Manchester United and Liverpool fans are united in believing that representation at boardroom level is at last within their grasp, with Liverpool supporters expected to meet club chief executive Billy Hogan this week to discuss plans.
Senior financier and former government adviser Baron O’Neill of Gatley also believes the regulatory changes coming to English football mean there is more chance than ever that the Glazers will sell United.
The sides meet at Old Trafford today against the backdrop of significant supporter protest. And fans’ groups from both clubs have been working together for years to oppose the US model of ownership imposed on English clubs — even before the Super League fiasco last week brought them together. The clubs are key members of the supporter-led coalition which helped sink the idea by lobbying the Prime Minister.
Manchester United fans believe representation at boardroom level is at last within their grasp
Liverpool supporters are also hopeful of fan representation at boardroom level
Although Liverpool’s owner Fenway Sports Group have significantly more dialogue with and support among Liverpool fans, there seems no way back for supporter trust for United’s owners, led by Joel Glazer.
Ed Woodward, United’s executive chairman who announced his resignation in the wake of the collapse of the Super League, was said to be visibly shocked at the ferocity of supporter anger at a fans’ forum he attended last Friday.
The level of coordination of fans’ groups and their access to the Prime Minister, who threatened to drop a ‘legislative bomb’ on the Super League, appeared to take John W Henry and Joel Glazer by surprise.
Now both billionaire owners are faced with adapting to a radically-changed political landscape in the UK, with former Sports Minister Tracey Crouch leading the Government’s fan-led review of football.
United fan Jim O’Neill, whose full title is Baron O’Neill and who led the Red Knights bid to oust the Glazers in 2010, said: ‘The probability of some kind of legislation is no longer zero. It’s probably sensible not to get too carried away.
Liverpool fans are expected to meet chief executive Billy Hogan this week to discuss plans
‘But I would have thought that changes the probability calculation among the likes of John W Henry and the Glazers about why they own these things.
‘In addition, because of the scale of the self-inflicted [harm caused by their] presentation of the Super League, you have to think that the probability of a Super League in the next decade, something these guys have been obviously plotting for a long time, has gone down.
‘That means these guys either have to think of a different reality as to why they own these things or be marginally more interested in getting out than they were before.
‘On top of that, from being around the world of those that hang around trying to execute football deals, I kind of know that Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool have all been and remain in play for the past two or three years at the right price. So I can only believe that’s now more likely in those three cases.’
United and all of England’s Big Six clubs have now been forced out of Premier League working groups, meaning they will not be able to influence new broadcasting deals other than via the single vote they have. They also resigned from the European Clubs’ Association in anticipation of the Super League.
An ex-government adviser feels there is more chance than ever that the Glazers will sell United
Yet the ECA will now decide with UEFA which of the controversial 2024 Champions League reforms to keep, meaning they effectively have no say in the future of European football up to 2027.
‘I would have thought that’s a huge thing for the Glazers,’ said O’Neill.
Unlike the Green and Gold campaign against the Glazers in 2010, which faded when no bid emerged, Duncan Drasdo, chief executive of the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust and one of the fans who met Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week, says these new protests can’t be ignored by the Glazers.
‘I don’t think there’s any chance of that,’ said Drasdo. ‘From what we’re hearing, there will be movement. I don’t think it will be radical enough. I imagine they’ll try to do something that sounds good but doesn’t address the real issues. There is recognition among fans that this is the problem. For many years, there were fans who defended the ownership but I haven’t heard that.
‘It’s eight years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired and people have made the connection. At the time I said it was Year Zero for the Glazer ownership because that was when you judged what they bring to the party rather than what he [Sir Alex] did. He had kept the machine going by oiling it but not replacing the parts for so long.
Liverpool’s owner John W Henry and Fenway Sports Group have significantly more dialogue with fans than the Glazers
‘I can’t imagine them being accepted unless they did something that took their holding into a minority at the very least. The legislative bomb line alone [from the Prime Minister] was so powerful. It’s such a good soundbite that it will come back to bite you if you don’t deliver. Though that was about the Super League, everyone will connect it with football in general, which means legislation has to come out of the review.’
Liverpool’s main fan groups are co-ordinating their response under the banner of the highly-respected Spirit of Shankly group.
They are calling for fan representation on the board and a golden share to block controversial future changes. The group are likely to have their first meetings with Liverpool next week.
SOS chair Joe Blott said: ‘The mood music is encouraging. Obviously the devil is in the detail. Getting around the table and having the opportunity to air those proposals and debate them is something that is welcome.
Ed Woodward was said to be visibly shocked at the ferocity of supporter anger at a fans’ forum
‘There’s an expectation of national change in terms of legislation and the way fans will be represented on the board. That will take some time to filter through. In the mean time, we think that Liverpool can rediscover its value base and engagement with fans which it lost last week.
‘It can do so by doing something that is a template for clubs going forward. Last week was what appears to be an annual calamitous event for FSG. But there are some improvements they brought to the football club in terms of personnel on the field, in management and leadership in terms of Jurgen Klopp, in the fabric of our stadium and the network behind it in terms the new complex at Kirkby.
‘We know they’re trying to put the club on a better footing. They just need to do that with the fans and not as an afterthought.’
Former Sports Minister Tracey Crouch is leading the Government’s fan-led review of football