YOU really couldn’t make it up.
Local businessman and, if he gets his way, five thousand similarly bloody-minded souls threatens to stall the incessant drive forward of a vast sporting machine bankrolled by one of the Middle East’s richest dynasties. Well, as I discovered on a foray across the Pennines recently, actually you can.
Emblazoned across the front page of last Friday’s Manchester Evening News was the headline ‘Buy my land and block City’s dream, United fans urged.’ A closer inspection revealed that, rather than referring to some incredibly complex plot by Carlos Tevez to cause Roberto Mancini yet more grief, the story beneath actually detailed one man’s efforts to annoy the hell out of his favourite team’s arch-rivals.
It went something like this.
Shaun O’Brien, a local haulier whose HQ is situated within a few Joe Hart goal-kicks of Manchester City, divides his time between running OB Trucks and supporting Manchester United. So, upon discovering that City want to buy his land to build a new training complex, rather pocket the £1m he’s been reportedly offered to go, Mr O’Brien has devised a scheme whereby the site will be divvied-up into tiny plots and sold to followers of Sir Alex Ferguson’s side for £250 a pop.
A bastardized version of the Pitch Owners Scheme which Chelsea implemented in 1997 to avert the threat of eviction from Stamford Bridge and, according to its architect’s website is designed to “prevent Manchester City’s attempts to acquire our land...in order to further their goals of football domination...and show City they can’t bulldoze over everything in their path just because they have more money than everyone else.”
Okay, so even my rudimentary grasp of mathematics suggests Mr O’Brien’s motives might not be entirely altruistic and legal experts have warned they are doomed to fail. But it’s a bloomin’ good tale and set me thinking what fans of Sheffield United, who performed a land-grab of their own by purchasing the old Forgemasters Sports Club site, situated less than three miles from Hillsborough 12 years ago, might like to buy just to get under Sheffield Wednesday’s skin? (And, no doubt, vice versa).
They could have a whip-round for Lionel Messi and then loan him to Chesterfield who host Gary Megson’s side tomorrow. Perhaps throw Cristiano Ronaldo in too.
Purchase a seat on the board of those clubs casting admiring glances in the direction of Matthew Lowton and Ched Evans or stump-up the cash for manager Danny Wilson to have a Blades tattoo etched into the skin above his left ankle. To counter-balance the Owls one, his detractors bizarrely claimed soon after his appointment, takes pride of place on his right calf of course.
Or, more mischievously, even single one of the referees scheduled to take charge of United’s game between now and the end of the season. Not the mention to Steel City derby later this month. Given the tribal nature of football, someone is probably dreaming-up a few ideas right now.