An emergency fans’ forum is taking place this afternoon featuring nine fan representatives.
Usually, questions for the fans’ forum are sent to the club two weeks prior to a meeting, but their decision to call an emergency meeting this week means this one will be different.
Group Managing Director Richard Arnold sat in on the most recent fans’ forum last week just days before the European Super League launch was announced. There was no mention of it then.
Co-chairman Joel or Avram Glazer won’t be in attendance. Neither want to face the music and have put Ed Woodward in position to answer the biggest questions, despite announcing recently he would resign as executive vice-chairman.
Now we want answers in what promises to be a heated exchange.
The following statement was read out by a United fan at the beginning of the meeting.
To the senior management and ownership at Manchester United Football Club.
We are disgusted, embarrassed and angry at the owner’s actions in relation to the planning, formation and announcement of the European Super League.
Once again this clearly demonstrates that the club’s owners are only interested in maximising their own profits and do not care about or respect the views of Manchester United fans.
The complete lack of engagement with fans, our players and manager is a gross mishandling of club affairs and one which we cannot forgive. It was an attack on fans and on clubs across the whole of football and we have simply had enough.
Joel Glazer’s subsequent apology is not accepted. Actions speak louder than words and he and his family have shown time and again that their sole motivation is personal profit at the expense of our football club.
We should not need to explain to anyone involved in the ownership or running of Manchester United Football Club why the European Cup is an integral part of our club’s history and how this proposal has betrayed it. Yet we clearly need to.
From Sir Matt’s vision for United to compete in Europe which saw him battle football’s authorities to allow English clubs to enter, to the devastation and loss at Munich, the rebuilding of the club and triumph at Wembley in 1968, the impossible dream being achieved in the Nou Camp in ‘99, through to making it three on that special night in Moscow in 2008, it has played a huge role in making the club what it is today.
Our victories in Europe have been cherished, and the losses painful for generations of fans.
We remember the great players and the impact they had: the birth of ‘El Beatle’ after George Best tore apart Benfica at the Stadium of Light in 1966, Wayne Rooney scoring a hat trick on his debut against Fenerbahçe at Old Trafford in 2004, and we of course remember the Busby Babes’ last game together against Red Star Belgrade on 5 February 1958 and shed many a tear for what they would have gone on to achieve.
All of this history has been undermined by an abhorrent plan designed purely to make more money for the self-perceived ‘big clubs’ and prevent any form of competition that exposes them to the risk of other clubs being successful at their expense, regardless of how poorly the founder clubs play on the pitch or are run by their boards and owners off it.
Fair competition is what makes sport so special, yet it is something Joel Glazer et al decided should be removed in preference of a closed-shop approach. It is arrogant and unfair to exclude so-called ‘smaller clubs’ – including the three previously named teams – from being able to reach the pinnacle of their sport. Let’s also not forget that Leicester City have won a Premier League title more recently than Manchester United have, yet if they repeated it they would be forced to try and qualify for one of the five ‘golden tickets’ while we could finish 7th (as we have since last winning a title) and still qualify.
Sir Matt warned everyone in 1970 what could happen when he said:
“I hope we shall never sacrifice our sporting principles on the altar of big business.”
“We must prevent a football club ever being run like a supermarket with profit the only real motive.”
“The fear is that the big business of soccer will dwarf the sport.”
How right he was and how ashamed he would be of what our club has tried to do.
Addressing the financial challenges some of the clubs involved face is no justification for this proposal. The clubs themselves are the ones responsible for the increasing transfer fees, agent payments and player salaries, and they should be better run to avoid the huge debts some of those involved in this plan hold. For Manchester United we would remind you that £1billion has gone out of the club in the last sixteen years to fund the ownership of this club.
The suggested benefit to fans, according to the vice chair of the European Super League, Joel Glazer, of “bringing together the world’s greatest clubs and players to play each other throughout the season” is another which completely misjudges fans’ feeling about European competition.
There has always been a mystique associated with playing European football. Qualifying for a European competition is celebrated. The excitement of drawing a team from a country or city never visited before or of drawing the best team in the other major leagues in Europe is what excites and thrills fans. We have only drawn Real Madrid twice in the last 20 years and we remember those games and what they meant. But we also just as fondly remember the great trips to Romania, Denmark and Ukraine to play CFR Cluj, Aalborg and Dynamo Kiev.
The European Super League would see us play the likes of Real Madrid every season, saturating and diminishing the thrill of such games and eliminating the chances to visit and play the ‘smaller clubs’ named above who have just as much right as their illustrious rivals to compete for the top prize in European Football.
By guaranteeing the places of the founding members each season and removing the possibility of them ever being relegated it would also inevitably lead to meaningless ‘dead rubber’ matches every season. It is poorly thought out and contradicts the very essence of sporting competition.
The club cites their lack of trust and faith in UEFA to make reforms to the current competitions as a reason to make this change. Again this is no excuse to abandon decades of history and sporting principle and replace a broken system with one manufactured purely to widen the gap between the self- proclaimed elite and the rest. Engage fans in the reform you want and work with us to make change happen for the good of the game as a whole.
And let us be clear, our frustration and anger is not solely limited to the proposed European Super League. The proposed reforms of the Champions League are no more than a ESL-lite and we want reform to be made across the whole of football. This includes some of those shouting the loudest but also guilty of ignoring the wishes of fans in favour of profit – for example the FA with their ridiculous cup final allocations, exorbitant pricing and semi-final locations, and SKY and BT Sport for their short notice changes to the fixture list and high subscription costs.
Change is needed and the club must act now.
Following the club’s subsequent withdrawal from this ill-conceived and greed-fuelled idea of a European Super League, Joel Glazer stated:
“Manchester United has a rich heritage and we recognise our responsibility to live up to its great traditions and values.”
“I am personally committed to rebuilding trust with our fans and learning from the message you delivered with such conviction.”
We have zero trust in the owners of the club, or faith in them to uphold these statements and do not believe they understand or indeed care about the great traditions and values of our club.
If we are wrong and they are serious about recognising their responsibilities and wanting to learn from supporters’ messages, we look forward to you all proving it by taking immediate and decisive action to protect the future interest of the club.
We, the fan representatives on the Manchester United Fans’ Forum and on behalf of Manchester United fans everywhere, request you agree to:
1. Willingly and openly engage and promote the government initiated fan-led review of football and use this as an opportunity to rebalance the current ownership structure in the favour of supporters and not approach this review defensively to fight for the status quo
2. Appoint independent directors to the board whose sole purpose is to protect the interest of the club as a football club, not its shareholders and their focus on profits over results
3. Work with the Manchester United Supporters Trust and supporters more broadly to put in place a share scheme that is accessible to all and that has shares with the same voting rights as those held by the Glazer family
4. Commit to full consultation with season ticket holders on any significant changes to the future of our club, including the competitions we play in
5. Provide a commitment by Joel Glazer that any costs incurred in relation to the creation of, or withdrawal from, the European Super League will be funded solely by the Glazer family and not by the club itself. We note that the Kroenke family have already made this commitment to Arsenal fans.
We request a written response to the above points within seven days.
Finally, we acknowledge that there are many employees working at Manchester United Football Club who have the best interests of the club at heart. We appreciate that not all of you here today will have had prior knowledge of the proposals before they were launched.
However, you do all have the ability to make changes in your areas of responsibility to address supporter concerns, to challenge the owners to do the right things and uphold our values and to listen to the people who are the heart and soul of our football club – the loyal fans.
A brilliant statement. Well done to all involved and we are all eager to see the club’s response.