Peter Corrigan: United shaken by force of tycoon Malcolm

For those Highbury fans protesting about their new stadium being saddled with a sponsor's name, there is the comfort that at least the club are still called Arsenal. In football these days, everything seems to be up for sale, and Emirates United has a certain ring to it that would cheer up a few oil sheikhs.

However, the Arsenal board seem content just to name their new ground the Emirates Stadium with the title emblazoned all over the place, including the front of the players' shirts.

In return, the Middle Eastern airline will provide £100 million over 15 years to enable the club to breathe a little easier about the financing of their new headquarters - which, in turn, will consid- erably improve their income - and to afford a few extra fripperies, including a new contract for Arsène Wenger.

So, to the contentment oozing out of Arsenal over their inability to lose a match has now been added the financial satisfaction of a spot of good housekeeping. As for the complaining fans, there's nothing to stop them calling the new ground Highbury among themselves, and if they want to be really rebellious they can fly Gulf Air.

Supporters of Manchester United, meanwhile, are engaged in a much more aggressive revolt over the approaches of Malcolm Glazer, the American multi-millionaire who owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and now fancies taking control of United.

With a name like Glazer you'd have thought he would have been more interested in Crystal Palace, but we can be assured that there's nothing remotely poetic in his approach, nor does he have the remotest knowledge or love for football. It's the sight of United's balance sheet and the sound of the turnstiles and the merchandising tills tinkling merrily away that attracts him.

He already owns 19.17 per cent of the club, and there have been previous indications that he could take a plunge on acquiring the lot. No one is sure that he has enough money to acquire the £700m- valued business or whether he would have to borrow it.

Either way, he would first have to buy the shares of the Irish horseracing moguls J P McManus and John Magnier, who between them possess 29.89 per cent of the shares (why don't these people buy in round figures?), and the latest news is that he has been in discussion with them.

If they want to cash in, and they don't have any ties to the club apart from a now-defunct friendship with Sir Alex Ferguson, they can make a profit of £80m, which seems ridiculous.

That would place Glazer well ahead with his plans and confirm that the threat of a takeover is real enough to justify the considerable agitation of some United supporters.

Two cars belonging to a United director, Maurice Watkins, were daubed with red paint in a late-night raid on his home. If he was that keen on United you'd think his cars would be red anyway. His crime, apparently, was to sell a million United shares back in April, because they were the shares that found their way into Glazer's custody.

On Thursday evening, Reds' fans staged a protest during a reserve-team match against Birmingham City. They marched on to the pitch carrying a large banner bearing the words "Not for Sale" and held up play for 10 minutes.

United officials condemned as "unacceptable" the demo by a group calling themselves the Manchester Education Committee, who are by no means a new organisation nor a disorganised one. They were last in action at Hereford races, when they demonstrated against the aforementioned McManus and Magnier during their feud with manager Ferguson over the ownership of a racehorse.

The militants have warned that if United continue to turn a deaf ear to their concerns they will "render the club ungovernable". That would be interesting to watch, but it is difficult to know what the club can do while Glazer is busy vacuuming up every share he can grab.

Perhaps the approach of another group of supporters will be more effective. Shareholders United are hoping to recruit 100,000 members and acquire more than 10 per cent of the shares. One wealthy fan has already pledged £750,000 towards the effort to keep the club out of Glazer's clutches.

The main worry is that Glazer would have to mortgage the club's future in order to raise the money required to complete the takeover. He could then plunder the profits. If he was another Roman Abramovich, and could arrive throwing ten of millions into the transfer market, he could be assured of a warm welcome, but asset strippers they don't need.

Perhaps the 75-year-old American has purer motives. After all, he bought the struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers for £120m in 1995 and made them into Super Bowl champions seven years later.

But this season has begun badly for them, so perhaps he sees the opportunity for pastures new, and one advantage of picking the plum of our Premiership clubs is that he would suffer none of the restrictions that apply to owners in American football.

In direct contrast to the way football is operated here, the NFL run a very tight ship, with centralised marketing of television, sponsorship, and salary caps so that clubs have roughly the same income.

Here, where the Football Association impose no controls over the top clubs, there is a crippling imbalance of earning power, and an owner can profit far more if he cares to.

Glazer's lack of interest in football as a game doesn't matter, because he intends to hand control of United to his son Joel. Not even a manful effort can stop me comparing him to any father who wants to buy his boy a cowboy outfit for Christmas. But there isn't really a funny side to the situation, and it is tragic that the authorities have allowed our game to be prey to anyone who has bottomless pockets or who knows how to get his hands on the wherewithal.

No matter how much the game has suffered from tycoon attacks we still have no defence from financial predators. I hesitate to class Glazer as such, because for all we know he might bring in a new idea or two. Perhaps he will help us get rid of agents, whose dealings with clubs were last week described by a judge as a "pretty murky world". Even if his motive was pure profit, would that make him any different from the plunderers already in situ?

It may be that those most put-upon people, the fans, are our only hope of preventing a future fraught with commercial deals that will eventually leave no trace of our footballing traditions. If the name Highbury isn't sacred in football, then no name is. A deluge of aliases is likely to follow. We already have the Walkers (Crisps) Stadium where Filbert Street used to be in Leicester, and the Reebok where Burnden Park was in Bolton.

Heaven knows what they'll call the new Wembley. By the time Arsenal reach the end of their deal with Emirates in 2021 there may be no sponsors left for them to switch to. The Americans have long been used to the name games. I didn't realise before last week that Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, was named after the chewing gum in 1926.

If you have enough money, of course, you can resist the temptation to flog your birthright. Roman Abramovich hasn't yet found it necessary to give Stamford Bridge a new identity. I wonder if the previous owner ever considered renaming it Bates Motel?

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