Manchester United’s Director of Communications Phil Townsend talks Reds off the pitch

Manchester United Director of Communications Phil Townsend believes the rivalry between United and City is a “good thing” for the Premier League.

The Manchester rivalry has intensified in recent years, and after Manchester City overcame their neighbours to win the Premier League in an emphatic late comeback on the final day, this sets up the most enthralling bout yet between the two sides next season.

Townsend believes the competition between the top teams is a positive advert for the league in general.

“The fact that it’s a more exciting and a closer product than the Spanish or Italian League, it’s a major part in its popularity and value to television companies around the world, ” he said. “I think it is a good thing for the Premier League as a whole, there are several teams now who are capable of winning the league.”

The Red’s Director of Communications believes the club has become more proactive on the commercial side since he arrived. After the club recently announced followers of 659 million across the world, he spoke about how it has become easier to communicate with such a large fan base.

“The mobile partners that we have in 45 countries, allow you to literally bring the team and action to the palm of someone’s hand as people obviously carry mobile phones around. Through that, it’s possible to speak directly to supporters.”

The Old Trafford board member made it clear, ahead of next season’s pre-season tour, how not only is a global fan base important but also local supporters. Last year’s ‘Champions 19 Tour’ visited places across the world but also to the local community.

“What is also important is the Manchester legs of the tour, so it went to schools in Stretford, Urmston, Flixton and places like that. There was never an ignoring of the local fan base. It was a global thing but very much for the whole Manchester United family.”

Old Trafford
Old Trafford

Townsend, who has been at the club for eight and half seasons, reiterated how important Old Trafford is to the club.

“Old Trafford is one of the key assets of the club. The centenary celebrations that we had in 2010 were reflective of the value everybody sees in Old Trafford, you wouldn’t want to change it. You go to say the Emirates Stadium, the concourses are larger, the seats are probably bigger but for me, it doesn’t have the feel of Old Trafford.”

Sir Alex Ferguson celebrated 25 years in charge of Manchester United last season and the club dedicated this achievement by changing the name of the ‘North Stand’ to the ‘Sir Alex Ferguson Stand’. Townsend, who was studying his A-Levels when Sir Alex took charge, said it was completed with great secrecy with only a few people knowing about the change.

Sir Alex Ferguson during the new stand name unveiling

“It was David Gill’s idea and he drew people in as and when necessary. We were able to source a company, the company was never told in what order the letters would be appearing. They were just sent a random array of letters,” he explains.

“They assembled them in blocks of three, those blocks were erected in a certain order and the guys putting them up didn’t know. Whilst they were putting it up it was covered so the CCTV cameras in the stadium couldn’t pick it up and see it.

“I think the fact the manager didn’t know was, firstly astonishing but also added to the sense of occasion on the day as he was staggered by what he was seeing.

“I think it achieved everything we wanted it to, we probably kept that more quiet than Paul Scholes’s return in January, because even his team-mates didn’t know. So it shows even in football you can keep secrets from people some of the time.”

The planned Sir Alex Ferguson statue is on course to be up by November time.

“The plan for that will probably be for in or around the 26th anniversary to unveil that. It will be like, in terms of size and feel, the Sir Matt Busby statue and will be outside the Sir Alex Ferguson stand,” Townsend explains.

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BOA announce Great Britain’s Olympic cycling team

Dave Brailsford and Sir Clive Woodward announce GB’s Olympic cycling team

The British Olympic Association (BOA) today announced the 18 cyclists set to represent team GB in London later this year. David Millar, who served a two-year suspension in 2004 after admitting to using the banned blood booster EPO, was picked after being made eligible for selection due to a recent ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

One of the most successful British Olympic teams in Beijing four years ago also includes the likes of Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Shanaza Reade.

Team GB cycling performance director, David Brailsford on selecting Millar said:

“Ultimately it’s the BOA’s team, the BOA decides its policy and the policy that they decide is who eligible. They tell me who’s eligible, line them up against the wall, and I have to pick the fastest team, that’s my job.

“It’s not for me to take a personal point of view to that, professionally I’ve been told who to pick from and it’s my job to pick the fastest team so it wasn’t difficult at all in that sense.”

The 48-year-old also spoke about the challenge of selecting a team for a home Olympics.

“Obviously the added dimension of a home games, does make this [the selection process] different,” he explains.

“Whilst of course we’re focused on winning and that’s what we’re all about, I do think for these Games, the teams got to take on a broader aspect.

“I know that we’ll fight tooth and nail to win, I also think it’s important we do it in a fair play way.”

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Shanaze Reade, Geraint Thomas, Sir Chris Hoy and Liam Phillips

Brailsford, who was selecting his third Olympic cyclist team, spoke about the Olympic legacy he hopes the team can create.

“I’m sure it’s a team everyone can get behind and hopefully buy into the inspirational part of what this Olympic Games is all about and try inspire a new generation of young cyclists.”

The British Olympic Association’s Director of Elite Performance, Sir Clive Woodward, praised the team for their hard work ahead of the Games.

“When you hear the strength of the team Dave has announced, I think we’re all incredibly proud of what British cycling are doing for the whole of British sport and the example they are showing for all sports in terms of their leadership,” he said.

Sir Chris Hoy spoke about how great it is to be part of the team taking part in London 2012 later this year.

“It’s a huge honour to be selected to represent your country at an Olympic Games and it’s even more special to know I’m definitely part of the team for London 2012.

“This will be my fourth Olympics but my first home Games, and it’s going to be an amazing experience and a once in a lifetime opportunity for all of us.”

The Men and women’s road teams have been shortlisted and are set to be named later this month.