I don’t know about you but I’m still bathing in a lovely warm vat of schadenfraude after Barcelona’s demolition of Manchester United in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Wednesday night. Of course, I would have so, so much have preferred to have been there myself with the rest of the Gooner Nation following Arsenal. I think however we would likely have come away disappointed again. Not many teams could live with Barça in their current form. Let’s not forget they had important players missing too. I was delighted that former Gooners Sylvinho and Thierry Henry were on the winners’ rostrum. They were both excellent servants for us. They deserved their night of glory.
Aside from Barça’s sublime football, the best thing about their win is that is was achieved without an acquisition debt, leveraged buy-out or hard-faced man on the make in sight. David Conn, one of Britain ’s most perceptive writers on football governance wrote an excellent piece in Wednesday’s Guardian newspaper on the morning of the final contrasting the ownership structures and ethos of both clubs. You can find it here:
I find myself in complete agreement with Conn. Current Barça president Joan Laporta started his ascent to the club’s highest administrative office as a dissident. He was a leading member of an insurgent group of Barça socis (voting members) called l’elefant blau (“the blue elephant” in Catalan). They were unhappy with the direction then president Josep Núñez was taking the club in the late 1980s and 1990s. To cut a long story short Laporta and l’elefant blau won office in club elections in 2003, after one unsuccessful attempt to unseat Núñez from the club presidency in 1998.
Since then Laporta and his allies on the Barça junta (board of directors) have guided the club to its most successful era ever, winning two Champions League trophies (unfortunately breaking our heats in Paris in 2006) including this season’s triumph in which they won the first-ever Spanish treble, also taking La Liga and the Copa del Rey (King’s Cup), Spain’s equivalent of the FA Cup. They’ve done this whilst reducing club debts, which had grown dangerously high under Núñez, and keeping ticket prices reasonable, especially at the lower end. You can pay as little as €18 (£16.50) for a seat at the Nou Camp. True this goes up to €73 (£67) for the Real Madrid home game for which the top price ticket is €170 (£156). In reality though, only fans buying tickets game by game pay these prices.
The most expensive season ticket, including all matches in the League and Copa del Rey costs – €861 (about £789). The cheapest? €323 (about £296). And those figures include the €150 annual membership fee. Season ticket holders can “bolt on” Champions League games for a further proportionate sum. Barça, being a members’ club, rewards fan loyalty. That works out at a maximum of around £16-40 a game. And that assumes the club goes out of the King’s Cup in the first round (all Copa del Rey ties are two-legged apart from the final). And you get a vote for the club president and board as a part-owner of the club.
Contrast that to Manchester United. Now my first reaction to any problem at Old Trafford is to laugh. I’d imagine most Gooners are the same. Whatever you think about them though, what’s been allowed to happen there is a scandal. A club with absolutely no debt at all is now groaning under a mountain of debt, now at £700 million and growing. They’re the only club to put up ticket prices so far for the coming season. They haven’t fully implemented the VAT refund.
Let’s be clear, whatever the Glazer family is, it’s not a family of died in the wool Manchester United fans. They have only one interest in the club – what they can get out of it. The way they’ve purchased United is like me taking your credit card, buying a car with it then telling you I’ll make the repayments on your card assuming all goes to plan. If I lose my job or can’t make the repayments, it’s your problem. Manchester United fans are paying through the nose to buy their club – for somebody else. Completely legal and totally immoral.
For generations at Arsenal we thought we were immune from this sort of naked greed and opportunism. I wish we still were. Yesterday’s announcement of the exact prices paid by Stan Kroenke for the shares he’s recently acquired from Danny Fiszman and the Carr family show that money doesn’t talk, it swears.
Don’t get me wrong Barcelona isn’t perfect as an institution. Far from it. I could go on at length about its defects. What is beyond doubt however is it isn’t for sale – to anybody. It belongs to those who care most for it. The fans. After Wednesday night don’t tell me supporter ownership can’t work. That’s what those who want to make money from our clubs here in Britain want you to believe. If I wasn’t a hopeless addict I’ve kept the £2,091.18 I’ve just lashed out to renew my season ticket and pay for this season’s extra cup games in my account. Unfortunately I’m hopelessly addicted, as are tens of thousands of others. If Arsenal insists on treating me like a customer and not a supporter I’m going to start acting like one soon. I’m sick of lining the pockets of people who only care about their bank balance, not Arsenal Football Club.
Keep the faith!
Arsenal u akhbar!