Recently I’ve been cultivating the interesting habit of approaching strangers wearing green & yellow scarves and discussing the political economy & ontology of football fandom. Sort of. And this is a blog post about it. Time to address the elephant in the womb: the Glazer takeover of Manchester United FC and the various things it means, or could mean.
United. Fuck me. What an evocative word. United. United. I Love that word. United. United. United, United, United, UnitedUnitedUnitedUnited. A lot of snottynosed political correctionists erroneously claim that there are several clubs all with an equal claim to the name United. They are wrong. There is only one United. Admit it! As I wrote elsewhere, “The truth, the terrible thrilling dynamic truth, is that there is only one United. The others are wandering, aimless, undead. They’ve been fucked. And we stood back and watched it happen. Though I dare say it was so wrapped up with wider socio-economic transformations that the only way to save these (non-existant) golden years was a vigorous anti-capitalism over the entire post-war period. Too late. Absolutely too late.”
I grew up as a United fan. My mum had been a quite zealous fan since the late 60s, enticed by a decades-spanning crush on George Best. Nothing quite compares with something you learn to adore as a child. You mind is drunk on a nostalgic warmth since before you can remember, your own time immemorial. Wildly subjective, yes, but they did and do mean a lot to me, deep in my guts. My intestines slither like snakes for them.
But my manchild adoration of United hit enormous difficulties when the controversial takeover by the Glazer family finally went through in May 2005. I like many fans had been against it, and had campaigned against it. The takeover was financed by incredible levels of debt, and many of us had very romantic (and impractical) notions of the supporters “owning” the club… The Glazer takeover was a double insult.
Ever since the takeover I have had a lonely sense of detachment from my childhood sweetheart.
The green & yellow (or, gold – apparently) has been adopted as a visible sign of antiGlazerism, that simultaneously manages to be both challengingly subversive and highly traditionalist/conservative (green & gold were the original colours of the club, back in the 19th Century when they were known as Newton Heath). The best of both worlds. The authenticity of both progress and history. Well done! I would say this is the very epitome of what fandom desires. And I’m quite sure once the instability of Glazernomics are sorted out Nike will relish producing a green & gold commemorative kit to celebrate the passing of a regime they had happily worked with.
When I speak to these antiGlazerists in the scarves we talk inevitably about the takeover being “wrong”. No discussion. No question. It was wrong, we assume. But was it?
Of course, as widely predicted beforehand and coming to rotten fruition now, the takeover is bad on a basic level for United fans, in the simple sense that they want cheaper ticket prices (or at least less wildly rising ones) and team improvement.
But one thing that surprises me is that rival fans sympathised a great deal with the plight of United. Why? Why on Earth not take the opportunity to drive a hated rival into the dirt? Why not exploit this moment in the same way United’s former owners were so willing to (with the moves away from shared gate receipts, the formation of the Premier League etc.)? I think this is because, to use Foucaultian language, the discourse of Sport & Sportingness still dominates the more visible discourses of tribal loyalty (one club fandom.) But the fact remains United have historically been… economic… with this sporting ideology. And are thus very lucky to still have good will.
This is perhaps the result of skill media operation, both micro and mass, by the self-organised United fan pressure groups such as Shareholders United who campaigned very publicly against both the Glazer takeover and the earlier (defeated) Murdoch takeover attempt.
So… well done. And now that the tide seems to be turning, that the fans are growing more and more vocally antiGlazer as the oft-predicted financial difficulties seem to be becoming undeniable and affecting United’s sporting progress (i.e. the inadequate replacement of Cristiano Ronaldo)… I’m left wondering how I will feel if the Glazer family is indeed bought out and replaced with a more “fan friendly” (whatever that means) regime. Will I get rid of the sense of detachment? Will I flock back?
I fear not.
The years since the takeover have coincided with my own re-imagining of what sport is, what it means. In many ways this is liberating. Allows me to experience and enjoy things on various levels. I can be in and above the ritual simultaneously. But it also seems to have broken the link between me then and me now.
I write this blog floating deeper and deeper into sport space.