United fans hoping for one million protesters

MANCHESTER - Manchester United fans believe they can get a million people around the world to join their colourful protest against the club's controversial American owners, the Glazer family.

"The aim now is to take (the protest) from the Old Trafford stadium to the whole supporter base around the world and we're getting photos of fans in places like Singapore, America, everywhere," said Sean Bones, vice-chairman of the Manchester United Supporters' Trust (MUST), which has asked fans to wear green and gold in support of their campaign.

"Wearing the green and gold means you can still feel very passionate about your club, but at the same time you are saying you are against everything the Glazers have done to Manchester United and what they are planning to do," Bones told Reuters in an interview.

"It started off as a peaceful, visual protest and it struck a chord. It is more than a protest now, it is a movement.

"We wanted to grow the membership up to 100,000 by the end of the season, but it doubled from 53,000 to 106,000 in two days. The most important thing...is for the campaign to continue to grow and we believe one million is a realistic target."

The Green and Gold campaign is based on the colours of United's forerunners, Newton Heath, and is a visible protest against the Glazers' ownership of United - once the most profitable sporting club in the world but now with debts of 716.5 million pounds.

MUST has been encouraged by the emergence of a group of rich United fans, known as the Red Knights, which is putting together a bid to buy the club for more than 1.15 billion pounds.

United chief executive David Gill said on Wednesday the club, who are chasing their fourth successive Premier League title, were not for sale but the fan base is mobilising nonetheless.

After the Red Knights revealed their takeover plans on Tuesday, MUST's membership soared by 25,000 in 24 hours with another 28,000 adding their names the following day.

A membership counter on MUST's website has passed 110,000.

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"To...United supporters, Manchester United is a football club, we celebrate the team, the history and achievements," said Bones, who was heavily involved in the failed battle to prevent the Glazers taking over the club five years ago.

"To the Glazers it's a brand and one of their greatest fears is that this protest will affect the merchandising arm of the club. If you're wearing a green-and-gold scarf you're less likely to go in the club shop and buy United merchandise.

"The way they bought the club with a leveraged takeover, borrowing a large amount of money...means they've taken a huge risk with something that is precious to everyone.

"Each individual United supporter and their family over generations has contributed to its success and what it is today.

"Then you had the Glazers coming in and saying: 'We are going to raise ticket prices, we don't care if you've been here 40 years or not, if you can't afford them, goodbye.' Now, ordinary supporters are struggling to afford to go to games."

MUST is publicly supporting the Red Knights' takeover plans and Bones said it was important a bid was made.

"If there's a bid on the table, supporters know we want to buy the club. If the Glazers don't want to sell, that's another issue.

"Every United fan can play a part in getting rid of the Glazers. I'd like to see the supporters working together with the Red Knights and for the Glazers to come to the conclusion they have to sell because everyone is against them.

"It's one family who are depriving millions of supporters from feeling good about their club."