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Old 7th April 2010, 14:18   #1
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Default Interview with MUSTís Vice Chair, Sean Bones

Interview with MUST’s Vice Chair, Sean Bones – Price Freeze Reaction, Red Knights and Football Fans Deciding The Election

By Dan Salisbury-Jones.
Football Talk April 7 2010

Following my report regarding the freeze on season ticket prices at Manchester United, I met with the Vice Chairman of Manchester United Supporters Trust, Sean Bones at their headquarters.

The trust are based in a modest, small and busy office that overlooks the focus of their attention, Old Trafford. They are all volunteers that work tirelessly for what they see as vital to the future of Manchester United.

The office was packed with orders for green and gold products, ready to be shipped all over the world and there is an air of confidence that something special may be about to happen.

Sean Bones is a very approachable man, this is despite him just clocking off from his factory job. As you will read he is also passionate and knowledgeable about the trust’s battles to safeguard the future of the club.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at MUST…

“I’m Sean Bones, I’m the Vice Chair of MUST, I’ve been that for a long time, since before 2005. My role at MUST is to work together with everyone, the board and the committee to try and bring the aim of supporter ownership closer to Manchester United.

At the moment it’s really an amazing situation because the membership has gone over 150,000 on Easter Sunday and were doing a lot of things right, supporters are getting the message and realising that they do have a power and its worth joining.”

How has the trust developed and what is it’s direction?

“The trust started as Shareholders United Against Murdoch, along with IMUSA (Manchester United Supporters Association) we fought a campaign to stop Rupert Murdoch taking over the club. Then we became Shareholders United, fought the Malcolm Glazer takeover and obviously in that particular battle the Glazers did get control of the club, so it was pointless being called Shareholders United because there were no shares available. Malcolm Glazer was obviously acquiring all the shares.

So we then evolved into the Manchester United Supporters Trust and slowly but surely, we stabilised after the Glazer takeover and we hung on in there for many years. We had felt that sometimes the tide was going out but now it feels like the tide is coming in and supporters are becoming more aware of what’s happening, of all the issues, and hopefully it will result in the long term supporters owning the club.”

What has been your reaction and the trust’s reaction to the price freeze on season tickets?

“We saw it as a victory because the Glazers have used every opportunity since taking over to bang the prices up a ridiculous amount. It’s very, very sad when you know a lot of supporters who have to give up their ticket because they are no longer able to afford to go. We’ve heard of supporters who have been following the club for 40 years and they struggle to pay the ticket prices with things like the ACS (Automatic Cup Scheme) which forced people to buy tickets for cup matches whether they were attending them or not, that put a huge burden on a lot of supporters and a lot of people’s finances were stretched to the limit.

And what was really sad was it appears that the club said if you cant afford to pay, goodbye. It didn’t matter that your family and yourself had supported the club for all these years and built the club up to what it was, the Glazer family have basically said if you don’t have the money then goodbye and we’ll find some one who can buy the tickets. For me it’s a very, very dangerous thing to do because when the club are successful and your in good times, it might be easy to get everyone to the games but when the club isn’t doing as well, which is possible, then the people who do support the club are the loyal ones and they are the ones who the Glazers have priced out.”

Tell us some more about the Red Knights and how the trust is going to work with them…

“The Red Knights are Manchester United supporters, obviously the valuation of the club is huge and in order to pull off something like this, it’s an incredible thing that’s being worked on and we want to work with them. The Red Knights could have invested their money in something else, but they love the football club.

I think what a lot of people forget is that when your born you follow a club, it becomes part of your identity, it becomes special to you, it becomes like part of your family and not only to everyday supporters but to Red Knights, who are also supporters. They don’t want to see what’s happening at Manchester United happening, they care about the club in the same way that we do and we want to work with the Red Knights, we see the Red Knights as opening the door for supporter ownership.”

“The 3 core issues for us are that every Manchester United supporter around the world gets the opportunity to own a part of Manchester United.

We want to replace the debt with equity from supporters as quickly as possible, obviously that’s a huge amount of money, the debt is very, very high and so it might take more than one stage to do it, the PIKS are very, very aggressive debt and they would probably have to be dealt with first but we would want to replace the debt with equity as quickly as possible. Because at the moment the club is just bleeding debt, it’s just losing so much money and the Glazers just keep refinancing and raking up debt.

The third thing would be that we want the supporters to be at the heart of the club but that profits go back into the club for more reasonably priced tickets, so supporters aren’t priced out and we would like the profits to be reinvested in the squad to compete with the best teams, your Barcelonas, your Real Madrids and if the debt wasn’t there, we would be able to do that quite easily.”

If you were to gain control of the club have you any thoughts about how it would be governed? Who would be in board room etc?

“Well everything at the moment is still being formulated but I think it would be fair to say that supporters don’t want to have power, they want influence, they want the club to be run for the benefit of Manchester United and the whole Manchester United community.

They want Manchester United’s community at the centre of the club and at the moment that’s not happening but I wouldn’t see it being run far different in a sense, to how it’s being run at the moment, the only difference would be the focus would be that supporters issues came first.

