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Old 8th February 2006, 10:59   #1
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Default The Red Devil (the New Yorker article)

The Red Devil
The New Yorker
John Cassidy 6 Feb 2006

Malcolm Glazer, the seventy-seven year-old owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team, is short and stout, with a craggy face, a bald crown, and a straggly red beard. Some Bucs fans refer to Glazer as “the leprechaun," but he isn't Irish. His father, Abraham, was an Orthodox Jew from Lithuania, who arrived in America as a young man and later ran a watch-repair business in Utica, New York. 1n 1943, Abraham died, of cancer, and Malcolm, who was fifteen, took over the family company. Apart from six weeks at a college upstate, he has been working for it ever since. "He never had time for sports or hobbies or mends because after school he ran to work in the business," one of Glazer's four sisters told a reporter for the Daily Mail of London last year. "From eight years old, he was earning money. . . . He is like a machine."

When Glazer was twenty-one, he opened a jewelry and watch-repair concession at Sampson Air Force Base, near Rochester." It was hard, but I thoroughly enjoyed it," he said to the St. Petersburg Times years later. "I was making more profit than ever before." His earnings enabled him to buy and sell some small buildings in the Rochester area. As his real-estate holdings grew, Glazer acquired several trailer parks, and started building shopping malls. In 1984, he founded First Allied Corporation, which is now one of the country's biggest shopping-mall developers. He invested in television, commercial fishing, and weapons manufacturing; he bought Houlihan's, the restaurant chain, and the Zapata Corporation, a Texas oil company co-founded by former President George H. W. Bush.

Glazer also took up "corporate raiding," a practice common in the eighties in which wealthy investors purchased stakes in companies with undervalued stock and threatened to take them over. Glazer was never a raider on the scale of Carl Icahn or T. Boone Pickens, but his targets included well-known corporations, such as, in 1989, the motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson. As often happened in these cases, the company sued, accusing Glazer of chicanery. During one court hearing, a judge called him "a snake in sheep's clothing"; ten months later, Glazer sold his stake in Harley-Davidson at a handsome profit.

In January, 1995, Glazer bought the Bucs for a hundred and ninety-two million dollars-then a record price for a sports franchise-despite the fact that the team, which was founded in 1976, had lost seventy percent of its games. That summer, Glazer invited Dick Greco, who was Tampa's mayor at the time, to join him in the owner’s box for a pre-season game. A player on the visiting team intercepted a pass and raced fifty yards up the field, for a spectacular touchdown, but the referees called a penalty. "Isn't that a shame," Glazer said to Greco. '1t was such a nice play." An astonished Greco gently reminded his host that he was supposed to be cheering for the Bucs. "You expect sports owners to be outgoing, loud, and boisterous in support of their team," Greco told me recently "Malcolm is the exact opposite.

“Before long, Glazer threatened to move the Bucs to another city unless Tampa agreed to build a new stadium for the team. Accordingly, local residents voted to spend nearly a hundred and seventy million dollars of city money on a state-of-the-art facility that would be leased to the Bucs. Glazer's sons Joel and Bryan, whom he had appointed to supervise the team's business operations, hired expensive new players, including Keyshawn Johnson. In January, 2003, Tampa Bay won Super Bowl XXXVII, defeating the Oakland Raiders, 48-21. The Bucs finished this season with eleven wins and five losses, and reached the playoffs-an accomplishment for which many fans believe Glazer deserves at least some credit. “I don’t think, even to this day, he has any idea what is going on down on the football field, but he leaves the football to the football people, and he has completely changed the way people look at the team,” Roy Cummings, a sports reporter for the Tampa Tribune, told me.

Glazer, except for attending Bucs games, seldom appears in public. He lives in Palm Beach, in an ocean front mansion, near Jim Clark, the founder of Netscape, and Rod Stewart, the rock star. Thom Smith, the society columnist of the Palm Beach Post, is one of the few journalists who have visited Glazer's house. The occasion was a fund-raiser for an Israeli technical college; the guest of honor was Jehan Sadat, the widow of Anwar Sadat, the late Egyptian President. "Malcolm stayed in the background," Smith recalled. "He seemed down right shy."

