Love football clubs, hate dodgy owners

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RIGHT TO REPLY: Simon James responds to yesterday's opinion piece criticising the Love United, Hate Glazer campaign

Most football fans don’t need another reason to hate greedy owners – but there are some more, if you can get past your hate of Manchester United.

Reading Frankie Alunga’s opinion piece Man United fan protest is sloganeering in a bubble yesterday, it was disappointing that a fellow football fan could not see legitimacy in the protest, its approaches or the media coverage.

The ‘Love United, Hate Glazer’ slogan and campaign is anything but the prawn sandwich brigade. It is a grassroots organisation seeking to kick out the Glazer family and put in place an organisation akin to the fans' ambitions for a financially stable club enjoying success on and off the field.

"Ooh, nice colours"

These fans are the ones that couldn’t bring themselves to completely walk away from United when they massively raised ticket prices. These fans are the ones that used to stand shoulder to shoulder with the ones that had enough and started again with FC United of Manchester. These are potentially the fans that will not renew their season tickets in protest at the Glazer’s rapacity.

NEWS: 30,000 Man United fans may ditch season tickets

Of course it’s stupid to think that it’s an equitable situation with clubs that are slipping into liquidation and potential non-existence. The situation facing United fans face is clearly nowhere near as potentially desperate as the scenes at, for example, Portsmouth, Southend and Cardiff.

But like them we are still, at our hearts, football clubs. And each of these clubs still have owners or chief executives desperate to make a killing before buggering off with a fat wedge and shiny suit.

There is no doubt that Chester City is a tragedy and the events leading up to their liquidation are borderline criminal, but surely it highlights the point that owners unchecked and left to run riot will bleed clubs dry and watch them whither and die whether they fill their own pockets.

I know how it feels. As Frankie’s club Brighton stared down a threat to its existence, my own club Newport County wasn’t so lucky and went bust in 1989 due to mismanagement and neglect. However, the legitimacy of a fan protest shouldn't be judged by whether the fans should be thankful that their club is so successful, or even that the club has enough money to buy £30m players.

Hung out to dry: Somerton Park

The legitimacy of the protest is that the fans know they’re being ripped off and that the club is being cynically milked as a cash cow by greedy owners. It has nothing to do with the club's success. Would you begrudge Portsmouth their protest just because they’ve won the FA Cup recently?

Media coverage is encouraging when it follows the story with interest, but less so when it provokes ire from fans of other clubs for expressing surprise as if this is the first time that supporters have given a toss.

For example, David Conn’s article in The Guardian was in many ways unhelpful. It ignored the efforts made by fans of many other fine clubs – Liverpool and Newcastle among them – to protest against club owners.

This is far from the first time that fans have protested against perceived injustice at their clubs, and it is by no means the most sophisticated – but that doesn’t make it any less important.

Anyone reading the papers thinking what Manchester United fans are doing is strikingly original or ground-breaking is either not a football fan or eats a lot of prawn sandwiches. United is big club and has a high profile they’re always going to feature regularly on the back (and front) pages as they are still Generation Sky’s poster team.

In short, Manchester United fans see that the mountain of debt the Glazers have leveraged against the purchase of the club poses a direct and immediate threat to its ongoing liquidity and viability as an asset – a threat to the existence of the club. Rather than waiting for any old Knight(on) in shining armour, they’ve gone and found their own.

"This is my perfect moment..."

The new model proposed by Duncan Drasdo and the Red Knights aims to vastly reduce the club’s debt but would also aim to put the supporters at the heart of everything the club does. Every reformed club have come to realise this model is the way forward and done the same or similar.

Organisation like Supporters Direct campaign heavily for democratic fan involvement in clubs. I’m glad to say that 21 years after being expelled from it upon their liquidation, my club Newport County – run by its excellent supporters' trust – will next season hopefully be back in the Blue Square Premier (the old Conference, for those who only read the back pages).

Now, no one at Stockport, Wrexham, Chester or York would dig deep for the Green and Gold campaign – and neither should they: they have their own problems, and Manchester United have a big enough fan base to look after themselves. But the real battle for football isn’t at any level – it’s at every level.

The game is threatened every time a fan turns a blind eye to chief executive hiring their dim partner as a £60K bookkeeper or an ageing American with no interest in football leveraging purchase debt against a club’s assets. And whether we act parochially as club fans or collectively as football supporters, the most important thing is that we act.

Simon James blogs all over the place but can usually be found shouting at the TV, via Twitter or shamefully neglecting his own blog

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