An American billionaire in Birmingham
Two years ago when the worldwide (evil) empire of Manchester United dumped on Malcom Glazer I felt that patriotism forced me to defend him. True, I had hated Glazer from the word go, when he took one of my favorite pro sports teams the Tampa Bay Bucs and ruined the uniforms and colors but that had ended up well as the Bucs consistently contend in the upper tier of NFL franchises. I felt that Glazer the successful sports owner just wanted the ultimate prize like any oother aspiring owner, and he was being singled out for hatred because he was a Yank, and the Brits think we don’t appreciate the beautiful game. I was wrong. It turns out all Glazer wanted to do was own the brand name “Man Yoo” the world over and he never made any honest attempt to understand what the fan base of the world’s most popular team (but Manchester’s second most popular team!) really wanted from their owner. Glazer has exploited the Manchester United brand worldwide with record jersey sales, merchandise and the expanding of the stadium, all to line his already deep pockets.
Enter Randy Lerner, billionaire yank who inherited MBNA and the Cleveland Browns from his late father. When I first read that Lerner was interested in buying storied club Aston Villa I assumed we were in for a Glazer redux. The Brits will crucify Lerner, billionaire yank who is an NFL owner! Good god, they’ll claim he’s never seen soccer before like they claimed with Glazer. ….I thought. Well again, I was wrong. Lerner has in fact been hailed as a savior by Villa’s fans, many of whom have not seen the club live up to their lofty historic standards in their lifetimes.
Why was Lerner embraced with the same intensity that Glazer was attacked by fans? Is Birmingham a more American-centric place than Manchester or did they handle their takeover of the clubs completely differently? The answer is obviously the latter.Lerner did something novel and innovative for a prospective owner of a sports franchise in a foreign land. He got to know the fans and understand the fans concerns and expectations before moving forward with his takeover bid. Lerner built such goodwill with Villa’s supporters that for the most part they backed his bid over that of rival English based ownership groups.What Lerner helped to prove was that English soccer fans are not hostile to Americans if we make the effort to understand them a little better. Hopefully this bodes well for the future of several American players we’d like to see play in England who have been shot down by pesky work permit issues and fan hostility.