By Nick Harris
18 March 2010
Joel Glazer’s sitting at his desk in Tampa, fiddling with the green n’ gold scarf wrapped around his neck, and tossing ideas around.
“Hey Michelle,” he shouts to his secretary. “Can you find me a supplier for these mufflers? We gotta get some for the OT megastore. We gotta monetise this passion.”
Bryan Glazer, a renowned movie buff, is next door. Today he’s watching a horror show; private footage of the last time the family went en masse to the franchise they own in England. Fans are rocking the Glazer car and swearing.
“I’m not going back, Joel,” Bryan yells. “It ain’t worth it, bro. It just ain’t worth it.”
“Where’s Avram?” yells Joel.
“Gone for a haircut,” says Bryan, rewinding and fast-forwarding the bit where even one of his own stewards is trying to smother a smile at the car-rockers.
“About time,” says Joel. “But we need to talk.”
x x x x x x
It may appeal to the mindset of the more crassly simplistic anti-Glazer fans at this point to describe the bit where the patriarch of the clan, Malcolm, wheels himself into the room on a brown leather swivel chair, a la Ernst Stavro Blofeld, stroking a cat while belching and opining: “Gee I love Manchester United fans, but I couldn’t eat a whole one.”
But that would be to caricature the man, and nobody would want that, would they? It would be like circulating an email in which a football club owner who bought on the open market – on the London Stock Market, no less – is portrayed as a “nasty man”, “very greedy”, “very naughty”, “horrible” and in need of arrest.
Such demonisation is downright creepy, perhaps even counter-productive. The mobilized anti-Glazer United fans are as switched-on, clued-up, politicised, organised and as clear in their objectives for a genuine community-based football as those at the next club. Maybe more so. (Those of them who didn’t head off a few years back to establish themselves a community club of their own, FC United of Manchester, that is).
They don’t need baby-level messages about their “plight”.
They need a clear and practical plan about how to take the ownership of Manchester United back into the collective hands of the fans.
In an ideal world, that would happen.
x x x x x x
“We should sell Rooney,” says Avram, entering the room.
“Nice haircut,” says Joel, looking up. “You do that yourself again?”
“Yup,” says Avram. “And I did Dad’s. But let’s get down to business. We should sell Rooney.”
“No,” says Joel. “Sir Alex would rip my head off, turn me upside down, and drink me.”
“But the U S of A are in the World’s Cup against Britain, and Rooney is Britain’s star kicker,” says Avram. “If we destabilise him with a summer trade, the U S of A will beat Britain and we’ll win gold. Then soccer becomes popular here, we sell the Bucs and buy the Rowdies, and then we don’t have to keep going to Manchester to watch games . . .”
“Bryan!” yells Joel. “Can you c’mon here a minute and take Avram for his walk?”
x x x x x x
Somewhere in Jim O’Neill’s country pile, Jim has got some friends round to play Knights.
“Oi, watch that lance,” says Keith, sipping a 1990 Pétrus.
“Yah, or he’ll sue!” jokes Mark. “And I’ll be taking it pro bono.”
“Quieten down now, fellas,” says Jim. “There’s serious work afoot. Like the Tory party, we have to prepare ourselves for power.”
“Yeah, Labour isn’t working,” says Richard.
“I’ll hedge my bets on that!” says Paul.
“Me too!” says Jon.
“Pass the dictionary,” says Keith. “I want to look up ‘irony’.”
x x x x x x
Joel Glazer’s finger is hovering over the “return” button.
“Join or not?” he asks nobody in particular.
The office is empty. The secretary has gone home.
Bryan’s gone to watch The Hurt Locker for the ninth time because it’s got more laughs than a trip to OT. Avram has been put to bed.
“Join or not?” repeats Joel, his right hand over the keyboard, his left unconsciously rubbing the scar left behind by the emergency removal of his appendix five years ago.
Five years ago! Five years this week since the doctor gave him the all-clear to return to work. To return to the negotiating table to buy the shares that would land his family the greatest of all the football clubs.
“Join or not?” Joel repeats. He admires these guys; their organisation, their passion. He actually sympathises with their indignation. If it hadn’t been for the wife, he woulda actually bought that job lot of “Love United, Hate Glazer” stickers and pins. You gotta monetise the passion. (He borrowed that from a secret Red Knights briefing).
My God! He knew how lucky they’d been to get a piece of this unregulated market. I mean, he wasn’t stoopid!
Of course fans hate debt, leveraging, increased ticket prices. Holy crap! How was it allowed! No wonder the fans have kept on saying so in such enormous numbers at OT for all these years. While paying to do so!
The screen on Joel’s laptop flickers, a dash of green and gold in the middle alongside that alluring red and the message: “We are 141,117 STRONG”.
Joel’s finger hovers.
“We can’t saying anything at this stage,” says Jim. “Transparency is good, of course. But transparency is bad.”
“Except when we’re leaking to The Times that we raised £1.5bn?” asks one of the Knights.
“That was the oiks, I’m afraid,” says Jim, before correcting himself. “Not the oiks. Y’know what I mean. The fellas from the Stretford End.”
“More factions than you know who,” mumbled another Knight.
“Now that would make an interesting Venn diagram,” said another.
“Fellas, fellas,” says Jim. “We’ve got to keep a lid on this. Don’t you realise we’re just playing into the Glazers’ hands?”
Joel Glazer was a little confused. Why wouldn’t these Knights just act with alacrity and, quite frankly, with some green?
They could put out a statement; say clearly who was offering what; state in precise terms how ticket prices would be fixed at X and Y for Z years; how Jose Mourinho would be guaranteed transfer funds of £30m net from summer 2011 to 2016; how the Knights would monetise the brand . . .
Joel actually felt a little queasy. He’d joined.
He was one of them now; part of the movement. From within, he’d do everything he could to urge as swift a bid as possible.
£1.8bn would be about right at this stage. Maybe £2bn if they kept adding billionaires to their posse.
Joel shoulda gone home, but he’d spent all night in the office. He’d had an idea.
“Bryan,” he yelled.
“Uh-huh?” called Bryan from the next room.
“You know we got into this because we’d never seen an opportunity like it? We saw the upside. We were right. It’s worked. But if these Knight guys come good, maybe we should take the money, put some away, and re-invest somewhere else we can do a job.”
“Yeah?” says Bryan.
.Joel fiddled with his green and gold scarf.
“Michelle!” he yelled. “You got a number for Hicks . . . . . . . ? ”