One Small Battle Is Won – Now The Relevant Authorities Need To Help Fans Reclaim Their Game

“He said he didn’t like it but he had to go along with it!”

The whole farce played out like an episode of the Day Today or Brass Eye. If you had Peter O’Hanra-Hanrahan presenting the news it could hardly have been more ludicrous, particularly given most of the pious posturing was coming from Sky Sports News.

So 48 hours after bravely pioneering a new world, shamefully using the name and legacy of Sir Matt Busby in briefs, Manchester United have retreated from the European Super League with their tails between their legs.

Or, put more accurately, Joel Glazer has witnessed the backlash and decided to withdraw the club he owns from participation.

In the wake of it, Ed Woodward – whose previous relationship with JP Morgan meant there was no way United could avoid being implicated as one of the major players – has announced his intention to leave the club at the end of the season. This has led to widespread hope that the owners will sell up in order to get their hands on the cash they stood to get from the ESL.

The whole thing collapsed like a house of cards and nobody has emerged with any credit. Not Chelsea or Manchester City, who withdrew first for the public facade. These are the two clubs who needed the ESL least.

For Manchester City, it would simply be trading one grotesque competition they monopolised with money for another, though for some, their hasty retreat has STILL not seen them exposed in the Emperor’s New Clothes.

The contradiction in terms should have opened a lot of eyes.

That doesn’t absolve United, though to be clear, what I really mean by that is Joel Glazer and Ed Woodward. It’s clear that United and Real Madrid, and probably Barcelona, were the driving forces, the Spanish clubs desperate for the sort of financial backing that will make them major players to sign the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland.

At least they had a sporting ambition. Glazer’s was worryingly transparent. That money would not have gone towards fixing Old Trafford or competing seriously to win the ESL. It would have been to spend the bare minimum so as to avoid embarrassment and then siphon the rest to Tampa Bay or to individuals, just like the last 15 years.

I could easily envisage a scenario where United were allocated £3bn and were still leveraged with hundreds of millions of pounds of debt, just as they are now, in spite of generating enough income since the takeover to have eliminated the debt. It’s still there, just like the owners.

Reading that should be enough to get any United fan worked up, if your blood pressure hadn’t been tested enough over the last 48 hours.

The point remains that this is still an issue. It is not something to sweep under the carpet.

The scavenger six should face some sort of punishment. Hit them where it hurts, with fines and sanctions. It seems harsh to punish the football teams, particularly considering the response from the players, but if United are faced with expulsion or deductions then they will have to accept them.

While there is this momentum, and while that feeling still exists in the communal supporter base, there needs to be a driving tide that reforms football.

The government can’t rest on its laurels after it made noises about addressing ownership models. They need to enforce legislation to reform these models to stop state-owned clubs from basically doing what the ESL threatened to do and they need to outlaw the sort of leveraged buyouts that saw United susceptible to this noose they’ve had to bear for almost two decades.

Could it be feasible that from this mess, the Glazer family are forced to sell up? Their betrayal of the sport should be held accountable for what it was. Treason. It is time to go.

Could it be feasible that some sort of system is put in place to prohibit City from doing what they have done to destroy the sporting aspect of the game?

I’ve no problem with United losing – we’re getting used to it – and it would have hurt to finish second to Liverpool but at least we could have accepted that for the sporting achievement it is just like hundreds of thousands of fans had to in the 70s and 80s. The last five years haven’t been sport. Something had to change.

This situation came about because the Champions League isn’t perfect and the clubs wanted change. If the competition has to change so it is about the most amounts of money for the fewest number of clubs, then at least let that be on merit; hopefully they can amend the competition over time so it is for the elite clubs, those being the qualifying champions, and maybe in the process that can restore some prestige to the secondary competitions. Now of course that won’t happen. But it would be nice.

There are other issues that need addressing at the same time. Racism in sport and online abuse. Act on these now. Put legislation in place as far as is possible to try and force the social media companies to act. Make racism unacceptable. Forget ten game bans. Season long or 18 month bans for players. Points deductions for clubs if necessary.

We need greater support of lower league clubs. Making the game more accessible for the working class fan.

If Sky Sports are suddenly the conscience of the people, expect slashed subscription fees and more free to view games (well, free to view… those of us who have Sky already pay them for their television package).

The last thing we should do is rest easy, patting ourselves on the back because one battle is won for the time being. Look at the difference a communal groundswell of support can make when it comes together to enforce that positive change – this is our game. We can influence these things.

I wrote the other day that I refused to see the owners as Manchester United. I wanted to look at the history and tradition and believe that was my club. That was the way I would get through this latest period of disillusion.

What a welcome surprise to see and hear stories of the players doing what they did to speak out, across the board yes, but especially United, because that’s the club we support. Luke Shaw, Marcus Rashford. And, according to reports, David De Gea and Juan Mata. These are all players that I am proud represent my club anyway but especially so now. Well done lads. You did what you needed to do.

Now it’s time for the powers that be to do what they need to do. Give us our club back. Give us our game back.

Don’t be in a position where Chris Morris is yelling at you that you’ve lost the news.

Wayne Barton

Wayne is a writer and producer. His numerous books on Manchester United include the family-authorised biography of Jimmy Murphy. He wrote and produced the BT Sport films 'Too Good To Go Down' in 2018, and 'True Genius', in 2021, both adapted from his books of the same name. In 2015 he was described by the Independent as the 'leading writer on Manchester United' and former club chairman Martin Edwards has described him as 'the pre-eminent writer on the club'.

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