An account of the IMUSA guest meeting with Peter Kenyon - 07/11/00
Fears that the weather and a big European night twenty-four hours later would turn the visit of Peter Kenyon at IMUSA into something of an anti-climax proved totally unfounded. Once again the membership were out in force and it was standing room only in a packed O'Brien's to listen to what the now not-so-new-boy had to say.
The very fact that IMUSA had reached a position whereby the chief exec of the club even attended such a gathering is an achievement all present recognised. That is not to say we all went to bow, touch our forelock and say "Thank you for visiting squire"!
On the day of the American elections, it the Chief Exec was on the hustings. Right from the off, it was made clear to the pensive looking Kenyon that he was there to work for his evening half-pint. There was nothing stage-managed about this visit.
It was however clear that he was keen to find out which corners of Old Trafford IMUSA members wanted to see dusted clean.
"The ballot isn't working ... the system has to be known" was his first honest appraisal of the evening, as he scribbled furiously the views from the floor on how the ballot should be conducted.
The recent concern on travel packages was also an early topic of discussion. Kenyon revealed that as part of his determination to stamp down on unsanctioned sales of tickets and packages the club had been buying tickets from such sources and tracking down their original owners.
Another early debating point was the deal with Nike. Before assuring supporters that Nike would have nothing to do with team selection nor demand a punishing schedule of friendly fixtures, he defended the kit-deal to those [large numbers] who were concerned about Nike's track record on the use of child labour. His defence prompted a particularly interesting perspective on the economic history of Manchester from the floor, one that would not have been out of place on Radio Four's 'Start the Week', but I digress!
Following the political economy lecture, questions around youth admission, European aways and stewarding all saw the Chief Executive return to his core message - the need for inclusivity and what he called "commonality":
"Your objectives and mine are the same ... We want to go forward together" was the central theme. On the plc status; "I make no excuses for being a plc, I cannot ignore shareholders, we have to be realistic ... the job is to pull together to continue that success." Most significantly - "We have got to stop 'us and them', the club and the board."
On two, no three, issues he was surprised by the floor's reaction. Firstly, this does not seem to be a man on whom the campaign for a return to safe standing can turn to. Not only did he himself seem opposed to any experiment on safe standing, but he also seemed completely unaware of any of the arguments running counter to the Premier League's standard line.
The biggest cheer of the night came when he was urged to restore "Football Club" back to the club badge "Stella still has 'Premium Lager' on its crest - and that's a global brand" was the most suitable analogy. And finally - when the dreaded "Man U" passed from his lips - to howls of derision!
Where IMUSA might get more short-term joy than standing and club crest issues, is on seating policy.
He made the significant admission [no pun intended] that ticket pricing for 16-18 year olds needed re-examining. Equally important was his promise to also reconsider unreserved seating, "It will come back on the agenda". It seems as if these are indeed issues that the Fans Forum will be an important policy conduit during his reign.
But how safe is his tenure? How confident can we be he will deliver, on what often to this member seemed Tony Blair-like soundbites and spin?
"I am committed to listening" he emphasised, "you will see positive change"
Unlike Blair he sounded encouraging without being charming or smarmy; "I am setting high targets, I have absolute support [within the club] and I am asking all supporters to be involved."
Having given Shareholders United the rope on which he may be hung - "This is an oil tanker, not a dinghy" he offered IMUSA a similar sacrificial benchmark, "I will under promise and over deliver".
On that, he promised to return in twelve months time and face the jury. For now it was made clear that he has the memberships' support. He knows that SPS, ticketing, packages and Euro aways [on which he promised that ways in which more input from supporters on away games could be made would be looked at] are all issues on which progress over the next twelve months will be closely monitored.
He even hinted it might, just might, soon be possible to get a decent - and prompt - pint at half-time!