The Conundrum of the Green and Gold Protests at Manchester United
The video below, which was spotted by our pals at 101 Great Goals, was taken at Old Trafford during Manchester United’s 4-0 win over Hull City last weekend. In the video, we can see many United supporters sporting green and gold — the colors of Newton Heath FC, which was the original club name of Man United — in protest of the shady financial tactics of club owner Malcolm Glazer.
The fans, of course, have plenty of reason to protest. It was revealed a week ago that Glazer has not only saddled the club with a huge amount of debt, but plans to extract 70% of all match-day income from the club to pay out the interest and line their pockets with the remainder. The end result is that Glazer and his family will extract an astonishing £220 million from the club between 2010 and 2017 while leaving the club saddled with the exact same amount of debt it has now — a strategy that one fund manager has called, “a violent assault on one of Britain’s best known sporting institutions.”
Meanwhile, as the fans waved their green and gold scarves and chant in protest, Glazer sat in his mansion and thought, “Yes, please come to Old Trafford and protest me. Please pay those outlandish ticket prices I’m charging and tell me how much you hate me. While you’re doing that, I’m going to sit here and count all of this money you just gave me.”
This is the conundrum of the “Love United, Hate Glazer” crowd. Fans are fans. They want to go to games and support their clubs. However, for Man United fans, going to games means giving money to an entity they despise — an entity that has put the club on the financial brink and has no plans to change its business practices. So what do they do?
In most cases, the right thing to do as a consumer would be to vote with your wallet. Don’t like Wal-Mart’s business practices? Don’t shop there. Don’t want high fructose corn syrup in your diet? Don’t buy any Coke or Pepsi. (Except maybe for that Pepsi Throwback with real sugar that actually tastes 1,000 times better than regular Pepsi.) Don’t like the Recording Industry Association of America’s lawsuits against consumers? Don’t buy or download any music from the major labels. Put your money and your focus on independent artists and labels instead. This is how capitalism is supposed to work.
Basic capitalism, however, goes right out the window when it comes to football fans. These people have spent their whole lives loving and supporting a club. Asking them to switch that off — or worse, to change allegiances — is a complete anathema to them. No self-respecting Man United supporter will suddenly decide to support Manchester City because they disagree with the club ownership’s business practices. That ownership, however, has put the fans in a tenuous position; if they stop going to games, then the club might fail and become the next Leeds United, and again, what self-respecting Man United supporter wants their club to be like Leeds?
Furthermore, it’s not as if the Glazers are giving the fans a terrible product. This is what separates the Glazers from, say, Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, who is also raking in cash by gouging the fans. The Redskins are a terrible team. Man United is the three-time defending Premier League champion and is very much in the hunt for a fourth, not to mention they’ve been to two Champions League finals in a row and are in no danger of missing out on next year’s Champions League, either.
Then again, if the fans really hate Glazer, how much does that success on the pitch matter? Perhaps the only real message, as Barry Glendenning suggested on The Guardian‘s Football Weekly podcast yesterday, is to stop buying tickets and merchandise all together. All the green and gold scarves and “Love United, Hate Glazer” banners in the world might not be as effective a message as a half-empty Old Trafford on match day, because once the Glazers realize the fans aren’t giving them money anymore, they might decide it’s time to sell. A few supporters sent their message years ago by breaking away and starting their own club, but how many green-and-gold-wearing United fans are willing to sacrifice the heights of the Premier League for the depths of the Unibond League? The answer, it would seem, is not very many.
So what do you do, United supporters? Do you continue to give Glazer your hard-earned cash while swinging those green and gold scarves, which would seem to do nothing but preserve the status quo? Or do you stay home, keep your money in your pocket and attempt to force a change in ownership, thus risking the possibility that the club you love might collapse under the weight of all that debt? It’s a difficult question, but until a third option arises, it requires an answer.