The Michael Knighton Fiasco

It was Saturday 19th August 1989, when Michael Knighton ran onto the Old Trafford turf in training top, shorts and boots. It was the opening day of the 1989/90 season and we were at home to new champions Arsenal.

Knighton then proceeded to run towards the Stretford End surrounded by photographers, whilst attempting keepy uppy with a ball. In those days, Old Trafford had yet to undergo any major refurbishment of what we know today, I was in my usual place in the Stretford End, right in the middle of the red fence above the tunnel. When he kicked the ball into an empty net from only yards out, we cheered him, and I remember feeling a tad silly at doing so. The vast majority of us didn’t really know who Michael Knighton was; to me he appeared out of nowhere.

Lots of photographs of that Knighton introduction were published in the media; in the better ones I can see myself, hands in the air clapping. I think I’ll always feel a twinge of embarrassment about that day. Our then Chairman Martin Edwards was keen to sell off his controlling share of United, murmurings were coming out of the club that Martin was uncomfortable with the low opinion in which the United faithful held him in. No surprises there really, many United games in the ‘80’s were filled with chants of “Edwards Out!”. Edwards had once before tried to sell off United back in ’84, to Newspaper owner Robert Maxwell for around 10 million. United fans were unhappy that Edwards was willing to sell to someone with such a chequered reputation, it seemed Edwards was happy to sell to the first person that came knocking, happy to relinquish his Chairmanship to anyone, or at least that’s how it seemed.

As it turned out, Maxwell refused to pay the asking price, many United fans believing it a narrow escape. The Edwards family had been in ownership of United since 1965, Martin had taken over the Chairmanship in 1980 following the death of his father, Louis. Martin Edwards wouldn’t see another takeover bid for another 5 years.

Knighton was once on the books (as an apprentice) of Coventry City, his football career was curtailed somewhat due to injury. He then attended university, gained a degree in Physical Education and went into teaching. He left teaching in 1984 to concentrate on his property interests. In the summer of 1989, Knighton had tabled his offer of 20 million for the club, then a record amount for a club, on top of that Knighton promised an extra 10 million to be pumped into the club for stadium improvement and new players. At first it looked a good solid bid, Knighton’s company MK Trafford was being backed by well-known successful businessmen, Robert Thornton and Stanley Cohen. Martin Edwards thought Knighton’s initial plans had merit. The late 1980’s was not a particularly good time for English football. We were still experiencing football violence between fans, English clubs were still in the European wilderness due to the ban on English clubs in European competition, and three years into Fergies reign United were pretty much a mid-table club.

Knighton wanted to exploit the United name, through merchandising and income from television, he thought United could do a lot better on a business level. Sounds familiar, but at least putting the club in debt to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds, wasn’t a part of Knighton’s business plan. Michael Knighton was on national and local TV quite a lot in the summer of 1989.

He appeared confident and a bit arrogant to be honest. Certain quarters of the press were beginning to ridicule Knighton, and he became the target for quite a lot of bad press.

It was all over by the first few weeks of that season, put off by Knightons bad run in the press, his partners Robert Thornton and Stanley Cohen pulled out of the deal. Knighton then sought other backers including then Blackpool F.C. owner Owen Oysten and former Glasgow Rangers Chairman David Murray. However, it all came to nothing, and Knighton was forced to withdraw his bid for the club, United would gave him a seat on the board and 30,000 shares.

Knighton left the board 3 years later to take over Carlisle United, now with a different club he would go on to again court controversy.

It was a tad embarrassing for United, I certainly felt a tad embarrassed by the whole episode.

Richard Fenton. May 2015



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