Sunday, January 31, 2010

Newton Heath Resurrected in Manchester

Edited from: Wall Street Journal


Newton Heath Resurrected in Manchester

Visitors to Old Trafford who witnessed Manchester United's 3-1 victory over Manchester City on Wednesday night in the return leg of the semifinal of the English League Cup noticed a number of the home supporters clad in green and gold, rather than the club's traditional red. The colors refer to Newton Heath, as the club was known from its founding in 1878, until 1902, when it attracted new investors and was renamed Manchester United.

The green and gold is the fans' way of protesting against club owner, Malcolm Glazer, who acquired United in 2005 in a leveraged takeover. Mr. Glazer, who also owns the National Football League's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is highly unpopular among United supporters (chants of "Love United! Hate Glazer!" regularly echo across the stadium whenever the team plays). They blame him for saddling the previously debt-free club with some $1.1 billion worth of debt. United's decision to refinance the borrowing with a bond issue worth nearly $800 million, has once again stoked up antipathy towards the American owner.

It's not the first time local fans have come up with novel ways of expressing their displeasure at Mr. Glazer. When he acquired United, there were mass protests at matches and a group of fans decided to break away entirely, forming their own club: FC United of Manchester. FC United features the traditional red shirts (albeit without any kind of sponsors' logo) and is a public trust, owned by the fans. After several promotions, it now plays in the seventh tier of the English soccer pyramid and their not-so-secret dream is to one day square off against the "other" United in a league match.