The Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) have today launched a new fan ownership campaign called ‘Sign for United’.
The idea of the campaign, which has adopted United legend Eric Cantona as its figurehead, is to get as many United fans as possible to register their intention to buy a share of the club should fan ownership become available.
Following the failed European Super League project, United’s controlling shareholders the Glazer family came under immense pressure. Fans started to protest and even caused the Premier League game against Liverpool to be postponed. Anger with the Glazers’ ownership of the club was at fever pitch.
A second protest was scheduled for the following home game against Leciester City but MUST stepped in and called for a more organised protest several hours ahead of the rearranged fixture against the Merseyside club. That perhaps gave the police and the club’s owners time to regroup and for fans’ anger to dissipate and it was something of a damp squib compared to the fireworks of May 2nd.
This all tied in with a petition calling for ‘50+1’ ownership – a model run in Germany which makes majority fan ownership of a club by law. An excellent idea, but it did not trip off the tongue in the way that a simple ‘Glazers Out!’ did.
The protests did, however, have the effect of pressuring Joel Glazer to attend a fan forum meeting at the beginning of this month in which he promised to start a fan share ownership scheme, the details of which would be revealed in due course.
MUST initially reacted suspiciously to the announcement.
‘MUST is cautious about whether this Fan Share Scheme will meet their own tests before they give it approval as despite the huge concession on voting rights that this proposal signals as ever the devil is always in the detail,’ they announced.
‘In particular, despite Joel Glazers’ assertion that this will be “the largest fan ownership group in world sport”, MUST is concerned that there is a risk that the scheme will limit the number of such Fan Shares made available so reducing the opportunity for this to achieve a meaningful collective fan ownership stake – and ultimately with the potential to result in a change in control of the club.’
Today’s announcement from the organisation is therefore confusing.
Are MUST collecting names to put forward for Glazer’s proposed scheme? Or is it just a petition demanding that he delivers on his promise?
‘We finally have an opportunity we have been pressing for since the Glazers took control of the club,’ MUST’s press release says.
‘The first step is simply to sign up to the campaign and then recruit others to do so. These small acts, if taken by enough United supporters, will demonstrate the scale of our intent before we move to the next steps.’
The campaign has been launched to much fanfare, with Cantona’s inspiring face emblazoned above the Printworks in Manchester city centre.
Be like Eric
— SignForUnited (@SignForUnited) June 25, 2021
However, there is surely some danger that this move is playing into the Glazer family’s hands. If they do, indeed, make some ‘Class B’ shares available to fans, it will surely not be a meaningful quantity that will give those fans any power or control over the future of the club.
The move could be seen as ‘throwing the fans a bone’ to make them feel heard without anything really changing at all.
So many names and campaigns. The ‘50+1’ campaign was difficult to explain to fans and this ‘Sign for United’ campaign is amibiguous and confusing. At best, it will provide a massive list of names demanding change. At worst, it will make fans think they are actually gaining control of the club, which is highly unlikely to be the case. At the very worst, it has played right into the club owners’ hands and MUST have been hoodwinked into taking action that will actually strengthen the Glazers’ position.
There is certainly no harm in signing the petition – or whatever it should be called – and hoping that it will be instrumental in effecting change. But there is an argument that the only way to remove the Glazer family is to hit them where it hurts, through campaigns aimed at affecting the financial situation at the club such as those run by the excellent #NotAPennyMore campaign (@BoycottGlazers).
MUST have been campaigning against Glazer ownership of United since before patriarch Malcolm gained control in 2005. They have not, as yet, been able to achieve anything meaningful. If Sign for United fails to deliver, perhaps it is time for fans to question whether those in charge of the organisation are doing a good enough job or whether it is time for change.