United co-owner admits need for ‘significant’ Old Trafford investment

Manchester United executive co-chairman and director, Joel Glazer, has said his family’s ownership group recognises the need to “significantly increase” investment in Old Trafford, the home of the English Premier League football club.

Glazer was writing in response to a letter from Fans’ Forum members in the wake of the hugely controversial European Super League (ESL) plans, and United’s role in the scheme. The Glazer family, who also own NFL American football team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have been the subject of sustained criticism from fans for the manner of their takeover of United in 2005, and their subsequent lack of engagement with supporters.

This came to a head in recent weeks amid the uproar caused by the emergence of the ESL. On May 2, the Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford was postponed amid fan protests against the ESL and the home club’s American owners.

Both United and Liverpool, along with Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, were among the 12 clubs which were initially announced last month as members of the ESL collective. The six Premier League clubs involved in the plot declared their intention to withdraw from the ESL on April 20, just two days after plans were revealed.

Old Trafford has lacked development of any substance during the Glazer family’s 16-year tenure. The most significant stadium news of late came in April 2020 as United confirmed it had received approval for a barrier seating trial to take place at Old Trafford.

The approval from Trafford Council was an agreement in principle for the club to install around 1,500 barrier seats in the North East Quadrant, in sections N2401 and N2402. United said the barrier seating trial was part of broader plans to develop the stadium in ways which enhance the matchday experience for supporters.

Separately, in February 2020, and before COVID-19 hit, United announced the extension of the ‘atmosphere section’ in the Stretford End in the south-west corner as part of the season ticket launch for the 2020-21 season.

In his letter, Glazer wrote: “We recognise that we will need to significantly increase investment in Old Trafford and our training complex to ensure that the club’s facilities remain among the best in Europe. As part of this, we will consult with fans on investments related to the stadium and the matchday experience.”

Glazer also touched on the subject of potential fan share ownership, adding: “Indeed, one of the clearest lessons of the past few weeks is the need for us to become better listeners. To this end, I can commit the club will engage across all of the issues raised in your letter.

“To highlight some specific points, as one of the few European football clubs listed on the public markets, we believe in the principle of fans owning shares in the club. We have previously engaged with the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST) on fan share ownership and we want to continue and accelerate those discussions, together with provisions to enhance associated fan consultation.”

Commenting on the letter, MUST said: “The response could in theory – and we emphasise in theory only – be a change in direction and approach by the owners versus their silence and disregard for communication over the last 16 years. 

“We will, however, determine our position based on the resulting actions rather than these words alone. We have seen empty words too many times previously. We will seek a mandate from our members and from the wider fanbase before proceeding. We only wish to engage in this process should our supporters want us to. 

“The onus remains on the club to put right the problems of the past, not just the European Super League but the overall lack of communication and consultation by the owners.”