Manchester United fans facing administration blow

The managing director of the company which distributes Manchester United fanzine United We Stand to newsagents across Britain and Ireland is normally chirpy on the phone. This time his tone was different.

“It’s not great news I’m afraid,” he said, before explaining that his firm that we have used for 13 years were likely to head into administration. The upshot was that we won’t be paid for any of the last two issues we have produced. We still have to pay all our costs though – the bills for print, design and editorial. And we don’t get a penny from any of the copies currently on sale. So who does?

It’s hard enough running a small magazine without being hit like this. I feel like I’ve been whacked around the head with a cricket bat and there’s absolutely nothing I can do.

Family want to go to their offices, ransack them and find out who is responsible, but I like and trust the company. It’s just a sad fact of life that companies go into administration leaving a string of unpaid creditors and many small publishers go under when distributors fold as they hold the money for all the copies sold in the shops.

We’ll take the hit – it’s that or fold after 21 years - and have found a new distributor. We needed to as we had already started working on a summer issue, but it has been an unpleasant – and thankfully very rare - experience.

Sir Alex Ferguson will be furious if he can't buy UWS outside Old Trafford...

The last time something similar happened to us was in 2005 when Sportspages bookshop went under owing us £4000. They had branches in Manchester and London and United We Stand was one of their best sellers. I used to deliver it myself, chat with the staff and buy loads of books from them.

The staff were great and we firmly believed in the ethos of their shop – even if half their customers seemed to go in, read fanzines and buy nothing. Then Sportspages came under questionable new ownership and the problems started.

Bills started to be paid later and then not at all. We stopped supplying them and we never got paid. Nor did any of the other fanzines – as if fanzines can carry such losses.  

Nor did several book publishers I’ve done books with. They learned some lessons and when rumours began that Borders were going under before Christmas, publishers stopped supplying them. When Borders did go under, it rocked the whole market and contributed to one of the poorest Christmas trading periods.

The call from the distributors came as I prepared to watch my 70th live and final game of the 2009-10 season, the Copa Del Rey final between Sevilla and Atletico Madrid at Camp Nou, of course the scene of one of Manchester United's most famous victories of all time back in 1999.

Just over 90,000 (not a capacity 98,000 as reported in the Spanish press who don’t pay any attention to accurate attendance figures) made a brilliant din in the stadium.

Sixty thousand of them were Atletico fans and it dawned on me just how big that club is. They hadn’t won a trophy since 1996 and were still celebrating beating Fulham in Hamburg when they arrived in Barcelona. Atleti have consistently averaged more than 50,000 for home games, even when they were relegated to the second division and their club seemed to combust every six months because of loony presidents, coaches or players. 

Atletico fans were brought back to earth by defeat to Sevilla

Despite losing the cup final, their fans never stopped singing. Even when Seville were presented with the trophy, all you could hear was Atletico fans who stayed long after the final whistle before making the six hour journey back to Madrid.

A couple of other points….congratulations to Manchester La Fianna who won the Barcelona International Football League for the first time, four years after I started the team in 2006. I stepped down from being player/manager last year and my absence helped the team improve enough to win the title.

And to the Timperley Veterans – a team from Manchester who came over to Barcelona last week. The biggest challenge to their players was staying off their beer from their morning flight until the 10pm kick-off, though their fans made up for it, with some sleeping contentedly throughout the game.

Comprised of players from areas of South Manchester like Wythenshawe and Sale, they had a lot of players with decent semi-pro experience and they absolutely caned the veterans team I played in. It was horrible and I told the other players that I daren’t show my face in Manchester again.

They want to come again next year, when they would be better matched playing championship winning Manchester La Fianna. While I’ll stick to making sure that our new distributors pay the bills…

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