James Lawton: Glazer is just the latest in posse of bounty hunters

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The Independent Online

There can be no more readily understood rage in all football than that currently building in the heart of even a law-abiding Manchester United fan.

There can be no more readily understood rage in all football than that currently building in the heart of even a law-abiding Manchester United fan.

He awaits the ultimate football hijack, the takeover of Old Trafford by a less than alluring tycoon who fuelled his financial empire partly by profit from the most despairing segment of the American Dream, that largely sad and beaten corner of the land of the brave and the home of the free known as the trailer park.

Here is some juxtaposition indeed: leasing caravans, and ownership of a legend, in a game you don't know, in a city you have never seen. It's a bit like Jerry Springer taking over The South Bank Show.

Well, only a bit because culture vultures can swoop where they choose. A Manchester United fan, until some final moment of brutal resignation and perhaps severance, is stuck with his team and his memories and his suddenly aborted dream.

So it follows naturally that if talk of violence against Glazer or members of his family is wild and unlawful and utterly reprehensible - and even more misguided than noises from the same quarter which advocated disruption of the Cheltenham Festival when John Magnier and JP McManus were seen as the greatest evil - the extent of the gut anger is inevitable.

What does seem a little strange, when you step back from the battleground and consider the central point of all the angst, is how this rage so quickly transfers from one hate figure to another. Why is it not more identifiable as slow-burning distaste - not so much at the perils of the present but the deep and now unbreakable betrayals of the past?

First, as was pointed out by a student of Old Trafford's labyrinthine affairs yesterday, it was Sir Matt Busby who introduced the man who had made his fortune in animal bloodstock, the wholesale butcher Louis Edwards, who begat a son, Martin Edwards, who begat his own burning ambition to go plc and cream off many millions.

Then it was Sir Alex Ferguson who led his then friends Magnier and McManus, horse traders of brilliant and ruthless accomplishment, into the citadel, from where they now stand to make roughly £90m by selling out to the American invader.

No blame here attaches to the knights who no doubt will always shine in the United armoury of past achievement; Busby, who got such pitiful reward for giving the club its ultimate meaning, and Ferguson, who carried United from the desperate vulnerability of acceptance of a bid of slightly more than £10m from the enterprising but crucially ill-funded Michael Knighton to a great sports empire worth nearly a billion, were obliged to find allies where they could.

Setting the operating terms of the club was something never within their powers, and surely it is here that the true indignation of the United fan properly resides.

He should remember how it was when first Martin Edwards, then the new chief executive Peter Kenyon, delivered lectures on the financial limitations of United. Edwards said the suited and booted members of the plc board were really as passionate about United as any inhabitant of the Stretford End, and that the board's decision to decline the wage demands of superstars was simply part of sound club policy.

Kenyon cautioned David Beckham against excessive contract expectations despite the fact that his celebrity and selling power had spectacularly covered the cost of his salary down all the years since he had signed, relatively speaking, for free.

Richest of all was Edwards' off-handed referral of contract demands by Ferguson, the creator of the wealth, to the plc's financial sub-committee. Here we saw the inevitable drift, the curtailment of any illusion that the club had any life beyond the demands of businessmen.

It is the scandal, the outrage of today's football, that men such as Glazer are able to see United as nothing more, or less, than a plain and simple cash cow, another trailer park or plastic factory.

Does he know anything of Munich, of how it was before that rising from the bomb site of Trafford, and how it could be that a kid from Collyhurst, Nobby Stiles, signed for free when his parents had been offered £3,000 by Bolton Wanderers - at a time when they had to pass on the pleasure of reading their evening paper because they owed the newsagent on the other side of the Rochdale Road the vast sum of £2.50? Probably not, and why would he? Glazer, as critics of his reign at Tampa Bay Buccaneers are quick to point out, is in it for money, not any tingle of the blood, and this surely is his time - the age of football as, above all else, a commodity.

Here are some words from 40 years ago which read so hauntingly now: "Red city buses have deposited them in droves on the other side of the road and crawl back in the rain to the centre of Nottingham for more passengers. There will be more and more. We are almost on the other side of the bridge now, and a crowd of United supports begin to chant, 'Denis Law, Denis Law...' Law the genius. Law makes a crowd move faster, so do Manchester United. We bump into each other on the bridge, sometimes breaking into a run, mackintoshes flapping, women giggling; disorder taking over."

John Moynihan wrote that in his forever warming book Soccer Syndrome. What could he write of today? Not giggling or joy, but that anger and uncertainty of the heirs to that crowd crossing the Trent.

Malcolm Glazer fills them with dread. He is today's villain, but if he passes from sight, which is looking increasingly unlikely, there will another, and then still another. This is where the horror and the sorrow properly belong.

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