So it would be run in a professional way, I know that David Gill turned up saying that if we had 50 or 60 people they would all be arguing, which I think is rubbish really because before the Glazers took over Manchester United was a plc and we had over 30, 000 ‘owners’ of the club and it ran fantastically well, the ticket prices were on average 50% cheaper and in the four years before the Glazers came we invested over £80 million in transfer money for Rooney, Ronaldo and Rio Ferdinand.

Since the Glazers have come in the ticket prices have been ratcheted up to ridiculous amounts. Obviously the club wont show us transfer books but on the calculations we’ve done, it looks like hardly anything has been spent or invested in the playing squad and obviously the manager has done a terrific job and the players have done a terrific job but there a lot of players now coming to the end of their career and obviously they need to be replaced but at the moment, with this huge debt, there doesn’t appear to be any money to reinvest in the squad and strengthen it.

I think what has upset a lot of people as well is you look at the £500 million bond issue, what happened when that bond issue came out was it opened the books so supporters could see what the Glazers had done and what the Glazers future plans for the club were, and it incensed people because literally the first set of loans, they had a lot of security in them to protect the club but this new bond issue is covenant light so there is hardly any protection there for the club. So the Glazers can literally sell the football ground, sell the training ground, they can take large amounts of money out of the club, they literally have the keys to the Old Trafford vault. In the first year they can take something like £130 million out, then up to the next 7 years they can take half a billion in that time span, it’s worrying because really the supporters are paying for this.”

“What the Glazers have done is very different to what Abramovich has done at Chelsea and Sheik Mansour at Man City, they have actually bought the club with their own money, they financed it with their own money.

With the Glazers, literally the supporters are paying for it and it’s kind of annoying because in a sense Manchester United supporters feel that they have already paid for the club, we had a thing called the Development Association, our investment from our families over so many years had built the stadium and built the football club.

We feel like we’ve already paid for it and with what the Glazers have done, it makes us feel like we have to pay for it again a second time and then when you look at all the huge interest payments and debt it feels like were having to pay for it a third time, and then if it ever does get paid for (if the Glazers ever manage to pay it off) it wouldn’t be ours, it would be the Glazers.

So I think we’ve come to the conclusion that now is the time and the momentum is there, if it doesn’t happen now its going to be very, very difficult, we have to grasp this opportunity and work with the Red Knights and it’s very encouraging because all the indications now are that there is a huge appetite around the world by Manchester United supporters to own a part of the club. I think it has a different value for us than the Glazers because if you’re a supporter and you own a part of Manchester United it’s a different relationship.”

Gordon Brown has announced that May 6th will be the date for the General Election, how do you see football supporters playing a part in deciding the result?

“Well, pollsters are predicting that there might be between 5 and 20 seats that’s going to decide a very, very close election. Everyone knows at the moment that a lot of the British public are very apathetic to politicians, if you think about the ‘cash for questions’, expenses row, the lobbying row, the British public aren’t really enthralled with the way British politicians have behaved and I think in some cases there has been a dereliction of duty by the government in the way that football supporters have been looked after and so there’s a lot of scepticism from our point of view.

But what we can say is this, were all going to be looking very closely at the manifestos of the political parties and its going to be what they write, what can be set in stone that could have a significant effect on the election result because if you think about the situation at Manchester United, the situation at Liverpool, the same at Newcastle, in Scotland, the Rangers situation and up and down the country, its happening with so many clubs.

One thing you can say is football supporters are very, very passionate about their football clubs and team, and they will vote for their football club but a lot of them wont vote for a politician at the moment.

So I think all the political parties, if they are intelligent and wise they will realise that it could be the difference between winning and losing the election. The things they can actually deliver to football supporters and obviously there is still time to talk with the footballing bodies, supporters bodies such as Supporters Direct and the FSA, ourselves MUST have a membership now of 150,000 which is very significant and I think it would be foolhardy for any politician to not respect the football lobby, and to realise that it could be the difference between winning and losing the election.”

Finally, if United supporters haven’t joined MUST, why do you think they should?

“I think the reason that football supporters should join MUST is because MUST want to put football supporters at the heart of the club, for football supporter’s issues to come first.

I think at the moment the relationship at Manchester United between the club and supporters is a one way relationship, it’s basically the Glazer family saying ’give us all your money.’ We feel it should be a two way relationship where the supporters give to the club and the club give back to the supporters.

I think people sometimes forget the power of good in football from the top to the bottom, football has a role to play in society and I think that we understand that because we are motivated by those kind of things, we are motivated by the passion of football.

A lot of people at the moment are purely motivated by revenue and the amount of money that’s coming into the club and I think actually if you do things the right way, you can still make the football club big profits but it’s a case of doing the right things and treating supporters how they wish to be treated and putting them at the centre of the club.

It’s free to join MUST, in a sense, MUST is the conduit that gives supporters of Manchester United a chance to communicate with each other and a chance to act as one together, and a chance to have a say in the future of Manchester United. I think if you care passionately about the football club and you want the best for the football club, then you should join MUST.”
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Martin Luther King
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