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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee