Green and Yellow until the club is mellow? Yellow and Green until the club is Freed? Green and Yellow until the club is out of financial peril? Doesn’t quite work does it? Nope, better to pretend it’s gold, that rhymes with sold. Regardless of my pedantic nit picking, Manchester United fans recent revival of their Anti-Glazer protest has been a visually eloquent and dignified one. Gone are the burning effigies of yesteryear, replaced with the sight of a thousand scarves and replica shirts mocked up in the striking, if rather unattractive to the palate, colours of their pre-20th century incarnation Newton Heath (who played in green and yellow, sorry, gold!). Classy is the word I’m searching for, very classy, but is it actually helping anything? And if it succeeds, will it actually help the club?
Boycotts are often mooted by disenfranchised supporters during troubled times but rarely if ever happen, except, depressingly, when it comes to fierce political or sectarian rivalries. They never work because people don’t actually want to miss the football, that’s what they’re there for in the first place and there’s a good chance it’ll be massively counter productive anyway and affect the football they’re there to see. There were initial plans to boycott the first 10 minutes of the United Milan game yesterday, it wasn’t enacted in the end as far as I’m aware and since the away fans were confined to the lofty upper tier of the San Siro and not once shown on Television it’s unlikely to have made any impact anyway. Though missing the first 10 minutes of yesterday’s entertaining encounter might have been a blessing for them.
Boycotts aren’t the way forward in this instance. They didn’t work in 2005, and only succeeded in splitting the fan base dramatically down football and social lines. United are such a hugely supported club anyway that not turning up would only mean another seat to sell to someone else, probably a dreaded out of towner, which would then most likely cause the boycotters to bemoan about the decline of their hometown clubs roots and lack of atmosphere whilst simultaneously being directly responsible for it. Lining the pockets of the owners by paying for your ticket only to not turn up for visual protest purposes is a ludicrous pipe dream of an idea, dreamt up in a haze of beret wearing student philosophy and the only possible consequence would be a disheartening drop in the teams performance. No, they’ve got it spot on in this instance. The Green and Gold protests have actually raised the atmosphere. The disenfranchised feel a purpose and a passion to sing throughout, the quieter, less involved supporters are galvanized by feeling part of a rebellious unit and the team on the pitch reap the rewards of a crowd in full voice. It is, for the most part, a United protest, and that’s precisely where it failed last time. If the only up shot of these protests is the increase of noise around the often famously quiet Old Trafford, then it’ll have been worth it for that alone.
What else has worked is the publicity. It’s easy for cameras to not pick out certain banners, or focus on the nutters smashing garden gnomes on Sir Matt Busby way, but it’s not so easy for them to avoid capturing the Stretford End daubed in unusual colours, or drown out the chanting, even if you have got David Pleat sending you to sleep in the commentary box. In it’s dignity it has gained respect, and with respect, favourable coverage. And with favourable coverage and respect, the sympathy and admiration of those actually in a position to do something about it. The Red Knights and their ilk for example. The only message burning an effigy with a scarf over your face sends out to prospective owners and investors is “look, this is what we’ll do to you if we don’t like you, now buy us ye bastards!”. Can’t see many heart strings being tugged there. Besides all 75,000 inside the Theatre of Dreams donning Green and Yellow scarves, mock home shirts, or 93 replica away kits, the campaign has been as successful and devoid of bad press so far as it could have been, which, in turn, has continued it’s momentum.
The bigger issue of what they actually want, and whether they’ll really be happy with if they get it, is still the main issue though. The debt can’t be wiped out by anyone but a Sheik or a dodgy Russian billionaire with a yacht full of Faberge eggs. It’s a possible, but rather undignified option a million miles away from the “proper fans” mentality, which would also require a hugely generous gift. The Michael Knightons of this world like to curry fan favour by juggling badly on the pitch, not writing off £700 odd million quid. Even for the super rich, that’s a bit much. It also doesn’t guarantee any more respect for or adherence to the fans concerned. The Red Knight option, or something like it, is by far the most preferable solution but despite talk of a “debt free recovery” it seems hugely unlikely the debt could just disappear. Almost certainly not immediately, or without incurring more debt on someone’s part. What it would achieve though is more respect for the fans, and by not tarring their reputation to such people, and in fact only enhancing it, whilst having no obviously derogatory effect on the team, the protests have succeeded so far in all they aimed to do. The final stumbling block of getting the Glazers to sell is a whole other matter though. And one that doesn’t really look like being affected by colourful scarves, even if they do understand what they mean.