Earlier this year, as January quietly slipped by seemingly without any head-turning signings, the chanting rose again against those ensconced in the Manchester United boardroom and this time took an incendiary turn for the worse. Preceding games played out in ignominious fashion uncharacteristic of a traditional league titan against Norwich City, Burnley and Tranmere Rovers elevated the noise of dissident protest and a militant core dressed in symbolic black launched a sinister attack by attacking Ed Woodward’s mansion in the suburbs with fireworks, hence sparking a criminal investigation.
Those scenes are what finally led to some former Old Trafford directors opening up to the media on condition of anonymity, and freshly recalling memories of the untoward occasion in October 2004 when Maurice Watkins, the club secretary, found his car vandalised with red paint after news had leaked out that £2.5 million worth of his shares had ended up in the hands of the Glazers. Ominously, at one point, an effigy of Malcolm Glazer was actually hung from the Stretford End.
Similar passions of hostility were witnessed on the historic day of June 29, 2005, the Glazer siblings Joel, Avie and Bryan visited Old Trafford in quiet tenor for the first time. Many who to this day can still vividly recall the brothers having their composure being badly shaken up when a horde of several hundred angry United fans formed a blockade at the exits, requiring the enlisting of a police van to provide security for their unceremonious departure.
Looking back in retrospect, it all began on May 26, 2005, when Manchester United’s board wrote to the few remaining shareholders outlining their intention to sell up and they accordingly advised the recipients to do the same. The resistance to the takeover had finally come to an end.
And thus ended the most acrimonious ownership war in British football history with the Glazers succeeding in taking over staid Manchester United, one of the greatest longstanding bastions of British football. Malcolm Glazer, the patriarch, was joined on the board by his six children – Joel, Avie, Bryan, Kevin, Darcie and Edward.
The embers of resentment continued to simmer among significant sections of supporters, with some recalcitrant ones even forming their own club, FC United of Manchester, rather than settling with the frustration of setting foot back in Old Trafford again.
This subsequently led to an affluent hub of supporters christening themselves the Red Knights who then launched an attempt to take over ownership from the Glazers in 2010 that gained visible backing in the stadium through a symbolic green and gold campaign. Alas, the attempt proved futile in the end. And the reign of the Glazers began.
“It was a highly leveraged takeover and major corporate financiers were already shying away based on what was being proposed,” says Andy Walsh, an activist with the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association (IMUSA). This meant a club free of debt since 1931 would be placed £580 million in the red, with risky payment-in-kind notes (PIKs) which meant the interest alone in the first year stood to reach £63 million.
Walsh, an integral part of a group of fans working with Shareholders United and the Japanese bank Nomura on a rival bid for the club, was an idealist. “If the deal collapsed, Ferguson would then be carried back into the stadium on the shoulders of supporters,” he intoned.
Unfortunately for the United diehards desperately hopeful of turning the tide, the dice had already been cast. History was already being rewritten.
Oddly, despite fighting resolutely in the face of all opposition and resistance to take ownership of Manchester United, several sources have revealed that Malcolm Glazer himself had never even once set foot inside Old Trafford, not even until his demise on May 28, 2014. Truthfully, very little was known of the individual who dramatically set in motion the revolution that ultimately altered the course of United’s history so radically.
The only morsel of insight on the disposition of the Glazers given by the family remains Joel’s interview with MUTV from that visit to Old Trafford in June 2005, in which he emphasized that communication with fans was “extremely important”, saying, “Fans are the lifeblood of the club. People want to know what’s happening. We will be communicating.”
That didn’t appear to be the case when United lodged accounts one year later and the accompanying note from Tehsin Nayani, the Glazers’ PR at the time, read:
“There will be no press release, there will be no press briefing, there will be no press interviews.” So much for Joel’s inspiring “We will be communicating” of a year ago.
The main onus of responsibility for communication was entrusted to Ed Woodward who, sources say, “speaks to the family every single day, without fail, and sometimes more than once”.
The United executive vice-chairman is known to share a close relationship with Joel in particular and Woodward has even been known to speak fondly about the occasion the pair apparently ended up in a heap together in the stands of Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium while celebrating the Champions League final victory over Chelsea.
While it may not be the easiest task on earth to try and figure out how the Glazers are wired, it is interesting to note that Joel also has a photograph hanging on his wall from the Manchester derby held on the 50th anniversary of the tragic Munich disaster in 2008. Furthermore, his offices in Washington DC contain a replica of the United dressing room, with all of the first-team shirts hanging up on the benches. Not least of all is the huge picture of George Best in the 1968 European Cup final occupying pride of place in the corporate boardroom. Little signs do indeed tell a tale of their own.
Today, although six Glazer siblings sit on the board after the demise of Malcolm, Joel is the apparent head honcho and spends eight hours a day working diligently on Manchester United affairs from his Washington DC office, which incidentally also has a huge picture of George Best hanging on the wall.
The Glazers are indeed a fascinating lot, nonetheless.
(Look out for Part 2 tomorrow …)