In the rare instances when Glazer does speak to the press, he can sound kooky. "If you have a father who dies when you are young, you don't trust the future anymore," he told the St. Petersburg Times shortly after he bought the Bucs. "You were cheated once, you'll probably get cheated again. . . . Death is right around the corner, waiting to grab anyone in this room. Watch out. Walk fast when you go out of the house here, so he doesn't grab you."

Last year, Glazer celebrated his tenth anniversary as the Bucs' owner; he now refers to his family as "long-term sports investors." In May, he purchased Manchester United, the English soccer club, in a hostile takeover that cost him one and a half billion dollars-the most money ever paid for a sports franchise. He is the first American to own a major English soccer team, and the investment, which has generated great contention among United's fans, could conceivably ruin him.

Unlike the Bucs, United didn't need a savior. Between 1992 and 2003, the club, which is known in Britain as the Red Devils, because of the players' red and white jerseys, won the English Premier League eight times. In 1999, with a team that featured David Beckham, United became the only club to win in one season the Premier League; the FA. Cup, a knockout competition; and the European Champions League, a tournament that features the top teams from all over Europe. In 2004, more than seventy thousand people watched United play a pre-season exhibition game in Giants Stadium, in New Jersey, and in Hong Kong last summer thousands turned out to see the team's training sessions.

Before Glazer arrived, United was an independent public company, whose shares were traded on the London Stock Exchange. In the spring of 2002, Glazer acquired a small stake in United, which, over the course of two and a half years, he increased to almost thirty per cent. In January, 2005, he presented United's board of directors with a bid to take over the club, offering stockholders a premium on the market price. The directors turned down the bid, on the grounds that it would require Glazer to take on too much debt, and United fans burned effigies of him outside Old Trafford, the team's historic stadium. But Glazer persisted, and, when two of United's biggest investors agreed to accept his offer, he gained majority control of the company. A headline in the London Sunday Times on May 15, 2005, noted that he had succeeded in "PUTTING ONE THROUGH THE LEGS OF THE MAN U MOB."

Even after the deal was completed, Glazer didn't explain why he had bought United, nor did he travel to Manchester to inspect the club. Instead, he sent his sons Joel and Avram-whom he had appointed to be the team's co-chairmen and their brother Bryan. On a warm evening at the end of June, the brothers arrived at Old Trafford for a meeting with United's senior executives. Within an hour, hundreds of angry fans had gathered outside the stadium, which is in a residential neighborhood a few miles southwest of the city's center. The protesters, who included neatly dressed office workers as well as menacing looking young men with close-cropped hair, waved banners that said "Glazer Out" and shouted obscenities about him, apparently believing that he was inside. Some of the protesters blocked the exits to the stadium, using railings and bollards from a nearby construction site to build makeshift barricades.

Inside the stadium, the Glazer brothers toured the locker rooms, the directors' box, and a trophy room that houses some of the many prizes that United has won during its hundred-and-twenty-seven-year history. Then they ate dinner in a corporate suite in one of the stands overlooking the playing field. Outside, the protesters were loudly threatening to murder their father: "How we'll kill him, we don't know; cut him up from head to toe. All we know is Glazer's gonna die." Eventually, riot police arrived with night-sticks and German shepherds and secured the area under one of the stands, around a tunnel designed to give emergency vehicles access to the field.

At about ten-thirty, two vans carrying the brothers emerged from the tunnel. The protesters pounded on the vehicles' roofs and sides and threw stones and bottles. Several were injured as the police, using their dogs and batons, tried to clear a path through the crowd. Finally, the vans sped away. "The Glazer family are the enemies of Manchester United," Sean Bones, the vice-chairman of Shareholders United, a group that had opposed the takeover, said. "They may have captured the club, but they only have it on a temporary basis.”

What alienated United fans was not just that Glazer was an American who knew little about soccer. The club's previous directors had been cautious, avoiding debt and risky investments a fact in which its supporters took great pride. (Many English soccer clubs are heavily burdened with debt.) To a corporate raider like Glazer, however, a public company that makes steady profits and lacks debt is virtually inviting a take over; a potential buyer can borrow money to finance a bid knowing that, if it is successful, he can shift some of the loans onto the company s balance sheet. This was Glazers method: he borrowed almost a billion dollars to take over United and transferred a big chunk of the debt onto the club's books and fans were outraged.

In Britain, a crowded island where towns and cities rub up against one another like rocks in an old stone wall, and where public displays of emotion are frowned upon, soccer provides an outlet for frustration and aggression and for expressions of communal solidarity. Bill Shankly, a former coach of Liverpool F.C., who died in 1981, once remarked that the game wasn't a matter of life and death-it was more important than that. (United permits fans to have their ashes scattered on Old Trafford's turf free of charge, and several times a year a grieving family turns up at the stadium with an urn.)

United, like many English soccer clubs, dates to the late Victorian era, when the game-which is called football almost everywhere except in the United States-was first played professionally. The team acquired its current name in 1902, but it wasn't until after the Second World War, when United was being managed by a young Scot, Matt Busby, that it began to dominate the Football League, England's first professional soccer association. Busby had played for Manchester City F.C., the other team in town, and he understood Mancunians' passion for the game. At United, he assembled a team of precocious young players, many of them locals, who became known as "the Busby babes." Duncan Edwards, an incredibly talented midfielder, traveled to home games on his bicycle; some of his teammates took the bus. Every other Saturday afternoon, sixty thousand people paid a few shillings to watch them play. The factories closed at lunchtime, and many fans went to Old Trafford straight from work.

Early in 1958, United reached the semi finals of the European Cup, the precursor to the Champions League. On the way back to Manchester after a game in Belgrade, the team stopped in Munich, where its chartered plane refueled. When the plane tried to take off again, it crashed, killing twenty-three passengers, including Edwards and seven other players; Busby was so badly injured that he received last rites. Eventually, however, he returned to his job, and, in May of 1968, United became the first English club to win the European Cup, defeating Benfica, the Portuguese champion, 4-l.

Busby was knighted, and the players who helped win the cup-George Best, Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, Nobby Stiles-were lauded as heroes. Manchester United was a testament to working-class male values: independence, stoicism, pugnacity, and virility. In the nineteen-seventies and eighties, some of the team's supporters became notorious for hooliganism-fighting with rival fans and vandalizing towns at away games-but the incidents only added to United's allure at home.

Old Trafford sits near the south bank of the Manchester Ship Canal, which once ferried cotton to the mills that Friedrich Engels depicted as emblems of capitalist exploitation in his 1845 book, "The Condition of the Working Class in England." Like much of Manchester, the neighborhood around the stadium has been gentrified: residents fish in the canal; many of the cotton mills have been converted into luxury apartments; and at Old Trafford spectators, who for decades stood shoulder-to-shoulder on crumbling concrete terraces, now sit in shiny, cantilevered stands. (The British government instituted a seating requirement after ninety-six fans were crushed to death at a stadium in Sheffield, in 1989.)

United's executive offices are in the east stand, above a nine-thousand square-foot superstore, which sells jerseys, bathrobes, and pyjamas bearing the names of United's current stars: Wayne Rooney, a twenty-year-old Liverpudlian who already plays for England's national team; Cristiano Ronaldo, a Portuguese winger; and Ruud Van Nistelrooy Dutch center forward. Three floors above the store, David Gill, United's chief.-executive, who is forty-eight, occupies a large office decorated with photographs of the team's past triumphs. "The passions run high," Gill told me in August, when I asked him about the hostile action to Glazer. "That is one of strengths of any football club, and Manchester United in particular. The fans think it is their club. They passionately believe that. You don't have to agree with that sentiment, but you have to respect it.”

Some British journalists had speculated that Glazer viewed United as short-term investment, which he would sell within a year or two. Gill dismissed this theory. "The way they are talking I think it is very much a long-term play for them," he said.

After leaving Gill's office, I met Sir Bobby Charlton in a corporate box overlooking the playing field. Charlton, who was knighted in 1994, joined United as a schoolboy, in 1953, and belonged to the team for twenty years, playing in seven hundred and fifty-nine games-more than any player before or since.

"I came down once in the summer," he recalled, looking out at the pitch below. "You got your wages then on a Thursday, in a little brown envelope. You had to come and get it. They wouldn't post it, because it was about twenty quid. I came down, and a big bus arrived from Rochdale"- a small town outside Manchester. "All these lads got out of the bus. I said to them, ‘What did you come down for? There is no matches in the summer.' And one of them said, 'We couldn't stay away anymore, Bobby, so we thought we'd come down and see how they are doing putting the new floodlights up.'"

What changed English soccer was money. In 1979, six years after Charlton retired, Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister and began to overhaul Britain's sleepy nationalized industries, as part of a free market reforms aimed at modernizing the economy. Thatcher confronted the recalcitrant trade-union movement during a miners' strike in 1984-85, and she sold the country's oil and telecommunications companies to private investors. Eventually, the free-market ethos extended to sport. Most English soccer clubs were originally not-far-profit organizations. United, like other teams, was owned by local. businessmen, who provided rudimentary facilities for fans and were forbidden by the Football Association, English soccer's ruling body, to profit from their investment. During the eighties, however, some club owners founded holding companies, which were not subject to the not-for-profit rule. In 1991 , United became one of the first clubs to become a public company: Manchester United P.L.C.

The following year, United and twenty-one other clubs abandoned the Football League and created a new professional soccer association, the Premier League. Rupert Murdoch, who had recently founded Sky, a satellite-television company, agreed to pay about three hundred million pounds for the right to broadcast the league's games for five years. The British government, in an effort to make games safer and to improve the country's image abroad, had already begun to crack down on hooliganism. Closed-circuit cameras were installed in stadiums; drinking on the terraces was banned; and stiff prison terms were meted out to offenders. As violence at games declined, ticket prices rose, and more white-collar professionals began to attend. By the mid nineties, players, who in Busby's day had made a manual worker's salary, were earning millions of pounds a year. As David Conn, a sportswriter at the Guardian, put it in his 2004 book, "The Beautiful Game? Searching for the Soul of Football," "The game was re-branded from filthy habit in the 1980s to legitimized state religion in the 1990s."

The public face of soccer's transformation was David Beckham, who played for United from 1992 to 2003. The son of a plumber and a hairdresser from east London, Beckham joined the club's youth team when he was sixteen. Promoted to United's professional ranks two years later, Beckham had a rare ability to hit crosses and shots that swerved viciously in the air. In 1999, when he was twenty-four, he married Victoria Adams, a member of the Spice Girls pop group, in a lavish ceremony at an Irish castle, where the bride wore a gold crown and the couple sat on velvet thrones. But Beckham eventually fell out with United's manager, Alex Ferguson, a former shop steward from Glasgow who has a fierce temper. (Players refer to his tendency to stand in front of them and scream in a thick Scottish accent as receiving the "hair-dryer treatment.") Ferguson became so incensed with Beckham after a game in 2003 that he kicked a soccer shoe at him, which hit the player's face and left a deep laceration above one eye. A few months later, Beckham was sold to the Spanish team Real Madrid, for twenty-five million pounds.
Financially, at least, United continued to prosper. Premier League games are televised in more than a hundred countries, and United is the league's most popular and profitable-team. In 2004, it generated pre-tax profits of almost twenty-eight million pounds, on revenues of a hundred and seventy million pounds. As United's wealth increased, speculators bought into the club in anticipation of a possible takeover. In the summer of 2003, Roman Abramovich, a Russian billionaire, had bought Chelsea, a popular but financially troubled London team that hadn't won a league championship in fifty years, for about two hundred and fifty million dollars. According to the British papers, Abramovich was flying over London in a helicopter when he spotted Chelsea's playing field and decided to buy the club. By the time he completed the purchase, Glazer had started accumulating stock in United. As the team's owner, Glazer made an elementary error: by failing to appear at Old Trafford, he gave United fans the impression that his interest in the team was purely mercenary. The cover of August's Red News, a popular fanzine about the team, portrayed him holding up a ventriloquist's dummy with David Gill's head attached to it. "Nothing will change," the dummy was saying. "The Glazers will be good for United. Just don't mention the debt!!" Glazer and Gill were also on the front of August's RedIssue another team fanzine, under the headline “UNITED FANS’ WORST FEARS CONFIRMED. IT’S BUSINESS AS USUAL. $$$$$$$$.”

