The Battle for Manchester United: A Fight for the Soul of English Football?

The Battle for Manchester United: A Fight for the Soul of English Football?

Room 101,
Foster Court, UCL
(Off Torrington Place WC1 opposite Waterstones Bookstore)

Wednesday 27th October 2004, 6pm-8pm

Given by:

Oliver Houston, Spokesman, Shareholders United


Manchester United is portrayed by many as the exemplar of how a modern football company should be managed. Under Sir Alex Ferguson over the last decade the football club has enjoyed an unparalleled period of success on the field of play, notably winning the European Champions League in 1999. Off the field it has been virtually the only English football company to behave like a conventional business company, consistently increasing turnover and profit year on year and paying a dividend, whilst maintaining a player wage to turnover ratio of around 50% (whilst many competitors have had ratios of 80%+). It has also expanded stadium capacity whilst also developing one of the few global marketing brands in football, with United playing to sell-out crowds in the Far East every year. This commercial success has attracted the interest of corporate investors. John Magnier, the horse-racing magnate, and JP MacManus, best known for his currency trading operations, hold a 29% share in Manchester United Plc through their Cubic Expression vehicle. More recently the American investor Michael Glazer has taken a stake over 25% in the company and made unofficial overtures to take over the club. However, there continue to be 29,000 small shareholders holding United stock, the vast majority for emotional reasons.

In this seminar Oliver Houston, spokesman for the independent Manchester United supporter shareholder group Shareholders United, argues that whilst Manchester United has enjoyed a period of strong commercial success, the underlying character of the club, that of a social institution beloved by the people that support it, has remained constant. Any attempt by financial investors to treat Manchester United simply as an entertainment sector brand to be bought and exploited for purely financial benefit is therefore doomed to perpetual opposition from the supporters. Starting with the success of Shareholder United in defeating the attempt by satellite broadcaster BSkyB to take over United in 1999, Oliver charts the growth of Shareholders United from an ad-hoc pressure group to 15,000 strong organisation of independent shareholders today. He will then outline the basis of Shareholders United’s opposition to the proposed Michael Glazer bid, and outline Shareholders United’s alternative vision for United, a vision that stays true to United’s heritage as a ‘people’s club’.

Critically he will address the question, can English football stay true to the community roots from whilst at the same time building commercial success and glory on the field in an era of globalised commercialism.


For further details contact

Sean Hamil

Tel: 020-7631 6763

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