little more...y'know....united. Because as much as I don't really appreciate them, forcing the Glazers out and opening ourselves up to possibly something/someone even worse seems, to me, to be utter madness.

LUHG? I understand. But how about a bit more of the LU bit?

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