A Red Issue editorial explained: The opposition to Glazer's takeover is not about some xenophobic or superficial prejudice, but has at its core a sense of deep loss of people who hold the essence of a football club so close to their hearts. That this loss should be inflicted-jeopardizing the very future of a club which has been a pillar of Mancunian life for so long-so that a grotesquely rich man can chase a vain punt of plundering ever greater wealth, whilst effectively forcing those from whom he seeks to profit to pay for his buyout, well it's a wonder that there hasn't been more opposition.

In the fanzines, and in conversations with me, fans rarely distinguished between their anxiety about Glazer and their unhappiness about changes at United that predated his takeover. In 1990, the average price of a ticket to a United game was less than ten dollars. Today, it is about fifty-five dollars. "There was a lot wrong with the game in the old days, but when I was a teen-ager I could go to every game at Old Trafford," Jules Spencer, a thirty-two-year-old United supporter who helped organize several anti-Glazer protests, said to me. "Now there's no way a teen-ager could do that. People have been priced out."

Another frustration is that many matches no longer begin at 3 P.M. on Saturdays. To accommodate Sky, some games start around lunchtime, or in the evening, and some take place on Sundays or Mondays. "Nobody wants to pay thirty or forty quid to watch a game at half past twelve," Mark Longden, the chairman of the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association, said. Longden, a forty-six-year-old auto mechanic, attended his first game at Old Trafford in 1966, when he was six. For the past twenty years, he has met" the same group of friends in the same pub before United's home games. Early starting times mean that these drinking sessions are often curtailed. "This is about a lot more than Malcolm Glazer," Longden said. "It is about people who think the game has been taken away from them."

Perhaps the most frequent grievance expressed by longtime fans is that the games are no longer much fun to attend, partly because there are so many affluent out-of-towners in the crowd. "Old Trafford is sh*te" an anonymous United fan wrote in the August edition of Red Issue ."What first attracted me to United wasn't McGrath, Whiteside, Robson, et al."-three players for United during the eighties. "It was the crowd at OT itself. 50K+ badly behaved men, all older than me wanting to rip limbs off opposing fans and who made the walls shake with the noise they created. Bad language, bad behavior the best escape possible. I used to watch them open-mouthed as they jumped over the pens of United Road towards the opposition. A week later, I was doing it with them. The place is wank now. Too controlled, all seating, sensible, middle class sh*te."

In mid-August, I attended United's first home game in this season's Premier League, against Aston Villa, a Birmingham team. An hour and a half before the kickoff, which was scheduled for 12:45 PM., Sir Matt Busby Way, the main thoroughfare leading to Old Trafford, was packed with fans drinking cans of lager and eating fried haddock from the Red Devils Chip Shop. Inside two pubs near the stadium, the Trafford and the Bishops Blaize, there was loud

We love Man United.
We love Man United.
Na, Na, Na, Na.
Na, Na, Na, Na.

