Football: 'Fans have memories, customers buy brands'

Fan's eye view: Manchester United by Cliff Hague

ON TUESDAY night I ceased to be a Manchester United fan. The decision was not mine. I was not singled out. All of us whose lives have been tethered to Old Trafford were offloaded in that same instant.

BSkyB does not have fans; it has customers and shareholders. Of course, the football side of the business won't change. In fact, we've been assured it will get better. Murdoch has no time for losers. Big-name players will be wheeled in, on contract to deliver. Rejoice. We did. As the goals went in against Charlton, the chants against the deal faded. The crowd of more than 55,000 revelled in a pounds 12m calypso from Dwight Yorke and Jaap Stam's pounds 10m flailings from a Friesland farmyard.

Brand loyalty will be nurtured, though some re-branding of the product may be necessary to increase penetration in under-exploited markets. Look out for a couple of Chinese trialists arriving when the time is right and products of Manchester United's famous football academy in Peking. The marketing will be superb, and the business will go from strength to strength. It's just that there are no fans anymore.

Cantona's "farewell" game a month ago was the end of an era in a more profound way than any of us realised at the time. It allowed the fans to celebrate the continuity of United. The testimonial beneficiaries were there, the survivors and families of that audacious young team of the 1950s. Their ghosts strutted the turf as Eric wove his own magic one last time. Then, suddenly, flitting under the lights in those same red shirts, were new skinny teenagers showing the skill and character that Busby had defined as the essence of a United player. For all the stars, without the fans this would have been a soulless, empty occasion. The crowd were the alchemy that made it a spectacle. Emotion, adulation, the booming of "Ooh, aah, Cantona", the banter of "City, City sign him on" as an eccentric goalie wandered once too often - Murdoch's man probably construed this as a plea to the banking community.

Customers couldn't recreate an evening like that. They pick and choose; they are sensitive to price and quality, but, otherwise, they are passive. Companies like it that way. Mark Booth, BSkyB's man on the deal, is puzzled why it matters that Rupert Murdoch has never been to Old Trafford. Questions on such topics are irrational and irrelevant. The only way that global corporations can engage with the profundity of memory is as an ersatz ingredient used to flavour a blend. Fans have memories, customers buy the blend. For those of us whose roots grew in its terraces, Old Trafford feels like our rightful place on this earth. To News International it is a dot in corporate space, while Martin Edwards pockets a cool pounds 87m.

On Wednesday night, with United 4-1 up, the Charlton game petered out. The opposition could no longer compete. Silent in glass booths above me, the well-dressed men and women fiddled with mobile phones. There were few children at the match, no groups of adolescent lads. Still, not being a fan is such a wrench that I'll inevitably buy a ticket again. Exiled in Edinburgh, I'll sign up for pay-per-view: but if the product is not up to scratch I'll take my custom elsewhere. I hear that at Maine Road you can get a good laugh at discounted rates.

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick