Man U co-owner vows better fan relations, stadium upgrade

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Manchester United co-owner Joel Glazer pledged to dramatically improve his relationship with supporters by holding talks “on fan share ownership” and investing in upgrades to Old Trafford.

Glazer’s letter on Friday followed the postponement of United’s game against Liverpool last Sunday, when thousands of fans blocked access into Old Trafford in an anti-ownership protest that included clashes with police.

Long-running anger against the American owners that began with a 2005 leveraged takeover that loaded debt onto the club reignited when United joined the European Super League, which quickly collapsed under widespread condemnation.

Glazer acknowledged a “need for change” and reiterated his apology for the Super League fiasco.

“Indeed, one of the clearest lessons of the past few weeks is the need for us to become better listeners,” wrote Glazer, the club’s executive co-chairman and director.

“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 on fan share ownership and we want to continue and accelerate those discussions, together with provisions to enhance associated fan consultation.”

Glazer’s letter — to representatives of the club-led fan forum — acknowledge the need for better consultation on important issues.

“We also recognise the importance of fan and football interests being embedded in key decision-making processes at every level of the club, and we are open to constructive discussions on how to reinforce that principle,” he wrote.

One long-held complaint of fans is the neglect of Old Trafford.

“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,” Glazer wrote, promising to consult with fans on the topic.

The Manchester United Supporters’ Trust, which boasts more than 200,000 members, responded cautiously to the letter, saying Glazer’s commitments could represent “in theory only” a change in the right direction.

“We will, however, determine our position based on the resulting actions rather than these words alone,” the trust said in a statement. “We have seen empty words too many times previously.”

MUST’s main objective, it said, is “to ensure a supporter share scheme is put in place which carries equal voting rights to the shares held by the Glazer family. This scheme would be promoted to the global fanbase and should in turn build a notable stake in the club.”

The Glazers, who also own the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have largely declined to engage with fans or media since buying United in 2005.

Joel Glazer’s letter said he would commit to a meeting with members of the fan forum “as soon as possible” after the season.

“We want to work together to come up with an ambitious package of measures which will transform our relationship with fans and strengthen the club for the long-term,” he wrote.

Glazer also voiced support for the direction of the team under manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

“Success on the field must be underpinned by solid foundations off it. We have supported sustained investment in the team over many years, and that will continue this summer,” Glazer wrote.

United fans’ protests against the Glazers have been sporadic as United became the record 20-time champions of England. But the last Premier League title was won in 2013 and since then neighbor Manchester City has become the dominant force in England.

United was among six Premier League clubs that tried to form an exclusive Super League along with three clubs each from Spain and Italy. Widespread opposition quickly ended the project, with all six English teams backing out within 48 hours of the announcement.

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