The President of the Official Supporters Club of Manchester United in Mumbai Gives Up His Status in Protest to the Owners; The Response of the Club Will Shock You.

An Exclusive Chat with Mr Sunil Thakur, ex-President of MUSCM & Owner of 3 Wise Monkeys

The President of the Official Supporters Club of Manchester United in Mumbai Gives Up His Status in Protest to the Owners; The Response of the Club Will Shock You.

Manchester United is a name that rings off the tongues of football fans, whether you support the club or not. Boasting of the largest fanbase in the world, United are always the talk of the town, whether for the good or the bad. For the last seven or eight years though, they have dominated the back pages for not always, the right reasons. Whether that is on the lack of clear plan to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson, the greatest British Football Manager of all times or an ownership model that has seen the club bleed Millions of Dollars in Debt, in general, the consensus is the club is going backwards from its glory years of the late 90s and 2000s.

The recently closed British Transfer Window has given the passionate reds another reason to be at loggerheads with the club ownership. Blaming lack of investment in the playing squad, Manchester United fans globally are demanding some tough answers from the club, that is often now accused of having commercial interests closer to its heart than footballing ones. Leading the voice of the change in India is Mr Sunil Thakur, now ex-President of Manchester United Supporters Club in Mumbai who also owns and runs the famous 3-Wise Monkeys pub in Khar and Andheri.

Sunil recently gave up his One United Membership and his honorary post of President of MUSCM in retaliation to how the club has been functioning. In a shocking marginalisation by the club, instead of listening to the fans, the club sent a cold-hearted reply that truly exhibits where the club prioritizes its fans in this modern era. Through a series of tweets that follow, Sunil shared his side of the story. 

Sunil accused the club of treating him like an ‘agent’ for ticket sales and in this exclusive chat with Mumbai Live, spoke of a subject, that is clearly very close to his heart.

Q1) Sunil, This must be a difficult time for you. A club you have supported all your life, dedicated time and energy in growing a community, done so much for, you have decided to cut the ties, what happened?

You have kind of already summarized the exact events that happened. We have been running MUSCM for almost 15 years now. We became an Official Supporters club in the year 2013 and in general have been unhappy with the owners of the club. Since the retirement of Sir Alex, a strong pattern has developed where the club hires a manager, backs him for a window, achieves Top 4 and therefore Champions League and then again the manager is thrown under the bus. It happened with Van Gaal, Mourinho in the past and the history is repeating with Ole this time. 

Everyone knew the manager wanted Jadon Sancho and a Center Back this window, but he has not been backed again, after a miraculous end to the last season. Even though we have spent a lot of money, there has been no strategic planning and failed transfers like Di Maria, Falcao, Sanchez are a testament to that. I strongly believe that decisions taken on the footballing side of things are not what is expected by a club of this stature and the owners need to take responsibility for that. We scampered through last-minute signings of Cavani, Telles and two young wingers again this window and that for me was the final straw. This is when I decided that I am not going to spend another penny of mine on the club until I feel at least the owners care about the club and the fans and not their vested interests of drawing large dividends from the club. I can understand that club football success comes in cycles but at least I want the club to compete and that is why the decision.

Q2) From your tweets, it looks like those running the Club only want a positive PR around the Club, anyone overstepping the mark is asked to fall in line. Is this something you are observing since Ed Woodward took over or were things similar back in the day when David Gill was around?

See, I would not like to comment on the David Gill era, simply because MUSCM became official in 2013. Running the Official Supporter’s Club has been fantastic and we have wonderful memories together. We have been able to send hundreds of United fans to Old Trafford to experience the games in the legendary stadium and that has been very fulfilling personally. At MUSCM, we are awarded a quota of tickets depending on the numbers of One United Memberships that we sell, with 50 being a minimum number to achieve Official Status. We worked really hard to get to that figure of 50 but post that the influx has been relatively steady. However, there is no doubt since the ratio of tickets is directly proportional to the number of One United Memberships you have, the pressure is always there to raise the number of tickets. In fact, a lot of Indians purchase these and plan their holidays around important games. 
Off late though, we have not been rigorously pushing people to purchase the One United Membership thinking that those who really want to travel, will purchase it anyway. We still did about 300 odd Members, which is a very substantial number.

