Fans the key for Red Knights
THE Red Knights will mount up and arm themselves ready for battle if United fans prove they are behind the consortium's plans to oust the Glazers. Reds supporters will have to sign up with the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) to declare their allegiance if they want the group of welathy businessman to proceed with their plans. A target of 100,000 members will give the Red Knights the green light to attempt to take on Old Trafford's American owners. MUST has a membership of 54,000 and if that can be doubled then the consortium will be convinced they have the backing to march forward. Members of the disenchanted band of City bankers, lawyers and businessman, who are all lifelong United fans, met for a summit with the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) at the beginning of the week in London to kick-start their campaign to put their money where their mouth is and fund a future bid. Among the leading figures of the Red Knights are Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O'Neill, who grew up in Gatley and went to Burnage Comprehensive. The married father-of-two, son of a postman, served as non-executive director and investor at United from 2004-5 before the club was returned to private ownership with the Glazer family takeover. Also involved are Mark Rawlinson, a partner at law firm Freshfields Bruchaus Deringer, Paul Marshall, the co-founder and chairman of Marshall Wace, one of Europe's largest hedge funds and Richard Hytner who is deputy chairman of Saatchi and Saatchi and is president of MUST. Although Salford bookie Fred Done wasn't at the meeting, the multi-millionaire - who has told MEN Sport previously of his dislike of the Glazer ownership - is keeping a watching brief and is awaiting developments. The campaign has taken on a new level ironically at a time when the Glazers have strengthened their financial position. Profits The Florida-based owners have released figures showing an increase in revenue and profits. The figures for the six months up to December show turnover up 19 per cent to £144.7m from £121.7m for the equivalent period in 2008. The club's debt dropped from £538.1m to £507.5m and there were increases recorded in matchday revenues, TV money - particularly from the Champions League -and commercial revenue. Media revenues have increased 33 per cent from £40.3m to £53.4m and commercial revenues up 16 per cent from £33.5m to £38.7m. The total debt of the Red Football Ltd, the Glazers' holding company for Manchester United, was registered at £716.5m at the start of the year. That, plus the bond issue and prospectus, which revealed that six members of the Glazer family had borrowed money from the club, infuriated Reds fans and underpinned a new level of unrest and action against the Americans. The visually clever green and gold campaign has caught fire and Wembley, including members of the Glazer family, witnessed a colourful protest at the Carling Cup final. But the Red Knights want evidence of more commitment before they will pledge cash support to the tune of around £10m-£15m each from the 40-50 wealthy backers. MUST came out of the meeting in the City with the remit to show the fans mean business. "The Red Knights have been absolutely clear that they are not interested in doing this for their own benefit. They are only interested in doing it if they have the overwhelming backing of the supporters," MUST vice chair Oliver Houston said. "They want the fans to demonstrate that by more than just the green and gold campaign, which has been a fantastic start to this campaign and a very credible sign of supporter's unrest at the current ownership. "It is about transforming that disquiet and unrest into a movement for positive change. The Red Knights believe the best way to gauge that support is to see how many people are prepared to join MUST. "It is free online membership. All they have to do is log on and commit themselves to the aims of the campaign. "100,000 is an arbitrary figure we took it from the point that we are at 50,000 now and a good indication of the support for all this would be to double that membership. "That is by no means our final target. We are seeing the momentum building and we are looking to reach out way beyond and reach fans across the world. "We have seen a huge explosion in growth. That is very much on the back of finding how much the Glazers are taking out of the club. "The Red Knights now want to know how much more appetite there is among supporters to actually say we want the Glazers out but that we also want the Red Knights in. "They are asking for that vote of confidence. They are putting the ball back in the supporter's court and saying show us what you are made of." Fury The initial fury over the Glazer's takeover in 2005 saw a burst of recruitment for MUST but that levelled off before the recent revelations of the level of debt. But is 100,000 achievable to trigger the Red Knight's official move to start gathering the money? "We had 12-15,000 membership at the start of the Glazer takeover in 2004-05 and it eventually rose to 30,000," added Houston. "In the last five weeks we have seen that grow to 54,000. It is an incredible amount and that was on the back of the bond prospectus. "That 20,000 increase in members was purely fired by us making a few comments in the press and giving out a few leaflets at Old Trafford. We haven't really begun the concerted effort to seriously recruit. "Now there is an actual credible consortium out there asking for backing. We know there are many fans out there that are maybe wearing green and gold but haven't taken the steps to join MUST. "Now there is a very tangible reason why they have to join in order to show the Red Knights the backing is there. "We are not going to reach 100,000 and say that is it. We have ambitious targets above 100,000. Manchester United have their own One United membership and that is 100,000 so there is easily 100,000 people out there who would join us. "If you believe the club's marketing dossier there are 333m worldwide fans of United. "There are also a million people on the Manchester United Facebook group. That is a badge of honour saying `Yes I am a fan of Manchester United'. "We are about to start an online campaign with a top marketing firm who are going to look to reach those kind of people to say that joining the Supporters Trust and joining the green and gold campaign is a true badge of honour. "We believe if there are a million people who can announce on a Facebook page their allegiance to United, then there is no reason why they cannot do it elsewhere. "After all the speculation about the Red Knights we are now saying it is true, it is real. We have a huge responsibility on our shoulders. The Red Knights have come out and they have showed their hand. It is now time for the supporters to do the same and rise to the challenge."
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