Manchester United fans could help to raise funding for a new Old Trafford in return for an ownership stake alongside any moves by Sir Jim Ratcliffe to secure public money, according to the club’s supporters’ trust.
Telegraph Sport revealed on Tuesday how Ratcliffe wants to create a “Wembley of the North” and could look to lobby government for cash over a spectacular new home for United.
The Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST) have broadly welcomed Ratcliffe’s ambitious thinking and pointed to Ineos’s successful track record of major infrastructure development as they cited Real Madrid’s revamped Bernabeu as a “benchmark”.
Duncan Drasdo, chief executive of MUST, believes any attempts to secure public funds would need to be “justified in terms of regional economic development and community benefit”.
And he raised the prospect of Manchester United potentially tapping into the global fanbase for money in return for supporters having a meaningful say in the running of the club.
‘You’d expect opposition to public money being used’
“Lobbying for public money is certainly an interesting idea and speaks to the potential for the stadium development to be a local and regional catalyst for economic development and community benefit,” Drasdo told Telegraph Sport.
“However, you’d expect opposition to public money being used for essentially a private asset, even with regional economic and community benefits.
“An ownership stake for the community could help and there is potential for a source of funding from fans and the community, co-investing, and having a real stake. The latter is something we’d clearly be strong advocates for if there was such an opportunity.
“Clearly with the huge global fanbase it is conceivable that fans could contribute a significant sum collectively but perhaps of greater value than the cash sum is the concept of fans and the community working in partnership with the club and other investors all aligned towards a shared goal and owning a real stake in our club and our stadium.
“Any public element would need to be justified in terms of regional economic development and community benefit and I can certainly see that a major role for the community in terms of the fans who support the club having an ownership stake could only enhance the case.”
Ratcliffe has pledged an initial £237 million investment for Old Trafford as part of his deal for a 28.9 per cent stake in the club, which is due to gain regulatory approval over the next fortnight.
Redevelopment of the existing ground and expansion of the south stand would be estimated to cost at least £800 million and was cited internally as an eight-year project while a new stadium could cost around £1.5 billion-£2 billion.
Ineos are currently building a £5 billion chemical plant in Antwerp, Belgium and are experienced at raising large capital sums through financing.
An array of financing options are likely to be explored, with one suggestion being the creation of a separate stadium development company that could see the club effectively paying rental to use the stadium over an agreed period until such time it became their own.
It also remains to be seen if any perceived regeneration project could benefit from tax breaks and relaxed planning regulations that have been mooted.
Drasdo said MUST have “always advocated for equity over debt” and would encourage more new share issues – along the lines of Ratcliffe’s £237 million injection – as they called on the Glazers to show more flexibility around their ownership of Class B shares, which carry 10 times the voting rights of A shares.
“While the new share issue that came with the Ratcliffe investment is relatively small initially, it establishes the principle,” Drasdo said.
“We’d like to see that explored as the primary source of new funding and ideally shares also being made available to Manchester United’s huge global fanbase to own a piece of their club and provide part of the funding required to take the club back to the top.
“A long time barrier has been the dual share class which makes investment by other shareholders so much less attractive and the recent Ratcliffe investment had to overcome that issue.
“So we’d hope there is a will there and the Glazer family’s personal interest as B shareholders will not stand in the way of what is best for our football club.”
Drasdo said there needs to be a “full consultation with supporters setting out all the options” regarding the pros and cons of a new build compared to redevelopment and how the project could be funded.
United launched a survey in July 2022 asking fans for their view as part of a consultation process to ensure supporters are at the “heart of plans for the development of Old Trafford”, the results of which have still to be made public.
“As football fans it’s natural that the initial reaction is an emotional one and evokes very strong feelings connected with the history of the club,” Drasdo said. “There needs to be a rational debate about what is best for the football club and supporters and not just the best economic outcome for shareholders. The noises we’re hearing from Ineos suggest they are sympathetic to that view.
“If you suggest Old Trafford is going to be knocked down clearly you’ll generate an immediate emotional and protective response from any supporter.
“I think most fans are torn on this and it is essentially a heart versus head issue but we really need to see details of the two options side by side to make a comparison and allow fans to take an informed view.”
Drasdo said the prospect of a section of fans being unable to watch United due to reduced capacity for a prolonged period presented a “huge headache” regarding redevelopment of the existing ground.
“Unlike Spurs, we don’t have the equivalent of Wembley that we can move to temporarily while redevelopment works reduce capacity,” he said.
Sources close to Ratcliffe say the Oldham-born billionaire believes United should have a “knock it out of the park, wow stadium” and Drasdo believes that is a view “universally shared amongst supporters”.
“There is a feeling we’ve fallen behind not just on the pitch but in terms of the stadium and other facilities too,” he said.
“Having really ambitious people with a track record of major infrastructure development inspires fresh hope and nothing would symbolise the renaissance of Manchester United more vividly than a truly world-class stadium, which could compare with our greatest rivals domestically and in Europe.
“Many United fans have looked at what Real Madrid have done and that level should be the benchmark.”