In the stadium, however, the mood was subdued. During much of the game, only people singing were a small band of Aston Villa supporters, who taunted home crowd by shouting "U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.SA.!" Joel and Bryan Glazer were sitting in the directors' box, next to a bodyguard. The brothers had flown in from Florida the previous night, and they were planning to return to the United States immediately after the game. It was their third trip to England since their father had taken over the team. Their first had lasted three days and had included a stop at the headquarters of the Premier League, in London. Each of their subsequent trips lasted less than twenty-four hours.

The brothers did their best to act like British fans. Whenever a United player executed a good play, they stood up and applauded. The crowd largely ignored them. Aston Villa packed its midfield and defense, attempting to secure a tie. Rooney displayed the pace and strength that have marked him as a potential superstar, but until Ronaldo entered the game, early in the second half; United seemed unlikely to score. In the sixty sixth minute, Ronaldo set up an easy goal for Van Nistelrooy, which brought United's fans, and the Glazers, to their feet. A few minutes before the final whistle, when a 1-0 victory for United seemed certain, many of the team's supporters headed for the exits, prompting the Villa fans to chant, "F*ck off back to London!" When the game ended, the Glazers shook hands with Sir Bobby Charlton and briefly attended a reception in the directors' lounge, before leaving for the airport.

It's tempting to view the anti-Glazer movement as the product of a vanishing proletarian culture. However, many of the protesters are white-collar professionals, who object to Glazer on sophisticated financial grounds. "We want Manchester United to make buckets of money," Oliver Houston, a spokesman for the fan group Shareholders United, told me. "But we want it to be invested properly-in better players, better facilities for the fans, and in developing the club. Glazer is only interested in paying off the debt."

Glazer took on two loans to buy United. One, of two hundred and sixty-five million pounds, came from a syndicate of banks led by J. P. Morgan; the other, of two hundred and seventy-five million pounds, was from three Wall Street hedge funds. The loans from the hedge funds, which were bonds of an unusual type known as "payment-in-kind securities," are Glazer's personal responsibility. If they aren't paid off within five years, the lenders can force the Glazers to give up control of the team. "The hedge funds have got Glazer by the throat, Houston said. “He has a very punishing repayment schedule."

In order to remain competitive with other top clubs, United must participate aggressively in the transfer market, where soccer players are bought and sold like prize thoroughbreds. The Glazers have reportedly promised to make twenty-five million pounds available annually for transfers. But Abramovich has spent more than ten times that amount since taking over Chelsea, building a team of international all-stars which won last season's Premier League title. "The Glazers will have to spend a heck of a lot of money if they want to keep up with Chelsea," John Motson, a veteran soccer commentator for the BBC, told me. 'Will they be able to do it with all of that debt? That is what people here want to know."

Many United fans argue that the club's delicate financial situation is already undermining its performance on the field. The team has yet to replace its longtime captain, Roy Keane, who left in November he now plays for Celtic F.C., in Glasgow-and over the summer it lent more than a dozen players to other clubs, which meant that United didn't have to pay their full salaries. The recent signing of two defenders-Nemanja Vidic, a Serb, and Patrice Evra, a Frenchman who was born in Senegal-has done little to assuage critics. The Premier League season is more than half over, and United is again trailing Chelsea. Worse, the club was recently eliminated from the European Champions League-the first time in ten years that it failed to reach the final rounds. The British newspapers have speculated that Glazer will soon replace Alex Ferguson, who is sixty-four, with a younger coach, just as, in 2002, he replaced the Bucs' coach, Tony Dungy, with John Gruden, a thirty-eight-year old whom he hired from the Oakland Raiders.

In August, I met Ferguson at United's training ground, in the countryside six miles southwest of Old Trafford. On a fence outside the facility, there was a notice that said: "Due to dealers profiteering from the sale of memorabilia via the Internet, etc., the players will no longer sign footballs or shirts, etc. We apologize to our genuine supporters." Nevertheless, as I approached, about a dozen teen-age boys clutching autograph books surrounded my car. After ascertaining that my signature was worthless, they allowed me to proceed. I passed a security checkpoint and entered a modem two-story building, where Ferguson, a trim man with a ruddy face and bright-blue eyes, was talking to two players in the lobby.

