Why Manchester United’s American owners, the Glazers, are so hated
Manchester United fans will gather outside Old Trafford on Monday night for a massive game against Liverpool, but also a protest. Some meet at Tollgate, a nearby pub. They march to the Trinity, a famous statue outside the stadium. And thousands of them will in some way or another tell the Glazer family, the American owners of Man United, to keep their hands off England’s most famous football club.
Some have protested since 2005, when the Glazers, who also own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, bought a controlling stake in the club. Their controversial takeover in 2005 is the reason for most of the hate today. Eight years of success on the pitch under Sir Alex Ferguson tempered that hatred, but nine years of on-pitch mismanagement and embarrassment have since unleashed it.
Things boiled over last spring when the Glazers and their henchman, now-former Man United CEO Ed Woodward, helped hatch the infamous plan for a European Super League. Ahead of United’s first home game, after the plot was foiled by widespread backlash, anti-Glazer supporters broke into Old Trafford, protested on the pitch and forced the game to be postponed.
This time, the catalyst for the anger was a 4-0 defeat at Brentford that left United 20th out of 20 in the Premier League after two weeks. “We do not normally comment on matches,” the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust said in a statement, “but extraordinary times call for a different approach.” The “humbling” result, according to the representative fan group, felt “like the culmination of a long-standing travel direction.” on. They blamed the owners “for this new low point in our decade of decline” and called for “urgent and radical changes”.
A more vocal anti-Glaser group, The 1958, organized this latest protest to “show the world our deep dissatisfaction with this vile property, [a]A property that is systematically starving and killing the world’s greatest football institution [the] world.” And over the years, they’ve explained why they believe that’s the case.
The controversial Glazer takeover
Malcolm Glazer, the late family patriarch, bought his first shares in Manchester United in 2003 and eventually spent around £790m – over $1.4bn at the time – to acquire nearly 100% of the club in 2005. He did so via a controversial method known as a leveraged buyout.
He essentially took out a nine-figure loan, using it to buy the club and deferring the resulting debt to the club. The family have since used over £700million (over $1billion) of Manchester United earnings to service that debt – to pay the interest on it. Many fans interpret this to mean that Manchester United, their beloved social institution, is paying an American billionaire so that the American billionaire and his family can own the institution – and squeeze money out of it.
And although part of the debt has been paid off over 17 years, it hasn’t gone away. United’s annual interest payments are still the highest in the EPL. Since 2010, the club has paid nearly as much interest as the rest of the league combined.
The debt hasn’t stopped the Glazers from shelling out players. Over the past decade, United’s net spending on transfers (over $1.1 billion) has been the highest in global football. His labor costs are incessantly enormous.
However, the problem is twofold: 1) The money was not spent Good on the players, and 2) the gargantuan sum used to service the debt has seemingly underfunded and ‘rotted’ seemingly less visible facets of the club – the academy, the training facility, the stadium – in the eyes of many supporters.
Manchester United’s ruthless commerce
United can still spend big on players as it’s a sprawling trading venture that the Glazers are partly responsible for. Under her leadership, the club’s annual revenue has more than doubled from around $305 million in 2004-05 to over $800 million in 2018-19, the last full season before the pandemic.
Of course, the main reasons for this increase are that United have always been one of the most popular brands in football and that English football revenue has grown across the board this century. But United’s savvy and ruthless commerce was ahead of his time. It allowed United to financially keep pace with clubs that found more success on the pitch and left others not pursuing similar commercial strategies in the dust.
However, this ruthless commercialism has also angered fans, many of whom are generally opposed to the capitalist urges that now dominate the sport. In fact, almost every foreign owner of a Premier League club has stirred skepticism. However, the Glazers are the most despised.
They ran United less like a football club and more like a soulless company. Up until last year, the club’s two most influential decision-makers in transfer deals were Woodward and Matt Judge. The latter was originally “head of corporate development”. Both were financial brothers who crossed paths at PricewaterhouseCoopers and JP Morgan decades ago and had relatively little football experience.
With Judge negotiating deals and Woodward clinching deals, and without legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson to preside over the club’s football team, United found themselves caught in a cycle of misguided signings, lackluster performances and crises.
And all along, the Glazers, who originally promised to connect with fans, have been surprisingly quiet.
Glazer hate going mainstream
The Glazers didn’t stop Ferguson from continuing to win. In the eight seasons between the Glazers’ acquisition and his retirement in 2013, he won five Premier League trophies and a Champions League crown. But in many ways he transmitted cracks that began to appear and which have now become visible to all.
And as they have, the discontent that has survived for years in a vocal minority has spilled over into the mainstream.
Some of this vocal minority still frequented Old Trafford and hollered at players for championships, but as of 2010 they wore green and gold scarves as a symbol of protest. Others left the club and formed their own, FC United of Manchester. The results under Ferguson quelled, but failed to completely quash, the bitter opposition that had initially greeted the Glazers at Old Trafford.
It started gaining momentum again in early 2020. Anti-glazer chants grew louder. A small faction within the resistance attacked Woodward’s home.
The owners themselves aren’t often present in Manchester – Malcolm died in 2014 and his three sons, Joel, Avram and Bryan, who now control most of the club, live in the US – so they’re somewhat sheltered from the vitriol. And of course it ebbed away as COVID-19 hit 2020 and stadiums emptied.
But the Super League fiasco reignited it. An eighth and ninth season without a real Premier League title challenge have kept it going ever since. A new manager brought nice stories and cautious hope, but two season-opening losses confirmed the same forces that have fueled the crisis cycle since 2013 are still at play.
And so, on Monday night, fans will gather at 5:30 p.m. local time, march at 7:00 p.m. and sing until kick-off at 8:00 p.m. Some will take to the ground and cheer on their besieged players; others not. Everyone will beg the glaziers to sell.
“Bring the heat, bring the noise, bring the passion,” The 1958 wrote in a message to fans. “Let’s show the Glazer family it’s not over this time.”