Manchester United, the hugely popular English soccer club, is in town to take on our Wizards in a friendly match this Sunday. But, let's face it, we're Americans, which means we probably don't appreciate Man U for what they are. Here's a primer of things you should know about them.
The club has incredibly humble roots: The team, originally known as Newton Heath LYR, was founded in 1878 as a way for rail workers on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (hence, the LYR) to play soccer against other employee teams. According to Forbes, the club that started out as a bunch of rail workers sharing a hobby, is now worth $1.8 billion. That's like your work softball team turning into the Yankees.
They are really, really popular: Manchester United is the most popular soccer team in the world, and probably the most popular team from any sport. Their appeal is so wide, their official website is offered in Spanish, Korean, Japanese and Arabic in addition to English. They have sanctioned fan clubs (or "supporters clubs" as the Brits call them) in 24 countries. That's a lot of global brand identity.
Their owner is not so popular: Although Manchester United was
listed on the stock market in the 1990s, the team has returned to
private ownership. American Malcolm Glazer, who owns the Tampa Bay
Buccaneers, bought the club in 2005 through several stock purchases. In
all, he paid £800 to buy up the stock, and fans are not pleased.
Mostly, they don't like that Glazer is saddling the team with abundant debt, and there have been grumblings of nepotism since he put his children on board of directors. A group of wealthy British fans -- calling themselves the Red Knights -- is plotting a takeover of the team, despite Glazer's unwillingness to sell. Even if fans don't like him, they can't complain about the product on the field. Man U have been consistent winners during Glazer's regime.
They kick ass: The club has won a boatload of trophies and cups
since its founding in 1878. They've won the Premier League 18 times and
the FA cup (a tournament between two English soccer leagues) 11 times,
and the UEFA Champions League (a tournament of European nations'
champion teams) three times.
The club has nearly gone out of business multiple times: Financial prudence hasn't been the club's strength under multiple owners. The best tale of the club struggling with financing is a storied piece of United folklore from the start of the 20th century. According to the legend, with the club on the brink of going under, team captain Harry Stafford lost his dog after attempting to drum up collections for the team. The St. Bernard, Major, somehow wound up at the home of successful brewery owner John Henry Davies, who decided to chip in with other businessmen and save the team. That's a good dog.
They've had their share of tragedy: In an event that still resonates with fans more than 50 years later, 22 people -- seven of them United players -- died in a plane crash in Munich in 1958. An eighth player died later from crash-related injuries. The tragedy didn't keep Man U down for long. Legendary manager Matt Busby, who had sustained serious injuries in the accident, had the club in outstanding form just a handful of years later, winning the league championship in the 1964/65 season.