As the performance of the club under Jose Mourinho started deteriorating after he was not backed in the market, I tweeted from the MUSCM account, ‘Glazers Out’, merely making our voices heard. After all, a supporter’s club is not just for blind support, we wanted our voices to be heard. Since the tweet went viral, the club, in turn, revoked our access to tickets and only three days later, when I removed the tweet, was the access restored. We were told in no uncertain terms that we cannot use official handles for such communication, it has to be strictly kept to personal accounts. That is why this time, I chose to voice the concern in a private capacity. I did not want to jeopardize the future of MUSCM, and therefore decided to quit in protest. Many members have since followed and asked for refunds.

Q3) How have you seen the demeanour or the attitude of the club change towards its fans? After all, United under Ferguson and Gill were always a workmen's Club, a true fan's Club?

Many managers in the past, including Jose and Van Gaal have gone on record in the media to talk about the commercial engagements of the club. I understand it is important as it brings in the money, but there has to be a balance with the sporting side. We started with purely screenings, then ticketing happened and since sponsors from SE Asia have increased, we get approached by a lot of sponsors too. There is no compulsion to entertain them, but being an official arm of the club, we do. In fact, we also like it when sponsors share their views or help us in screenings. However, there have been incidents where we have been marginalised or literally by-passed for an official event that has left a sour taste in our mouths. One of the incidents was when Ronny Johnsen came to Mumbai, through one of our sponsors, Apollo, 3WM was deemed to be too small and unsafe for screening, while a venue literally a 5-minute walk down the road was chosen. As an Official Member’s Club, we want these great players to come to the venue and experience the atmosphere, because trust me, it is electric. The fans are so enthusiastic. We did a meet and greet when Dwight Yorke came to India, and it was such a memorable experience. During the Ronny Johnsen event, I had become disillusioned that I felt the club doesn’t care about their fans. At that time I was forcefully made to carry on with it saying we should maintain good relations with sponsors or it will not help in the long run. During the initial days, all we had to care as a Support’s Club was a good screening experience for the fans, but now we have to care about sponsors, and their feelings and their demands and honestly, all that is not something I am interested in. The club has been commercialised from top to bottom and as fans, we pay for it. 

Q4) Since you have now personally given up on the One United Membership, what happens to the MUSCM? Does it retain its official status or does that get dissolved too?

To be very very clear, I gave up my One United Membership in a very private capacity in order to strongly safeguard MUSCM’s interests. I will still be unofficially involved and help and support everywhere I can. Sending people from Mumbai to Old Trafford and helping them realise the dream is a big part of why I got into it and I will not let my personal views jeopardise the future of the Supporters’ Club. Buying a United game ticket is very expensive and through our allocation, we are able to really subsidise this cost. Due to the stadiums being closed and pandemic, of course, all ticketing is closed right now, but when it opens, we will continue to organise screenings, if not at 3WM, at an alternate venue, but the Supporter’s Club will continue to facilitate the journey of fans to the stadium.

Q5) Lastly Sunil, You mentioned in your note to the Club about the business being hit, how has 3WM been doing in these COVID times? With unlocking in progress, are things coming back to normal?

Hospitality business in Mumbai is no joke. The rents are sky-high. For example, a place in Khar, where 3WM is, the going rent is about 6-7L a month. With the pubs and bars shut for almost 7 months now, the rent accumulated is insane. Even if things are opening up, bars and pubs are not necessary for the public to go to. They came here, for an experience, for celebration. That is not what is foremost important right now, so things are tough. We are re-negotiating things like terms of our rents with the landlords etc in order to keep the lights on. But the business is very slow and there is no light at the end of the tunnel on when things will be normal again.

Above are excerpts from an interview conducted with Sunil Thakur and the article was sent for a prior review before publishing.

Lead Picture Credit: MUSCM Facebook
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