Green and gold floods streets of Manchester

MANCHESTER - Manchester United home match days are an apt reminder of the conflicts that burned in the city at the heart of the industrial revolution and the birth of socialism.

Street pedlars now ply not only the traditional red shirts and scarves of one of the world's best-known clubs but also the green and gold colours of the Newton Heath works team.

Newton Heath, United's predecessors, were founded by railway workers in 1878, a decade before the world's first football league was instituted in Manchester's Royal Hotel.

Their colours are now increasingly prominent on match days at Old Trafford in a direct protest against the Florida-based Glazer family who bought the club in 2005.

After United's sweeping 4-0 Champions League win over AC Milan last month, they also dominated the newspapers and TV news bulletins when returning hero David Beckham stooped to pick up a green and gold scarf and wrapped it around his neck.

Beckham, who had come on as a substitute for the Italian side, had lingered on the pitch to acknowledge the applause from supporters of the club he left seven years ago.

The Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) is behind the green-and-gold protest and chief executive Duncan Drasdo told Reuters that Beckham's gesture had been a superb piece of public relations.

"Fantastic," he said. "It was really just an emotional response for him, reaching out to supporters and showing them he was with them.

"The green-and-gold thing has been tremendous for the atmosphere in the ground. It's made people feel reinvigorated about what it is to support a football team.

"I think people were feeling pretty disillusioned, supporters were feeling exploited about the loyalty they once felt towards their club."

Drasdo said MUST, which has just under 150,000 members, up from 36,000 two months ago, had been partially responsible for an announcement last month that the club had frozen ticket prices after a series of bitterly resented hikes.

PEOPLE POWER

"This clearly demonstrates the power supporters have when they come together as a unified group," he said.

"We know from sources inside the club the Glazers are very concerned about the growing green and gold campaign. I think that was a major step forward for us.

"It could be a combination of things of course, the campaign that has been going on inside the ground, the growing membership of a serious organisation, obviously that has created the uncertainty whether they could push through another price rise.

"I think they judged they couldn't," added Drasdo.

The reclusive Glazers have also angered fans by increasing the club's debt burden.

In response, a group of financiers calling themselves the Red Knights have met to discuss buying the club from the Glazers even though the Americans have steadfastly maintained United are not for sale.

Last week the Red Knights said they would continue to work on proposals but ruled out any approach to the Glazers before the end of the season.

Two years ago there was another reminder of Manchester's reputation as a spawning ground for industrialists and financiers to amass vast wealth after the explosion of the cotton industry at the start of the 19th century.

Representatives of the Al Nahyan dynasty, which has ruled Abu Dhabi since the 18th century, bought Manchester City, traditionally United's poor relations, in 2008 and transformed their finances.

CITY SCORN

There is no love lost between the two sets of Manchester fans and on the day of the AC Milan match City supporters showed no sympathy for United's ownership protests.

"Did the nasty Americans promise to win you the Champions League, the Premier League and the FA Cup every year until the end of time but instead ... made you a laughing stock,?" said one City fan browsing in his club's shop.

"If they are really bothered why don't they just form their own club,?" he added, referring to the breakaway FC United minor league club formed by fans disillusioned by the Glazer takeover.

"Oh, hang on, they did that and nobody noticed."

The winds of change may be about to sweep through both clubs, though.

UEFA president Michel Platini said on Monday he supported a plan by Britain's ruling Labour party to allow fans to buy stakes in their teams.

According to a report in The Guardian newspaper, under a proposal in the party's manifesto for the general election expected on May 6, fans could take up to a 25 percent stake in a club to ease concerns over increasing levels of debt and foreign ownership.

Drasdo also supports the schemes.

"We're approaching all parties to see what sort of interest there is in terms of putting something into a manifesto commitment over the election, the ownership of football clubs," he said.

"What we are particularly interested in is a right-to-buy. The Scottish crofters had something like this when they had absentee landlords.

"The right to purchase shares at a fair price and have some say in the way their clubs are run and get some transparency on the way things are run financially," added Drasdo.

"Football clubs aren't ordinary businesses so they shouldn't be treated that way."

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