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Gill defends refusal to speak to fan groups

8th March 2011

Man Utd's Gill defends refusal to speak to fan groups
BBC, 8th March 2011

Video of full hearing session here

Manchester United chief executive David Gill has defended his refusal to enter dialogue with groups who are "at war with the owners" of the club.

The Manchester United Supporters Trust and the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association are among the organisations affected.

They have publicly opposed the Glazer family's ownership of the Red Devils.

"If we're going to be castigated for not speaking to groups with particular agendas, then so be it," said Gill.

But the club's policy of not engaging with groups was challenged by a House of Commons Select Committee as part of a wider inquiry into football governance.

Gill was asked whether he was simply avoiding engaging with those who disagreed with him.

But he was adamant that the club did respect the opinions of their fans and held forums with them three to four times a year to gauge - and often act upon - their concerns.

"We'd be naive and stupid if we didn't understand what the fans think, what they want, and reflect that in our business policy," he said, insisting that he had no problem with members of the two groups attending such forums as individual United supporters.

But he added: "At the same time, we're not going to engage in structured dialogue with organisations like that.

"I don't think it's appropriate or sensible. They're at war with the owners."

He insisted that the Glazer family, who took over at Old Trafford in 2005, had made the club stronger and that United's debts had no impact on manager Sir Alex Ferguson's ability to buy players.

Much of the groups' complaints are centred around the issue of United's ownership being leveraged by debt, for which the club pay annual interest in the region of 45m.

Critics argue that is money which could otherwise be spent on players or reducing ticket prices at Old Trafford.

"There's been no impact in terms of our transfers," said Gill, who stated that any extra spending power United might have had if they were debt-free was offset by the additional revenue streams the Glazers had tapped into.

Claiming United's debts were perfectly serviceable, he added: "The 45m, if that wasn't there, that would be better in some respects.

"But, at the same time, it's not hampered us developing the club.

"Our net spend on players since the owners took over is greater than it was in the five or six years before that." NB: This is not true

Dismissing the rebels as "domestic" supporters, Gill commented: "We've done studies that show we have 333 million followers around the world. Not everyone hates the owners.

"When we first went public in 1991, a lot of fans didn't like the club at that time. They loathed the Edwards family [who formerly ran the club]."

Gill also defended the Glazers' unwillingness to communicate directly with the fans.

He said: "The owners have delegated that to myself, the team we have, Alex Ferguson.

"I can give you other examples where owners have not spoken directly to the fans."