Manchester United hope to have a new fan advisory board in place for the start of next season, as well as details on how a new scheme to allow supporters to buy shares in the club will work.
United co-chairman Joel Glazer committed to both ventures during a meeting with fans on Friday, but club bosses will now continue talks with the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust over how exactly the proposals will work.
Glazer attended one of United’s regular fan forums on Friday, dialling in virtually to speak directly to supporters for the first time in the 16 years his family have owned the club.
The Glazer family were stung into action by the fierce backlash to their attempts to enter the breakaway European Super League, a fiasco that reopened old wounds between the owners and the fans.
Protests against the Glazers and a concerted effort by MUST brought Glazer to the table on Friday and sources insists that he sees this as the start of a process and an attempt to improve dialogue between the club and the fans, rather than an attempt at appeasement in the wake of recent events.
It is expected the fan advisory board will be up and running in time for the start of next season. The board will sit above a beefed-up fans’ forum in a new structure and will meet with the club’s senior leadership team once a quarter, with the Glazers committing to attending some, but not all, of those meetings.
In an open letter to Joel Glazer, MUST had called on a new share scheme to be issued and the co-chairman plans to initiate this process. Importantly, those shares will have the same high voting rights as the shares owned by the Glazer family. It is understood the owners are keen to give supporters a bigger say in how their club is run.
In his open letter apologising for the ESL scheme, Glazer spoke of the fans being at the ‘heart of the club’ and the share scheme is seen as a chance for supporters to claim some physical ownership in their club, something that was taken away during the controversial takeover in 2005.
Club chiefs will now continue talks with MUST over the technical details relating to the share scheme, while MUST remain cautious about how it will work.
A MUST spokesman said: “MUST is cautious about whether this fan share scheme will meet their own tests before they give it approval as despite the huge concession on voting rights that this proposal signals as ever the devil is always in the detail.
“In particular, despite Joel Glazers’ assertion that this will be “the largest fan ownership group in world sport”, MUST is concerned that there is a risk that the scheme will limit the number of such fan shares made available so reducing the opportunity for this to achieve a meaningful collective fan ownership stake – and ultimately with the potential to result in a change in control of the club.”
During the fans’ forum, Glazer said that his family would pay all costs and fines associated with the ESL, but wouldn’t commit to paying off the debt and insisted the dividend payments to the owners were fair.
But there was a commitment to “significant” investment in facilities at Old Trafford and at the training ground at Carrington. The majority of that investment is yet to be confirmed, but some work will start this summer.
New floodlights are set to be installed at Old Trafford, while there will be painting at the stadium and work in the dressing rooms. Long-term there is a desire for Old Trafford to be seen as setting the standard for stadiums in England once again, with new grounds at other clubs highlighting the shortcomings of the stadium.
There will also be some work at the training ground this summer, before more significant investment follows. The women’s team have recently moved in at Carrington and United plan to turn the facility into one that is integrated for the first team, academy and women’s team.
The training ground wasn’t initially built to house all three strands of the club and work is focused on making it fit for purpose this summer.