When the Glazer family issued bonds to raise £500 million to service Manchester United FC’s debt, emotions were running high among the club’s fans. The bond issue bought the Glazers valuable breathing space, but large sections of the club’s support were concerned by the levels of borrowing.
One of those supporters was Andy Green, a Mayfair fund manager. On reading the deal’s small print, it is claimed he discovered that the Glazers had secured the option to take at least £20m of dividends out of the club every year, with an additional clause allowing a further £25m to be paid out in dividends at any time. After publishing his findings in a blog and penning an open letter to David Gill, Manchester United’s chief executive, the media quickly picked up Green’s story and the fans sense of betrayal was compounded.
Fans hoping to wrest the control of the club from the Glazers received a major boost when a group of prominent City financiers banded together as the “Red Knights”, a consortium aiming to buy Manchester United led by Jim O’Neill, Goldman Sachs’ chief economist and United fanatic.
Each weekend, green and gold scarves and flags (representing the colours of Newton Heath, the club that would become United) have been seen in the stands at Old Trafford, as chants against the club’s owners sounded around the stadium. Early in March, MUST, the Manchester United Supporters Trust, stepped up the Green and Gold protest campaign by signing Blue State Digital, the US agency that has played a key role in Barack Obama’s grassroots campaigning.
On March 10, during the second leg of the Champions league quarter final game against AC Milan, the Green and Gold movement received the best free publicity possible. As the referee blew the final whistle and the players started leaving the pitch, the most famous footballer on the planet and former Manchester United hero David Beckham donned on a Green and Gold scarf.
Once again, the availability of information on the internet has made small print legible, as mainstream channels – with a little help from a mainstream icon – have brought self-published social media content before a global audience.