Sunday, 9 February 2014

Q+A with Manchester United Supporters Trust

In the first of a series of Q+A's with supporters groups from around the country we aim to uncover answers that we, as supporters, can empathise with. First up is Sean Bones who is the Vice-Chairman of the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST). We discussed the importance of ACV's and fan representation. There's also a nod to one of our former stars.

A huge thanks to Sean Bones and Duncan Drasdo of MUST for taking the time to answer our questions.

Feel free to leave your thoughts and any follow up questions in the comments section below.

Q. One of the aims of SISA for 2014 is to have Bloomfield Road registered as an Asset Of Community Value. Can you tell us why MUST saw this as an important step for Old Trafford?

Our primary concern was to stop an overnight sale of Old Trafford without United supporters having the time to react. The Asset Of Community Value (ACV) act gives supporters a six month window to come up with an alternative bid or to attempt to stop the sale if it's not in the interests of the local community.   

In the unpopular 'bond document' issued in 2010 by the Glazers, there was a full section on the sale and lease back of Old Trafford. Without the ACV in place the owners would have been able to sell our Old Trafford stadium to a bank or financial institution and then lease it back to play matches there. 

It's also worth remembering that the ACV applies to all future owners and not just the Glazer family. It's important that supporters from all football clubs use any legislation at their disposal that can add to the protection of their football stadiums. This point is all the more poignant when you consider what has happened in the recent past at Coventry City's Ricoh Stadium and Glasgow Ranger's Ibrox stadium. 
Although it's possible to write for hours on this topic, I'll add nine additional reasons that we considered in our Supporters Trust (MUST) application for ACV status of Old Trafford. I hope this can give you some food for thought in your work towards ACV status for Bloomfield Road. 

1) Promotes the enjoyment of sport and exercise to local people 
2) Serves as a focus for community pride
3) Helps build a sense of community identity
4) Provides local people with an inclusive social environment 
5) Engages fans in the support of local charitable causes 
6) Provides economic benefits to local businesses 
7) Is the subject of considerable local interest
8) Represents the city and area nationally and globally 
9) A rite of passage for generations of young people

Q. The recent Green & Gold scarf campaign gained a lot of support amongst your fans. Was this a MUST initiative and how did you go about gaining fan support for it? Was there any negativity from fans towards it?

The idea came from a lad called 'Chatmaster' on the Red Issue supporters forum. When we first heard the idea it certainly resonated and struck a chord with us. We felt after discussions it would be an idea worth trying. In terms of promoting it, we took a calculated risk and bought a lot of green & gold scarfs and then sold them to supporters at cost. We also did our best to get the message out to our membership through 
e-mail, social media and through the various forms of news media.

Obviously the main thrust of the idea was for supporters to wear the green and gold colours of Newton Heath FC from which Manchester United were formed. It was to signify that your were against what the owners, the Glazers, were doing to Manchester United.

In terms of any negativity, the take over by the Glazers caused many fractures within the Manchester United supporter base. Some supporters wanted to remain wearing red, which was OK and not an issue to us in any way. Some supporters chose to wear both red and white and green & gold at the same time. We always saw wearing red and white as supporting the team on the field.  While at the same time wearing green and gold was supporting the clubs history and tradition. Green & gold was also clearly making a strong statement against the Glazer family and the huge debt they had placed on our football club. 

Q. A long term aim for SISA is to have fan representation on the board at Blackpool. Is this something MUST would like to have in place and is the Phoenix Fund a mechanism to enable this?

MUST's core aim has always been about supporter ownership of Manchester United. In our particular situation at Old Trafford we've always felt supporter ownership is possible because of the number of supporters we have around the world. In a sense we've already demonstrated this as sadly we've almost bought the club for the Glazers family. They've been very fortunate as in our eyes they have brought nothing to Manchester United except debt.

In the future there is also a danger that the Glazers could sell to another buyer in another leveraged takeover. If this were to happen we would end up repeating the process. The best way to beat this vicious cycle is to find a way for Manchester United to become a supporter owned club. 

As a supporters we don't seek power, but influence. We want the club to be run professionally but we want the profits that the club generates to be reinvested back in the club and for the benefit of the football club and the Manchester United community. In particular we would also seek to reduce ticket prices and invest to strengthen the quality of the playing squad on the field. We feel that the model that Bayern Munich employs would be attainable and at this time in our history and a good fit for Manchester United. As you're probably already aware, in the Bundisliga supporters own a minimum of 51% of the shares in their football clubs.

The Phoenix fund was set up for our supporters to save their money in individual accounts when the Glazers compulsory purchased their shares after the takeover. It was an emotive issues as these were shares which were precious to supporters. Some shares had been passed down through generations of supporters families to their children. 

I think it would also be fair to say that we in MUST also see the Phoenix Fund as part of a supporter takeover vehicle that's built and ready to use. If a takeover opportunity were to present itself our supporters wish to they could join en mass. If the Phoenix fund had not been built, we wouldn't be able to take advantage of any positive situations that could come our way in the future. Many supporters also have standing orders and save through their individual Phoenix fund accounts.

Q. Since SISA's formation we have actively tried to engage with the owners of Blackpool FC. This is often discussed as something that could hinder our progress. Do you have a working relationship with your owners and how important is this for the progress of MUST?

Before the Glazer takeover we had a very close relationship with the board of Manchester United. Quite possibly this was because we were at that time seen as potential owners of the club. I think it would be fair to say maybe at that time the PLC board of Manchester United we're hedging their bets. 

After the Glazer family takeover relations between the club and the trust ceased, MUST and Manchester United Supporters Association (IMUSA_ were expelled from the fans forum. That decision was down to David Gill and the Glazer family quite possibly because we could, and would, have asked any number of awkward questions. 

Since David Gill left his post and Ed Woodward took over, MUST along with the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association (IMUSA) and a number of Manchester United Fanzines were recently invited to individual meetings with Ed Woodward. Only time will tell if these meetings lead to any improvement in supporter relations in the future.

Q. Finally, we hope to one day be back amongst the Premier League. There is still discussion around the formation of a 'breakaway' European League. Is this something MUST would support?

It's not a topic we talk about very often. But whenever it comes up in conversation every Manchester United supporter I've spoken to has been 100% against the formation of a breakaway European League.

I'll finish by wishing you well in your journey to return to the premiership. Blackpool away is always a game our supporters look forward to. I felt Blackpool were very unlucky to get relegated from the premiership, you played some fantastic football that season under Ian Holloway. 

Sadly for me I'm also old enough to remember when you had Tony Green in your lineup, what a player he was.


  1. Replies
    1. Good read and I was at that match.What a player.Hacker Mac gage him the fatal injury to end his short time playing.

  2. Didn't realise they had communication issues with their owners as well Interesting read