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May 23, 2005

Malcolm Glazer & Manchester United: How the takeover of a football club has become an excuse for xenophobia

Posted by Anthony Daniels

Malcolm Glazer's takeover of Manchester United has been greeted with xenophobic outbursts by much of the British press. High-minded papers like The Guardian have joined in with comments they would not tolerate of any other group than rich Americans, argues Anthony Daniels. The complaint that Mr Glazer represents the further commercialisation of football makes as much sense as complaining about the commercialisation of prostitution. The real villain of football's commercialisation, argues Anthony Daniles, is the BBC, which transfers huge sums of license fee payers' money - through what it pays for its football broadcasting rights - from the many to the few, from the poor to the rich.

The takeover of Manchester United Football Club by the American entrepreneur, Malcolm Glazer, was the occasion of some xenophobic outbursts in our less cerebral organs of opinion. But on Saturday, 21st May, The Guardian (our best newspaper by far), joined in.

The story on the front page was headlined: Football needs "Root and branch" reform. The burden of the story was that "commercialism" was distorting professional football, and that interlopers like Mr Glazer, who had no interest whatsoever in the game itself, should be excluded from its hallowed halls and peaceful pastures.

One would have thought from all this that football was one of man's highest cultural activities, in need of protection from an otherwise predatory world. One would never guess that it is the pretext of a bullying and thuggish subculture, which has so intimidated our nation's elite that they have to profess an interest in the game whether they have it or not.

To protest against the commercialisation of football is ultimately to complain against the bad and idiotic taste of one's fellow-citizens who, for example will spend large sums of money to buy simulacra of their favoured team's latest strip, which of course it changes regularly precisely to keep the coffers full and the money pouring out of fools' pockets. You might as well complain of the commercialisation of prostitution. If there were no demand, there would be no supply.

There are aspects of the commercialisation of football that I do dislike, however. For example, the BBC pays hundreds of millions per year for its right to televise football matches. What on earth is a public body doing, funnelling huge sums from taxpayers' pockets into organisations that could perfectly well stand commercially on their own two feet, and that require no public subsidy to survive and prosper? Indeed, the BBC acts to drive up the very price of the rights it seeks, in order to provide a service that could perfectly well be provided without it. In short, the BBC licence fee is almost like foreign aid: it is not, perhaps, the means by which the poor in rich countries subsidise the rich in poor countries, but it is the means by which the poor in rich countries subsidise the rich in a rich country.

Actually, when it comes to subsidising cultural institutions that might in reality not survive in the marketplace, America, with its supposedly vulgar commercial culture, is far more successful than any European country. This is because Americans can still accumulate huge fortunes that they are inclined - not all, of course - to put to some public purpose, deriving honourable personal glory and also tax advantages from doing so: and since individuals tend to have a better idea of what to do with their money, to say nothing of having better taste, than governments, the result is that institutions of high culture thrive better in America than in the continent where we supposedly pride ourselves on our cultural heritage.

In the comment pages of the same edition of The Guardian was a column by Richard Adams that, had it been about a foreigner other than an American, would have been regarded as racist and offensively stereotypical, most of all by The Guardian. The column purported to be a speech by Mr Glazer to the Manchester United players just before they played Arsenal in the final of the FA Cup.

The main drift of the piece, not written without a certain talent that would not have been altogether out of place in Der Stuermer, was that Mr Glazer was an ignorant, uncouth and stupid American: the very epitome of the ugly American, in fact. How so complete a buffoon should come to be in a position to buy Manchester United for the sum of £750,000,000 in the first place is not explained. He appears to know nothing of what he is buying, and therefore lacks even the shrewdness with which a vastly successful businessman might usually be credited.

Richard Adam's Mr Glazer commits nothing but solecisms. He calls Sir Alan Sugar "Sir Sugar", thus demonstrating that he knows nothing of our system of titles and fine social gradations (his mind is too coarse to do so). He mistakes the Ferguson who manages the club with the Princess of that name. And although he appears to know nothing of the club's history, for example calling Bobby Charlton "Bobbie Charleston", he proposes to call a new doughnut stand Dunkin' Edwards, after Duncan Edwards, the captain of Manchester United who died in the Munich air crash of 1956. By implication, therefore, he is a man of the worst possible taste: as if football fans in general, and of Manchester United in particular, all subscribed to the aesthetic of, say, Piero della Francesca.

Of the citizens of what other nation could one safely write this nauseating stuff, with its crude appeal to xenophobic stereotypes? All the more reprehensible is it because it concerns something that is very far from being a national treasure, a symbol and bastion of Englishness or Britishness. I don't know much about football, but it seems to me that very few of our better clubs have many British players, and that the best and best-behaved players, who speak the best English, are all foreigners.

This suggests to me that there is, in the minds of most men, something like a law of the conservation of stigma and unreasoning hatred operates or holds sway. Most people, if they don't stigmatise or hate one group of people, will hate another. If it's not Jews or Germans or blacks, it's Americans.

