By Jim White
From the Guardian,
Tuesday November 3, 2020
Flattering though it is to be called a "paranoid hack" by
Rupert Murdoch, splendid though it was to witness his impression of
Viz comic's Spoilt Bastard during a press conference last week, the
battle to stop the man the Observer reckons is the second most
powerful in the land buying Manchester United is by no means over. As
Andy Gray himself would put it: there's still everything to play for.
One of those lobbying Parliament about the United takeover last
week pointed out that the upwards of £625 million Murdoch is willing
to pay for a controlling stake at Old Trafford could transform
football in this country. If he was remotely interested in investing
in the game - as has been claimed by his myriad apologists, led by the
asinine Kelvin McKenzie - he could use this money to buy every single
amateur team a new clubhouse, every Nationwide League outfit a new
training ground and still have enough money left over to pay off
But, of course, Murdoch is not interested in football. As might be
ascertained from his tetchy reaction to the news of his bid being
referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, he is interested in
money and power and will stamp his feet if he is refused access to
more of either.
If the rumours washing through media circles about Sky's falling
number of subscribers are true (17 per cent down on last year and
counting), Murdoch will be more anxious than ever to secure United.
With the club on board, he will be in a significantly better position
to influence future negotiations on the Premiership's television
contract, his most important subscription-selling asset. Without it,
it will be all the harder to keep rival media organisations away from
his prize. There is no doubt about it, he needs United, and will fight
tooth and nail to get it.
Which is why those opposed to him should not think the battle is
won; this is just half-time. When Murdoch lashed out at those who he
felt had got in his way, he blamed an over-cautious government and
journalists working for rivals. He failed to give credit where it was
due. This is a fans' campaign. Without the Independent Manchester
United Supporters Association's efforts, there is no way anyone would
have realised there was a problem with a Sky takeover; without Michael
Crick's Shareholders United Against Murdoch organisation contacting
every single MU plc shareholder there would have been considerably
more than the desultory take-up of Sky's offer.
According to Andy Walsh, chair of the IMUSA, it has been
surprisingly easy to persuade fans of other clubs to put aside their
natural anti-United prejudice and see that this is an issue affecting
every supporter of every club. Now the campaign moves into its second
phase, Walsh is keen that anyone opposed to the deal who simply
thought nothing could be done, should send their submissions to the
MMC as soon as possible: this is a battle that can be won.
Underlying the anti-Murdoch campaign though, is a more fundamental
issue. Despite his paranoid assumptions that everyone is in this just
to see him defeated, even if Murdoch were beaten, this is not the end.
There are plenty of other predatory forces circling football, whose
intentions diametrically oppose the wishes of those who genuinely
invest in the game every week by going through the turnstiles. A
conference is planned for February next year by fans' groups to pool
ideas about future campaigns and work out positive strategies for
change rather than simply relying on the old mantra: "Sack the
There is plenty that needs to be done. Buried by media interest in
Murdoch's embarrassment last week, was the news that a mystery buyer
had stepped forward to take control of ailing, staggering, suffering
Oxford United. The revelation that the successful purchaser is a
"Bahamas-based consortium" will have sent a chill down the
spine of many an Oxford fan. For some reason the words Bahamas, based
and consortium rarely attach themselves to a white knight interested
only in preserving the culture and tradition of a football club, while
investing heavily in its future.