Source: The Observer
* Luke Bainbridge and Ed Vulliamy
* The Observer, Sunday 28 February 2010
* Article history
Angry supporters to use Carling Cup final at Wembley against Aston Villa to publicise bid to oust Glazer family
Wembley Stadium will reverberate this afternoon to the sounds of the first colour-coded football rebellion as Manchester United take on Aston Villa in the Carling Cup final and fans of the Premier League champions stage a vivid protest against the club's controversial American owners.
Instead of the usual bank of red and white, United's end of the stadium will be green and gold – with 30,000 coloured balloons sent skyward. Thousands of Manchester United fans will also be wearing green-and-gold scarves distributed by the Manchester United Supporters' Trust (Must). Must is campaigning for the removal of the American Glazer family, which bought the club in a debt-leveraged buyout in 2005. Intended as a symbolic rejection of the Glazer family's ownership, the green-and-gold theme harks back to Newton Heath, the club founded in 1878 that then became Manchester United in 1902.
Today's game, which is certain to attract a large international television audience, is seen as an opportunity for independent supporters' organisations to demonstrate the extent of opposition to the Glazer family's continued ownership of the club. The green-and-gold protest began at the beginning of the year, after the publication of club accounts for 2008/2009. The figures revealed that without the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid for £81m, the colossal interest payments on the club's debt would have meant a net loss, after a hugely successful season in which the club won the Premier League and reached the Uefa Champions League final.
Referring to the green-and-gold protest, a spokesman for Must said yesterday: "We've done what we can, and we're hoping to see if during any celebrations, the players put on any green and gold – we'll be throwing things on to the pitch, scarves and stuff and whichever way they go, it could be interesting."
The Wembley protest comes after a week in which the issues of debt and foreign ownership have dominated the football headlines. On Friday, Portsmouth became the first Premier League club to go into administration, with debts of around £70m, sparking fears that a combination of spiralling player wages and reckless overspending could leave other clubs vulnerable to a similar financial predicament.
Yesterday, hundreds of fans from across the country attended a Beyond the Debt rally, hosted in Bury by FC United of Manchester, a club formed by Manchester United fans disillusioned by the Glazer takeover, and sponsored by Supporters Direct, a fans' organisation committed to giving supporters a bigger say in running football.
Dave Boyle of Supporters Direct told the meeting: "Football clubs shouldn't be owned by individuals, or even a group of individuals. They should be owned by supporters."
Football finance expert Keith Harris claims he has £1bn in place to buy out the Glazers, but fans need to boycott matches and merchandise to force the Glazers to sell. "They have to be prepared to take the pain of not watching their club in order to achieve a long-term gain," he said last week
After today's Wembley protest, there is even speculation that United fans and those of their arch-rivals Liverpool are considering joining forces against their respective American owners when the two teams meet on 21 March. Liverpool are owned by Americans Tom Hicks and George Gillett – who are felt by fans to have saddled the famous club with soaring debts and interest payments, and failed to deliver on the promise of a bigger ground.
Spirit of Shankly, a Liverpool supporters' group that is coordinating a campaign to oust Hicks and Gillett, denied reports in the Manchester press last week that it has already held secret meetings with its counterparts along the M62. However, the group's AGM takes place in Liverpool today, and high on the agenda will be the issue of whether to join forces with United fans in a demonstration in March. The impact of a joint demonstration by supporters known for their fierce animosity towards each other would be bound to generate fresh headlines around the world.
The chatroom of United's Red Issue fanzine site has been teeming with plans for today's final, with a special trail called "Green and Gold Report", with an editorial to be published next week listing options for further protest. According to some supporters, the fight should be taken nationwide via the Football Supporters' Federation.
On one popular Liverpool forum, a supporter said that a joint protest with Manchester United fans was unpalatable, but necessary.
"It is time to think the unthinkable, and join forces with the dark side of the East Lancs Road," said the entry. "The two biggest clubs in the land with the two best fan bases in the land have been sold down the river to a bunch of no-mark Yanks, intent on stealing money from our vast sources of revenue. There is a greater good to be had here."