The Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) says that the Glazer family will inevitably exit as owners of the club, possibly in as soon as five years. Responding to Martin Edwards’ comments, where the former United managing director expressed his concern over the club’s £700 million debt, MUST ceo Duncan Drasdo says the Glazer family will sell up.
Edwards, interviewed for Andy Mitten’s new book Glory, Glory! Man United in the 1990s, says that Manchester United has lost control of its own destiny due to the huge level of corporate debt, which is now almost 200% of turnover.
“It concerns me that the club are in so much debt,” said Edwards, who sold the last of his remaining United shares before the 2005 takeover.
“The club are not in control; that family are in control of the debt. I can understand where the fans are coming from with their concerns.
“The crunch time will come when they [the Glazers] exit. Will they saddle the club with the debt or just sell the club on for a profit because that’s all they are interested in? How will they leave the club?
“I’m not going to make any accusations because up to now they have behaved fairly well, supporting the manager, and they haven’t disrupted the running of the club or the personnel. Time will tell.”
Edwards, who inherited control of the club from his father Louis in 1980,tried to sell United three times during his reign. First, to disgraced media tycoon Robert Maxwell in 1984, then in 1989 to Michael Knighton for a prospective £20 million. Knighton appeared on the pitch at Old Trafford, playing ‘keepie uppy’, before pulling out of a deal he couldn’t afford.
In 1991 Edwards led the board’s flotation of the club on the stock market, raising funds for Stretford End development but placing the future independence of the club in jeopardy.
Then in 1998 Edwards, now managing director of Manchester United PLC, recommended that shareholders sell to Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB, who tabled a £623 million bid for the club.
“I thought Sky would have taken Manchester United to a level where nobody could have got near us,” explained Edwards.
“That’s why I recommended their offer in 1998. When they approached us, we had gone 30 years without winning the European Cup. I felt that they could have pushed us on to the next level.”
In April 1999 Stephen Byers, the Trade and Industry Secretary, halted the takeover after the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (MMC) ruled it anti-competitive, saying it would have an adverse effect on the wider football industry. Fans’ groups, including Shareholders United, lobbied hard for the government to block the deal but the precedent was set: United was available for purchase.
MUST, the supporters’ organisation that succeeded Shareholders United after the Glazer takeover in 2005, now campaigns for fanss’ interests including investment in the team, reasonably priced tickets and a positive relationship between the club and board. MUST has also been outspoken about the damaging level of the club’s debt.
“We share Martin Edwards’ concerns about the future,” said MUST chief executive Duncan Drasdo this week.
“That is precisely the reason why we have begun building a huge online network of Manchester United supporters and ‘Reds In Business‘.
“I think it is unlikely that the Glazer family will still be the owners of Manchester United in five years’ time so supporters need to prepare now if they want to have a say in the future ownership of the club.”
The group – in its various guises – made similar calls in the past. First at flotation and then in the lead up to the 2005 Glazer takeover. Fans listened but where the financial muscle will come from, to have a say in what will be a multi-billion pound deal is a moot point.