HOUSTON - Manchester United's status as a global brand has long been recognised but on Wednesday it was demonstrated in vivid fashion when more than 70,000 turned out to watch them play a pre-season friendly in Texas.
There was a healthy turnout of fans of local team Houston Dynamo among the crowd but many more in United's famous red shirts, watching Sir Alex Ferguson's team beat a Major League Soccer 'All Star' team 5-2.
Outside the domed Reliant Stadium, Peter Holland, a Mancunian who has been resident in New York City for 33 years, was signing up some of those American 'Red Devils' to the club's USA Supporters Club which is 5,000-strong.
"United were first in the marketplace over here, the first team to make an impact on television," Holland told Reuters as fans queued up in the heat to add their names to the membership list.
"The American public are very, very knowledgeable about football, a lot of Europeans might not think that but they are smart and they saw United on television, playing fantastic football and people decided to follow them."
Andrew Wise, a 19 year old from New Orleans, was among those proudly wearing the colours, even though he has never seen the club's Old Trafford home.
"My first ever jersey was a United jersey when I was five and since then it has been United all the way. We went to England once but the only game we could go to was at Millwall," he said.
Like many Americans, Wise rates England's Premier League as a far superior product than the domestic Major League Soccer.
"I prefer watching the English Premier League but MLS is getting better. It is still not quite there, I guess continued support for the game will help," he said.
United's support also crosses ethnic lines with the presence of new Mexican signing Javier Hernandez likely to have added more Spanish-speaking fans to the masses that had longer attachments to the team.
"I've always been a United fan, ever since I started watching them on television about five years ago. I watch more United than I do Houston Dynamo. English football is more intense and better," Jose Jimenez said.
While there is such admiration for English football in general, United attracts a particular following and manager Ferguson credited that on the 'romance' attached to the club.
"We're never surprised. Everywhere our club goes they have support, as you saw it here. It's an unusual club," he said.
"Apart from its history, it's got a romance about it. I think also, credit to the club, they play the right way. We're good at developing young players with spirit, it's always been a strong part of our club.
"We were really delighted. When you go and play in the stadium tonight, the size of the crowd and the atmosphere, you're motivated by that. To come out, see the stadium, good pitch, big crowd, perfect for them."comments