The Red Knights involved with Manchester United supporters’ efforts to take the club out of the clutches of the Glazers have been the subject of considerable speculation. In recent weeks, one above all has become more closely tied to the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST) campaign, though I’ve seen nothing written about this development in the mainstream media: Fred Done, founder of BetFred, Britain’s fourth largest bookmaker, is increasingly tied to the campaign to remove the Glazers.
Three recent emails from MUST to its e-membership, currently at 163,430 (unpaid) members, introduced BetFred’s partnership with MUST and hinted that Done was testing the waters before fully backing a takeover bid.
The first email to MUST members explained the new partnership:
MUST met with Fred a couple of weeks ago for a chat over a cup of tea and a tour of his headquarters. As you look around his office a large picture of Duncan Edwards takes pride of place – it is obvious Manchester United runs through his veins. He loves the club and he wants to see the right ownership in the future – perhaps a Barcelona style model. We agree with him there.
We’ll be forwarding a special message from Fred to MUST members along with his thoughts on the Liverpool game and United generally so look out for that to follow shortly.
As a direct result of the meeting we’ve entered into a partnership with BetFred which, with your help, will generate the revenue MUST needs to fund our ambitious expansion plans. We’ll be ploughing every penny from the BetFred partnership into the development fund for our Million Member Project (currently 163,430 members) which is set to be launched in the New Year. Details to follow in the coming weeks.
The two key factors in creating this partnership are:
* A fun way for supporters to generate funds to develop our Million Member Project.
* The first stage in building a relationship with Fred which could be hugely significant in our plans for change of ownership at United
This partnership with BetFred is a huge opportunity. We need to show Fred how much interest there is from members so we want to make him really sit up and take notice. Just by clicking through the link you can really help even if you don’t sign-up.
Some people aren’t interested in betting and that is fine. We don’t want to encourage members to bet who don’t wish to (or the Under 18s). However, for those who do enjoy a bet we’d urge you to switch to the MUST BetFred partnership. Fred is more than happy to pay out to United fans – almost as much as he likes taking money off Scousers.
The email hints that Fred is only just getting started – “The first stage in building a relationship with Fred which could be hugely significant in our plans for change of ownership at United”. It’s clear months, perhaps years of groundwork went into establishing the partnership, of obvious mutual benefit.
An email then followed from Fred to MUST e-members with a number of betting tips. Not bad for Fred to have a direct line to 163,430 football-mad potential customers.
Now, I’m not a United fan, I’m just on their email list because I pay attention to this stuff. But it sure felt odd to get an email from a supporters’ organisation with extensive betting tips and essentially an encouragement to gamble, without having asked to receive that kind of correspondence.
Six days after that email, MUST dropped another message on their 163,000-odd e-members, now asking “Are you happy to receive messages relating to match previews along with the MUST BetFred partnership or would you prefer not to?
“We don’t want to annoy any of our members by sending them messages they don’t wish to receive so let us know by clicking link  below and simply ticking the “opt out” box on the survey if you don’t want to receive messages.”
One can presume that Fred’s unsolicited betting tips a few days earlier had provoked the ire of a fair few folks not expecting that signing up to support the Trust would result in receiving emails about gambling from BetFred.
It’s not surprising MUST has jumped into bed with Fred: he’s very rich, very influential and he’s from Salford, Greater Manchester, a hardcore United fan. He’s also the kind of man you’d want on your side with the Glazers: toughness, ambition and willingness to take risks have long defined his career, rising from absolutely nothing on the streets of Salford to preside over a gambling empire, Britain’s largest independent chain with 800+ shops. He began his rise as a 15-year old in 1959 running an illegal gambling ring, turning legit and making a fortune with a serious of aggressive acquisitions, and a heads-on, personality driven approach to branding his bookmaking shops.
Until last year, BetFred was United’s official bookmaker. Now, the Glazers will surely wonder what a Fred-backed MUST campaign could achieve, with his connections and aggressive approach to takeovers. At the same time, MUST must be careful not to abuse the trust they have earned from supporters, and think carefully about how they use their email list and promote gambling in general: the moral high ground is easy to fall off, after all.
For more information about the bookie, please refer to this article about BetFred’s promotions.