After his passing was announced on Wednesday, the reaction on social media from United fans was fairly predictable.
Wonder who'll tweet more. Those loving Glazer's death vs. those telling those loving Glazer's death to stay classy, etc and so forth— United Rant (@unitedrant) May 28, 2014
On one hand there were those openly celebrating his passing, marking the death of an enemy. For many years "We're having a party when Glazer dies, jelly and ice cream when Glazer dies" has been sung on the terraces at FC United, and indeed at Old Trafford. Yesterday saw many pictures of jelly and ice cream shared on Twitter.
The second camp could best be categorised as those urging their fellow fans to "stay classy." They decried any joy at the death of a human being, keen to point out that whilst they may not have been Glazer supporters, an old man's passing was no cause for celebration.
Whatever u think of Malcolm Glazer or the family in general, someone died so try & stay classy & show some respect...doesn't take much #mufc— Iain Thomson (@tommo689908) May 28, 2014
The third camp were those who remain Glazer loyalists, who believe that the Glazer family have been good stewards of Manchester United, leading them through a period of unprecedented success.
Whilst I may personally be disinclined to speak ill of the living, let alone the dead, it is extremely hard to countenance this view with any degree of seriousness. It is abundantly clear to anyone paying close attention that Sir Alex Ferguson's final triumphs were achieved in spite of the Glazers, not because of them.
Sir Alex himself was a staunch Glazer apologist. Speaking in July 2012, (h/t the Guardian) he said:
I am comfortable with the Glazer situation. They have been great. They have always backed me whenever I have asked them. I have never faced any opposition.
He went on to say:
I think the majority of real fans will look at it realistically and say it's not affecting the team. We've won four championships since they've been there, one European Cup.
That line, so painful for those of us who consider ourselves indeed to be "real" fans, and yet passionately disagree with the argument, has been parroted time and again.
Sir Alex always appeared to be defending the Glazers against the wrong attacks. The line he consistently maintained was that they did not interfere with him doing his job. To Sir Alex, that was the primary concern. To United fans opposed to the Glazer ownership the problem was much more complex than that. Given the staggering amount of money that has left the club into the black hole of debt repayment, over £680 million, per Mark Ogden in the Daily Telegraph, it is hard not to imagine that United would have been in a stronger position when the time came for succession had Sir Alex had that money to invest in the squad.
Division has been an integral part of the story of the Glazer ownership of United. The leveraged buyout of 2005, burdening the club with massive debt, lead to the formation of a breakaway, fan-owned club, FC United.
In 2010, there were mass protests and chants of dissatisfaction at Old Trafford, the iconic moment of which saw David Beckham drape himself in a green and gold scarf that had been thrown onto the pitch following United's Champions League clash with Beckham's then-club, AC Milan.
Football's dark side has been on show following Glazer's death. The dark humour that lives on the terraces has been on full display. Football's most tribal supporters can be quick to dehumanise, and that can be both uncomfortable and dangerous.
However, a different aspect of football's dark side was also on show during his life. It is no exaggeration to say that his purchase of the club broke the hearts of many supporters.
It showed that this institution we care so deeply about could be bought and sold for the personal profit of people with no personal stake in the club. It showed that the people who cared for what was best about football could not stop the dark forces of capitalism having their say.
Glazer never once set foot in Old Trafford, and burdened the club with debt for no purpose other than for his family to own it.
Being uncomfortable with celebrating the death of an enemy is something that is easy to understand. Whilst my personal impulse is always to lean towards compassion, understanding and forgiveness, it feels important to examine the three reactions outlined above whilst not passing judgement. For many "real fans" it is important to note that it is indeed an enemy who has died. The celebration of that serves as a catharsis for the pain caused by the actions of the departed.
The truth is that United fans remain divided over the issue of the Glazers, and Malcolm Glazer's death will not change that. It remains to be seen if it will change the landscape of United's ownership.
There will be many hoping it does.
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