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Saturday, May 21, 2005
  C'mon you Reds !

I'll be watching the Cup Final tonight, local time, in the company of a good mate and neighbour who's a genuine Manchester United supporter. The Bintangs are in and I expect some good-natured banter and rivalry in Jakartass Towers. Now you all know that I'm not an Arsenal supporter but I really do want them to win.

This is partly because they were originally from the Charlton catchment area. My father was a cost accountant at the Woolwich Arsenal when I were a lad but by then Arsenal had moved north of the Thames, in 1913 in fact.

Come to think of it, all the expat Londoners here who support variously Millwall, AFC Wimbledon and (even) Chelsea will be rooting for the London side which was the first to ever field a team without any British players.

There is a fairly simple reason for this; its ownership is British.

Manchester United, on the other hand, is now owned by an American businessman, Malcolm Glazer, who appears to look at his investment as a milch cow, a way to add to his coffers. Unlike Roman Abramovich, who attends most games and clearly loves both football and the club, Glazier shuns the limelight and is only interested in numbers.

Man U, as they're generally known, is the world's richest football club but now there is the danger of a financial meltdown, a comedownance as it were.

Glazer's ambitions are so obvious - to maximise the yield from the global brand that is Manchester United - and so little to do with love of football that he is a symbol of all that our very European country distrusts about contemporary America. He has assumed £265m of debt to buy the club, along with £275m of preference shares, so turning an object of love, loyalty and veneration into what must become a cash machine sweating as high as returns as possible from the 'franchise'.

All will be well as long as Manchester United win; but if success on the field eludes them they will quickly find themselves in a vicious circle in which the need to service debt pre-empts the capacity to buy new players .... so locking them into decline until they are bought by some Abramovich-style white knight who might or might not reverse their fortunes. They are now hostages to the capital markets, debt service and the capacity to commercialise the brand.

Understandably, the fans are not happy.

The growing wariness of America and resistance to the export of its values is part of a wider trend; it is the NHS warily guarding itself against criticism that it is opening itself up innocently to American healthcare companies preoccupied with the bottom line, however innovative their approach; it is to George Bush's foreign policy; it is the increasing tattiness of brands such as McDonald's and KFC; it is to the import of American casinos.

I don't actually know what colour shirts the two sides will be wearing in Cardiff but I'll still be supporting the Reds.


Forever Young
Charlton that is.

 

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