Manchester, England, and Tampa, Florida | It’s not too often that America’s premier literary weekly includes the following assessment of spectatorship in the English Premier League: “The place is wank now. Too controlled, all seating, sensible, middle class shite.” But these words from an anonymous Manchester United supporter form part of the 6,300 words that New Yorker writer John Cassidy expends on Malcolm Glazer‘s takeover (“The Red Devil,” Feb 6, not available online). Cassidy, a former business editor of the Sunday Times (London), provides helpful cultural cues to American readers, underlining the place of football in the English psyche and the special place of United.
In Britain, a crowded island where towns and cities rub up against one another like rocks in an old stone wall, and where public displays of emotion are frowned upon, soccer provides an outlet for frustration and aggression—and for expressions of communal solidarity. . . . Old Trafford sits near the south bank of the Manchester Ship Canal, which once ferried cotton to the mills that Friedrich Engels depicted as emblems of capitalist exploitation in his 1845 book, “The Condition of the Working Class in England.” Like much of Manchester, the neighborhood around the stadium has been gentrified: residents fish in the canal; many of the cotton mills have been converted into luxury apartments; and at Old Trafford spectators, who for decades stood shoulder-to-shoulder on crumbling concrete terraces, now sit in shiny, cantilevered stands.
Cassidy’s treatment also makes clear the massive risk that Glazer assumed in buying the club last May. Some £275 million in hedge-fund loans must be paid off in five years or the Glazers must surrender control. So why did he do it? Andrew Zimbalist, co-author of National Pastime: How Americans Play Baseball and the Rest of the World Plays Soccer, speculates that Glazer was striving after international cachet.
If you are Glazer and you own just the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, you can’t internationalize your product. The French and the Chinese don’t want to pay to see the Bucs play American football. You are confined to grow at the rate of the U.S. economy, and no capitalist worth his salt wants to confine himself to two- or three-per-cent growth.