Ferguson left school at fifteen and worked as a toolmaker in the Govan shipyards before playing professional soccer for St. Johnstone, Dunfermline, and the Glasgow Rangers. At thirty-two, he became the manager of East Stirlingshire, a small, impoverished Scottish club, where he shocked the directors by asking to take his team out for a pre-match lunch. "They nearly choked on their cigarettes," Ferguson recalled. "And you know how much it was? Thirty quid. Thirty quid for thirteen players, the physio, and myself."

Ferguson became the manager of United in 1986. When the Premier League first struck a deal with Sky, he warned that the satellite company would “fleece the fans." Now he earns four and a half million pounds (more than eight million dollars) a year and owns several racehorses. Last summer, he laughed off suggestions that he should resign in sympathy with the supporters' protests against the Glazers. "Prior to the club going PLC, that is when the fans should have complained, but they didn't," he told me. "They maybe thought it was going into the hands of the fans, but, you know fine well, when you put a club into a PLC anybody can buy it. I don't understand why there is so much emotion now." I asked Ferguson whether the Glazers had offered him advice about how to run the team. "I think they are expecting me to come up with the ideas," he snapped. 'I’ve been here for nineteen years, you know."

Chelsea now has two players for each of the eleven positions on the team, plus a couple of talented backups to the backups. Ferguson conceded that United can't match Abramovich's spending. "I don't think we can afford that, to be honest with you," he said. "We are working with a squad of about nineteen or twenty players. In the past, it was a bit bigger, but keeping a squad of more than nineteen or twenty happy financially is very difficult. They are all on terrific salaries, so you try not to carry surplus players."

Ferguson insisted that he has no intention of resigning. "I'm not going to be here in ten years, or anything," he told me. "But I'd like to see this side develop to its full potential."

Apart from one interview with MUTV, a cable channel owned by United, the Glazer brothers have declined to speak to fans or to the media. The family's official business plan for United, a copy of which was leaked to the London Times, is surprisingly prosaic. It projects annual revenue growth of about ten per cent-to be achieved through increases in the price of tickets and corporate boxes, more lucrative sponsorship deals, and proceeds from an annual exhibition game in Tampa. With the exception of the Tampa game, United would probably have implemented these ideas anyway.

In London, I met with two executives whom the Glazers hired last year. At the end of a long lecture, I had gained a detailed knowledge of the canny financial manoeuvres that had enabled the Glazers to take over United, and I had been repeatedly assured that Malcolm Glazer in no way resembled Donald Trump who is, to the British, the embodiment of crass American wealth-but it remained unclear why the Glarer family had risked its fortune on an English soccer club. Finally, one of the executives said, "The big mystery is why they decided to buy it. They are not minded to explain."

One of Glazer's sisters has suggested that his primary motive was to. Move up on Forbes's list of the four hundred richest Americans. (Last year, he was ranked two hundred and fifty-eighth, with an estimated net worth of $1.3 billion.) Another theory is that Glazer intends to cash in on soccer's potential to become an even more popular sport. "If you are Glazer and you own just the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, you can't internationalize your product," Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College and the co-author of "National Pastime: How Americans Play Baseball and the Rest of the World Plays Soccer," told me. "The French and the Chinese don't want to pay to see the Bucs play American football. You are confined to grow at the rate of the U.S. economy, and no capitalist worth his salt wants to confine himself to two- or three-per-cent growth."'

Other experts are convinced that Glazer will never profit from United. "I think the Glazers are mad," said Brian Glanville, a novelist and journalist, who for many years was the senior soccer correspondent of the London Sunday Times. "They have got the football club massively into debt. They are heavily in debt themselves. Some people say they are going to sell more of their ghastly tat abroad, but that doesn't hold up. The only way they could have done that was to have brought David Beckham back from Real Madrid. He's the only one who could sell enough shirts."

