These articles are published in the Slough Town FC programme. The Rebels play in the National League South in a swanky new ground. I’ve been supporting Slough since the beginning of time despite now living in Brighton.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Theatre of Corporate Dreams

Printed in the Slough Town v Chelmsford City Ryman Premier 12th March 2005

Imagine the Premiership not happening one season. Clubs complain of soaring costs, players refuse to take a pay cut or entertain the idea of salary caps. Fans are fed up of the overpriced tickets and the over-the-top commercialisation of the sport. Talks collapse and the whole season is cancelled. Worse, no one seems to really care. Unthinkable?

Well that’s what just happened to the American/Canadian National Hockey League when after five months of talks the season was eventually abandoned.

Which brings us to the American billionaire Malcolm Glazier and his hostile bid for Manchester United. Glazier isn’t a football fan but is interested in the money he could make from Man United PLC. Shareholders United - the group set up to keep Old Trafford out of hostile hands – are fighting him all the way with a full on campaign of direct action. If this fails, then thousands have pledged to walk away from the club they love and do an AFC Wimbledon and start a fans owned Manchester United from scratch!

This isn’t a new idea, when the fans were successfully fighting Rupert Murdoch and his Sky Empire bid to own the club, they threatened to do the same. And you can bet that Murdoch is lurking behind the scenes, ready to do deals with Glazier to set up lucrative TV deals.

The fans say a breakaway club, provisionally titled FC United could attract 10,000, holding their games at Salford's Rugby Football League ground. They would start life at the bottom of the football pyramid in the North-West Counties League - 10 levels below the Premiership, playing clubs like Daisy Hill, Blackpool Mechanics, Ramsbottom United – and of course Trafford (find out average attendances of these lot). One Manchester star Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has joined the campaign against Glazer as have former legends Harry Gregg, Alex Stepney and Paddy Crerand. They hope Eric Cantona will be the president of the MUFC fans' breakaway club.

FC United have also published an eight point charter that spells out that ownership of FC United to be held by a supporters' trust. These include - All profits to be reinvested in the club. The club will never carry a sponsor on the front of its shirt, while tie-ups of any kind will only be accepted from reputable companies. Support among the youth of Manchester and Salford will be a priority and actively encouraged. Discounts will be available to all Under-18s and OAPs. The club will actively encourage local talent through its proposed Junior Athletic Club. Which is really how football clubs should be bloody run in the first place!

One FC United insider said: "We haven't given up on defeating Glazer, but we have to have contingency plans in place. It's like preparing for an evacuation in wartime - you don't want to do it, but there might be no other option. People shouldn't think this is some kind of crazy idea. We have already had pledges of money and support from a lot of fans involved in the anti-Glazer campaign. There are thousands of fans who will refuse to go to home games and will abandon club merchandise and sponsors if Glazer takes control.
"By founding FC United we are announcing a new beginning and with the backing we think we will get, we would hope to be in the Football League in four or five years. The achievements of AFC Wimbledon and its supporters are the ultimate inspiration."

Or as one supporter put it “What the money men never understand is that Manchester United plc isn't actually their club. We are the club; the fans, the people who turn up week in and week out, year in and year out, whether we've got a winning team or not. The directors aren't the club. Most of them will cash their chips in at the first opportunity. The players aren't the club. They're here to earn a wage and stash away as much loot as they can while their knees hold up. The only constant is us, the fans. We are the club, wherever that club might be.”

A breakaway Man United would send shockwaves through the footballing moneymen. It would certainly give yet another shot in the arm for non league footie as a whole. Outside the predictability of the premiership, interesting times lie ahead for grassroots football.