“What I can assure all of you is that we will keep match-going fans firmly in the centre of our thoughts, whether with the Premier League, Fifa or Uefa, and across our decision-making processes overall,” Manchester United’s Ed Woodward said during the Coronavirus lockdown, “because the last eight months has reminded us all of just how crucial you are to the fabric of the game. This game without fans is nothing.”
Woodward expressed these sentiments at a United fans’ forum in November. He was not at the forum on Friday since he was at another meeting.
Woodward may be United’s leading suit, but he doesn’t wear the trousers. He’s an employee and reports to his boss, Joel Glazer, the man who oversees everything from Washington or Florida. United have not consulted fans about the European Super League they’ve signed up to and there was no mention of it at Friday’s forum.
Joel Glazer? He’s wise to say little publicly since the anger felt over the 2005 takeover of Manchester United is still substantial, but Glazer’s name was on a press release which went out at 12.10am UK time on Monday.
“By bringing together the world’s greatest clubs and players to play each other throughout the season, the Super League will open a new chapter for European football, ensuring world-class competition and facilities, and increased financial support for the wider football pyramid,” said the man with the most power at Manchester United.
World-class facilities? The continual major developments of United’s world-class facilities which saw Old Trafford’s capacity jump from 44,000 in 1993 to 76,000 in 2006 stopped soon after the Glazers took charge in 2005 and for a time an increasingly shabby Old Trafford didn’t even get a paint job.
Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could hardly come out against it – and against his employers – when asked on live TV after his side had won another game against Burnley.
Solskjaer’s doing a good job, but it all paled against the news breaking around him. He answered diplomatically by the side of an empty pitch in an empty stadium.
For all the talk of football being nothing without fans, football has been running without fans for almost a year. Of course those watching on a screen around the world would prefer a backdrop of fans, of noise and colour, but it’s not the be all and end all to them – and those who own football’s biggest clubs (at least on paper) know it.
Players may talk about missing fans, but how many really mean it? As much as United with that banner or Liverpool with their self-aggrandising “this means more” marketing slogan. More what? Money, since they have signed up for what they hope will be broadcast to billions.
Broadcast revenues are where the real money is and, as Sir Alex Ferguson said, television is king. That means compromises for the fans who actually attend matches, since they’re shifted to suit schedules rather than supporters.