Glazer has demonstrated that he doesn't give up easily. After his mother's death, in 1980, he and his siblings squabbled over the family's assets and ended up in court. The case dragged on for years, and Glazer still doesn't speak to two of his sisters. Ten years ago, he was widely thought to have paid too much for the Bucs; if he sold the team today, he would make hundreds of millions of dollars.

Still, there are considerable differences between professional football and soccer. The N.F.L. functions like a cartel. Each team, regardless of how it performs on the field, receives the same amount of television money-this season, about ninety million dollars. If a team has a poor season, it is rewarded with top draft picks, which enable it to improve its roster. English soccer, by contrast, is ruthlessly competitive. There are no salary caps, no drafts, and relatively little revenue sharing. Every year, the three teams with the worst playing records are expelled from the Premier League and replaced by teams from the division below.

"Because of the promotion and relegation element, there is a tremendous amount of risk," Zimbalist said. Heavily indebted soccer clubs can be forced to sell their best players to raise money, which can lead to more poor results, and, ultimately, to ruin. Between 2001 and 2003, Leeds United, my hometown team, went from the semi-finals of the European Champions League to near bankruptcy. United isn't in immediate danger of going broke, but the club's early exit from this year's Champions League will cost it millions of pounds in television revenue, and last week it announced that profits had fallen twenty percent in 2005. "I would not be optimistic," Zimbalist said. "And if Malcolm Glazer asked me to take a piece of the investment-of that billion and a half dollars-I would say no, thanks."

Some United fans have abandoned the club for F.C. United of Manchester, a semi-professional team founded after the takeover, which competes in the North West Counties Football League, a division ten rungs below the Premier League. F.C. United plays home games at a stadium in Bury, an industrial town about ten miles north of Manchester. One evening, I drove to the stadium, paid an entrance fee of seven pounds, and found about two thousand people, most of them men between the ages of twenty and fifty, settling in to watch F.C. United play Eccleshall F.C.

The F.C. United players, who include a plumber, a schoolteacher, a stock boy, and a window fitter, were wearing red and white-Manchester United's colors-and, in the stands, a fan had unfurled a large banner that read "FC UNITED. MUFC EXILES." Another banner said "OH, FC UNITED. THE ONLY TEAM IN MANCHESTER THAT’S NOT IN DEBT." The atmosphere was festive; despite the crowd's small sire, the sound of its singing filled the stadium.

At halftime, the score was 3-0, with F.C. United in the lead. In the bar under the stands, I ran into Jules Spencer, one of the organizers of the anti-Glazer protests, who is on F.C. United's board. Over the summer, Spencer and his colleagues raised a hundred thousand pounds for the team, from four thousand donors. Each donor became a member of the club, a not-for-profit organization modelled on the "associo" scheme, which is common in Spain. "Ultimately, it means the supporters hold the power," Spencer explained. 'They own the club. They elect the board."

F.C. United continued to dominate its opponent in the second half, running up the score to 7-1. Some of the team's supporters teased Eccleshall's goalkeeper, yelling "You fat bastard!" every time he touched the ball. At Premier League grounds, fans can be arrested for swearing, but here they could curse with impunity. "F*ck off, linesman!" a middle-aged man sitting near me screamed whenever an officiating decision went against the home team. "F*ck off!"

With each goal by F.C. United, the chants grew even louder. Some were familiar-"United, United, top of the League!” others were new. The previous day, two Manchester United fans had accosted Alex Ferguson at an airport in Hungary, where his team was playing a game. According to the English papers, Ferguson told the fans that if they didn't like what was happening to United they could watch Chelsea instead. Word of the encounter traveled fast. The F.C. United fans sang in unison:

And Fergie said:
Go watch Chelsea.
Are you having a laugh?
We'll be watching FC.

(with thanks to J. Stephen Hartsfield of MUST-USA who scanned, tested and edited the piece)
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