My suspicion that there was a law of the conservation of stigma was heightened the other day when I went to a meeting in which the speaker professed himself appalled by the social stigma that still attaches to the mentally ill, the criminal and the drug addicted. But he himself spoke derisively of "the Daily Mail Reader" Ė about 6,000,000 people, I should imagine. They could safely be condemned out of hand. Who in his right mind would rise to the defence of the Daily Mail reader?

Anthony Daniels is a writer and retired earlier this year as a doctor.

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Well, as a cricket fan of course I agree that the BBC wastes our money on football... and of course individuals have better taste than governments - in the USA, for example, you have only to compare Graceland with the White House...

Posted by: Innocent Abroad at May 23, 2005 09:44 PM

Hear, hear! Or should that be "Go on, my son!"?

Posted by: Peter Nolan at May 25, 2005 02:20 PM

I think the take over is just that the Glazers thought they colud do what chelsea did jbut they can not

Posted by: raphael at October 3, 2005 02:38 PM

Not mr. Dalrymple's best work.

He deplores stigma and yet he doesn't mind stigmatizing anyone who enjoys football as an idiotic thug with poor taste.

Der Stuermer? Now I think that is in bad taste. I enjoy articles about liberal hypocrisy, but gratuitously bringing up the nazi's seems to me a bit unhinged and unbalanced.

Football is an English institution. More people watch the FA Cup final than the Champions League final. English clubs are wealthy not only because of the BBC but because people from all over the world want to see English football and buy simulacra of their team.

English football is not just associated abroad with hooliganism -I'm Dutch- but also with positive qualities like fan loyalty and a pleasant atmosphere within the stadium.

Posted by: Rudi at March 8, 2008 05:38 AM

"Not mr. Dalrymple's best work.

He deplores stigma"

Er, no he doesn't --- I don't think you're very familiar with his work at all. His argument is that those who do make a big song and dance about the evils of stigma are hypocrites.

"Der Stuermer? Now I think that is in bad taste. I enjoy articles about liberal hypocrisy, but gratuitously bringing up the nazi's seems to me a bit unhinged and unbalanced.

Again, beneath the wit is a valid point: it's not "in bad taste" or "gratuitous" (let alone "unhinged") to highlight the fact that the crude caricaturing of rich foreigners has an unflattering historical precedent.

...Apart from which, is it really universally deplorable to mention "the nazi's" in any mildly humorous context? Left-wingers are notorious for comparing conservatives to Nazis --- can't conservatives enjoy a little sweet revenge? Besides, the Nazis have been a staple of British humour ever since the war: many who lived through it have said that our irreverence about the Nazis helped to boost morale and thus defeat them. Haven't you seen Fawlty Towers? Or is that too shocking for your sensibilities?

"English clubs are wealthy not only because of the BBC but because people from all over the world want to see English football and buy simulacra of their team."

Again, you miss the point. Indeed, you inadvertently make the author's point: BBC funding is totally unnecessary. ...And I don't know that football fanaticism has yet reached the stage where "people from all over the world" want to "buy simulacra of their team" (rather than "simulacra of their favoured team's latest strip") --- but give it time...

"English football is not just associated abroad with hooliganism"

...Which is rather like saying that the British National Party "is not just associated" with white supremacy... It all depends on how easy it is to overlook repellent attitudes and endemic violence.

"but also with positive qualities like fan loyalty and a pleasant atmosphere within the stadium."

Ah yes! Fan loyalty... A pleasant atmosphere within the stadium... ...As documented in the author's visit to Italy.

Posted by: Paul H. at April 3, 2008 12:09 AM

Dear Paul H.

Er, Mr. Dalrymple does seem to deplore the stigma attached to Daily Mail readership and being an American plutocrat. Stigma is either useful or itís not. Or could it be unreasoned? One could argue that Dalrymple is inconsistent... if there was any point in thinking about it, which there is not. The article lacks the precision that many of his other articles have. And donít forget the self-parodying premise: teeming, dirt faced hordes of the economically ravaged British underclass undermine and exclude American billionaire.

I didnít realise the Der StŁrmer-analogy was meant to be a thighslapper. A little English humor is always welcome. Canít we have some humor that is actually FUNNY, though? ďDonít mention the warĒ! Very funny (until 1974).

As for your predilection for historical parallels, try to have some sense of proportion. What happened to the emotional restraint that Englishmen used to be famous for?

Or is comparing people to Naziís what passes for wit nowadays in England? Such is sophistication. True class.

I was pointing out that English clubs have enormous funds, because English football has a very positive appeal in the rest of the world. They might be misguided. Many Anglophiles around the world donít realise that in England football is associated with louts, thugs and yobbos. But if there ever was an English institution. And since the BBC is going to waste the taxpayers money anyway. Match of the Day is the only thing worth watching on BBC.

Endemic violence is very rare in and around the stadiums of Premiership teams. How English people behave abroad is a different matter.

Excuse me for quoting Dalrymple incompletely ("buy simulacra of their team"). As if the original sentence by Dalrymple wasnít bad enough. Itís better to be succinct in language than to write like a perpetual grad student.

But letís make fun of the foreigner who borrows your language and messes it up. How witty! How Waugh! How Wilde! Whatever point you are trying to make you make it so well. All that phony polish and English snot. I donít have that.

Posted by: Rudi at August 16, 2008 10:11 PM
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