Football fans know that constantly decisions are made that are baffling on and off the pitch. Some are simply infuriating.
The news coming out of Old Trafford this month that the brass plaque that had for many years marked the seat reserved in the Directors box for the man who created the legend that is Manchester United, Sir Matt Busby had been removed confirmed that football is now more about business than sentiment or tradition. Maybe that is why in England at least they will struggle to match it on the World stage.
Someone else will now sit in that seat and in addition to this, Sir Matt Busby’s grandchildren who had always been given tickets to sit in the box have now been politely told to find seats elsewhere in the famous stadium. The seats that have been occupied by the Busby family for almost thirty years are now needed for others, most likely some foreign investor.
Some may shrug their shoulders and think, ‘so what?’ Yet without Busby building the club up after the War the current owners and shareholders would not have invested in the club, and it would not have become the global brand that it has. Sir Matt Busby and his often forgotten loyal and key assistant Jimmy Murphy built Manchester United not once, but twice, following the Munich air disaster. They built the club into what it is today and Busby’s name remains synonymous with the club. Most clubs would love to have a man who had done the same for them.
Manchester United has had a reputation for acknowledging its history, but here the feeling is they have done something that they should never have done. It is easy to see that sitting around a boardroom table a decision to no longer give the Busby family four season tickets every season may have made commercial sense. However that is misjudging the symbolism of those tickets. Football is full of such symbolism.
Maradona has the best seat in the house in La Bombonera in Buenos Aires, in a box on the halfway line. When they built a new stand he was still given the best seat. He used to pay for it but then the directors realised that he should have the seat in perpetuity for what he has done for the club Boca Juniors. He is after all the most significant player in the club’s history. Not one fan begrudges him that honour as they are grateful for the joy he has brought their club. In South America they know how to treat their heroes.
Ever since 1994 when Busby passed away his seat has remained empty as a mark of respect. Now that seat will be used and some moneyed-up nobody will sit in what was the most treasured seat in the stadium.
That empty seat was described as showing that Old Trafford would never be the same without Busby. That no one was qualified to fill his seat. That empty seat said so much, possibly more than the statue in front of the stadium.
Who made the decision to remove the plaque and no longer honour a man who was Manchester United, as much as Bill Shankly represents Liverpool and Herbert Chapman, Arsenal? One feels for fans of United as this would appear to be a gross misjudgement and a crass act in disrespecting the legacy of Busby that is the club today.