The Girders And The Glazers
By The Way - Weekly Columns
By Dan Mellett A lovely old neighbour of mine called Joe, took me and my mate to our first game at Old Trafford. He was a lodger at a house a few doors along our terraced street and called unannounced one day to ask my Mum if he could take us to the upcoming match on Wednesday night. It’s the type of thing that just doesn’t happen anymore but back then it was just what it was, a lovely gesture from a neighbour who saw us United mad kids playing football from dawn til dusk in the street and as a match going Red himself, Joe thought he could pass something on to us. Thankfully, my Mum agreed as did James’s Mum and me and my pal were fit to burst. Joe called for us at 6.45pm and in what seemed like total darkness we got the bus (an event in itself) and whizzed down Chester Road. We alighted just before what is now the defunct PC World and headed the rest of the way on foot. The smells from the burger vans, the horses and their muck, the shouts from the scarf, pin badge and fanzine sellers, the bustle of the crowd - all mesmerising for young bits of kids as we struggled along trying to keep up with our adult chaperone. All of this though was to pale into insignificance as we turned the corner on to what is now Sir Matt Busby Way and take our first glimpse at the ground proper and the old “Manchester United” proudly illuminating the night sky with its night red aura. It was magical. Inside, grab some warm popcorn (yeah we had that pre-Glazers) and into our seats. The smell of the grass, your heroes just yards away and the sounds of the crowd. A 1-1 draw but it didn’t matter. Hooked. So where am I going with all this nostalgia? I guess I’m setting a scene from a bygone era as a starting point in order to lambast the neglect I am now seeing at my beloved Old Trafford. In terms of supporting Man United my mates and I certainly won the birthday lottery being born in 1982 meant most of us can only recall a coupe of years of averageness (and that not very clearly) before we embarked on our United “careers” which happily coincided with the most successful period in our club’s history. As we grew up so did our club and the journey just got better and better. We continued our United education, going to the matches on our own and ever more frequently until it became a necessity not an option and we watched in awe as the shirts swept all before them and the ground in which we stood transformed to a world class stadium around us. When the North Stand was demolished and rebuilt in 1995 it had a capacity of over 25 thousand on its own, bigger than a few of our rival’s entire grounds, a fact which eventually became enshrined in song. The East Stand followed with a second tier opening in early 2000 then the West Stand followed suit soon after. There was a short interlude before the Quadrants were opened in January 2006, Work having begun the previous year, alongside some much needed additional and higher quality corporate catering space and we had the Old Trafford you know today. Since our first bus ride to Old Trafford with Joe just over eleven years previous, James and I had been witness to an ever changing, ever expanding stadium. This continued investment and ambition no doubt was a result of our continued success on the pitch but it was always a self-fulfilling ambition, “if you build it, they will come” (sorry Kevin Costner) and come they did, and spend they did, and generated mind-blowing match day revenues our domestic rivals could only dream about. Incredible achievements on and off the pitch, surely this self-generated success story would/could never stop. Step forward Malcom Glazer & co. Having affected a leveraged buy out towards the end of May 2005, Manchester United had new owners and for the first time in many years a different rulebook when it came to finance. In its simplest terms (and I’m no financial expert) the Glazer family had managed to gain control of MUFC with what can be described as a big “buy to let” on Old Trafford and the club’s assets. It’s doubtful this type of deal would get through today’s post-credit crunch meltdown tests but it is what is it and there’s certainly no going back. The pre-treated, brilliant white girders of the new quadrants were lying in the car park after being delivered to site when James and I took another trip to OT to protest at our new owners. We’d heard they were ensconced within OT and the presence of a hyped up section of GMP’s Tactical Aid Unit growing increasingly nervous led us to believe they were right. It wasn’t a pleasant evening for anyone concerned. Anyway.... those girders. If you take a stroll down SMB today and look up at the structures around you you will see two things, they haven’t changed since January 2006 and they are no longer the pristine white. Instead there is peeling paint and the rust is setting in. I think it’s a useful visual metaphor for what’s happening at our club as a whole. What’s more in the period the Glazer’s have been in charge football’s landscape has changed significantly. TV monies have increased exponentially and our rivals now have owners with significantly deeper pockets than ours. This has been exacerbated by the fact all our domestic rivals, have all improved and increased capacity or have built or are building new, bigger, state of the art grounds. The gap between United and our rivals match day revenue, so long one of the main factors that kept us out of sight of the chasing pack, is no longer relevant. The club also knew that from this season the capacity would be further reduced due to the necessary compliance with disabled supporters seating and have done nothing about it despite having plenty of time to. Arguments will rage over spending policy and net-spend and that is for a whole other article(!) but when your manager is publicly calling out the owners about it, it’s hard to deny and things are about to get interesting. What nobody can argue about is that since our new owners arrived, our stadium has been neglected and like it, that’s exactly how I feel. I think Joe (RIP) would feel the same.
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What's your opinion on the girders at Old Trafford...and the Glazers? Do you think the stadium has been neglected since the new owners came to town? Have they done enough with the club since they took over? Do share your thoughts by leaving us a comment below!
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