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Everything to play for as Murdoch gets rattled

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 Chester's overdraft.

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 board."

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.

 


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