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DES KELLY: Manchester United fans win with flying colours
Published : 30 Jan 2010 00:01:24
As protests go, it's a stroke of genius. They've managed to solve the conundrum that has plagued football supporters of every disgruntled club in the land: how to stage a protest and still celebrate a victory. When I saw the focus of the 'Love United, Hate Glazer' campaign was a call to wear green and gold, it struck me as a decidedly limp and passive way to rail against the owners. Harking back to the origins of Manchester United as Newton Heath was sentimental and attractively nostalgic, but waving a different colour scarf? That's not going to bring down a corporate empire, is it? Green for na?; gold for yellow-bellied, I thought. How wrong I was. I saw the effect at Old Trafford on Wednesday night. The mass protest works brilliantly; probably better than anyone imagined. Green and gold army: United's supporters can oppose the Glazers and celebrate a victory To weave a very visible two-fingered salute to the current hierarchy in with a symbol of support for the team is deliciously subversive and the true consequences have yet to unfold. Historically, football fans have marched through the streets to unfurl angry banners or demand an owner's head on a stake when results on the pitch, not on the stock market, have taken a dive. Misery and protest are two sides of the same coin, but a win equals happiness. If a team are successful, the impotent fury over ticket prices, transfer poverty or the rich buffoon bleeding the place dry is set to one side. What fan can resist enjoying the moment when the winning goal goes in? That's what everyone is there for, after all. Newcastle United fans don't suddenly trust Mike Ashley and Co more than they did last season. But while the team are heading for promotion they see little point in stirring up that antipathy again. At Liverpool, despite the inconsistency of the team, a sizeable contingent continue to back Rafa Benitez; one considerable tick in his favour being that the bickering Americans running Anfield once plotted to remove him. More from Des Kelly... DES KELLY: Cool it, Tev and Nev - and that can't get lost in translation22/01/10 DES KELLY: Surely it's time to send Benitez through Anfield's exit door15/01/10 Des Kelly: Chill wind of debt keeps clubs away from January sales09/01/10 Des Kelly: The age old debate. Can Schumacher and Woods cut it?01/01/10 Des Kelly's Boxing Day quiz: Did John Terry's dad have snow this Christmas?25/12/09 DES KELLY: Our big fat zero without sport18/12/09 DES KELLY: Silence is golden? It depends on who is doing the talking...12/12/09 Des Kelly: No pleasure in hunting a wounded Tiger Woods04/12/09 VIEW FULL ARCHIVE Fans want to show unity. Divisions and protests have always been an admission of weakness, which is why United manager Sir Alex Ferguson had serious reservationsabout the movement. He said in midweek: 'The danger is we could be presented as beingsplit. I could see our opponents rubbing their hands with glee at thethought of watching us fall out among ourselves.' But the anti-Glazer protests have actually re-animated the fan base.When United's late winner went in, a huge swathe of Old Trafford waswaving green and gold scarves. It was a bizarre, inspiring sight,because the message from the crowd was quite clear: 'We support our team, we'll enjoy our win - and we'll despise the Glazers throughout.' By the next home game, three-quarters of the ground will be green andgold. By the end of the season, there could barely be a dot of red inthe place, except out on the field. The club will take a hit inmerchandising, but it is superficial damage. The real impact ispsychological. The club's identity is being changed and reshaped by the fans, insteadof the owners. Over in the Far East and in the bars of New York they'llbe asking why the place is suddenly a sea of green and gold and thoseripples spread. Football is not like other public events. Nobody ever comes out of the theatre, depressed that Donna was not good enough to win Mamma Mia! a Best Musical Tony Award. Nobody leaves Macbeth complaining Macduff's early slip may cost them a BAFTA. Football is part of people's identity. Rather than have this dictated to them by an owner, fans are simply choosing what they want their club to be. Imagine the power of a Newcastle United campaign where the home fans refused to wear the black and whitein protest at the renaming of the stadium? Or if Liverpool fans decidedthe Kop would no longer be red, not until Gillett and Hicks departed. Which is why the principles behind the Glazer campaign might catch on elsewhere. There are downsides. Portsmouth's first kit was salmon pink with whiteshorts; Liverpool started out in a halved blue and white shirt likeBlackburn Rovers and Newcastle's first shirt was red. But every protesthas a price. In light of the horrible attack on the Togo team coach at the start of the Africa Cup of Nations, you might have thought that someone would have the decency to change the tournament's official promotional slogan by now. The advertisement still promises: 'Let Angola Surprise You'. Farce of a football friskingSecurity measures are largely a pointless ritual; mostly for show, partly for deterrent, but we endure them because someone always tells us: 'It's for your own good.'Which is why we wait in line for hours to remove our shoes, even though the X-ray machines won't detect plastic explosives. It is why we allow someone to stare at blurred pictures of our genitalia on a monitor, ignoring the fact that these security measures will still miss the one lunatic in 1.5 billion airline passengers determined to blow up his underpants. Take that worthy concept of 'enhanced security' to a football match and it's even more farcical. At Old Trafford on Wednesday night, every one of the 75,000 crowd was frisked on entry to the stadium, regardless of the idiocy involved. I watched a man who must have been 60, dressed in a cashmere overcoat and his office suit, being patted down as if he'd flown into Washington DC from Kabul on Jihad Airlines. Flashpoint: Craig Bellamy falls to the ground clutching his head after being hit by a coin at Old Trafford A friend arrived at the grandiose 'Platinum Club' executive lounge with two children aged 10. The boy had his hair slicked down with Mom Spit and had been made to wear a shirt and tie; the girl had her best dress on, because they were in 'the posh seats'. But the kids were stopped by security. 'You can't come in here with those,' they were told. So what did these potential young offenders have - knives, bottles? No, Manchester City scarves, which were confiscated. The 10-year-olds were also warned not to celebrate if City scored or they would be evicted. A great day for the club Taliban, I'm sure you'll agree. I was frisked (no charge) to ensure I was not carrying projectiles. I then walked into a lounge where I was handed a commemorative coffee mug, which would have made a terrific dent in Craig Bellamy's head had I been so inclined. As it turned out, a coin thrown by an idiot struck Bellamy. Many more incidents like that, and nets will start going up behind the goals, just as in Italy. The only other option is for football clubs to take all your money away at the turnstiles. Oh, too late. Andy's on his ownHis mouth is too big, he celebrates too passionately, his voice is monotone, he is too close to his mother, he is too Scottish, he blah, blah, whatever. If you have been paying attention, then you appreciate none of this matters. Youwill be acutely aware that Andy Murray is single-handedly propping up the very idea that there might be something called 'British tennis', when for decades now it has been patently obvious nothing of the sort exists. British tennis? Where? A quick glance at the men's top 100 rankings table will show that France has 12 players, Spain 11, Germany 10 and Argentina nine. Britain has one. Even Chile doubles that embarrassing tally. Beyond Murray, there is an abyss of wasted funding and empty promises. But once again Murray (right) is on the brink of a Grand Slam triumph. How? He developed outside the British system in Spain and has sought to mature in every aspect of his game to the point where he can now go toe-to-toe with Roger Federer in the Australian Open final with a genuine degree of expectation. Is Federer concerned? 'I think Murray needs it more than I do, so the pressure's big on him,' said the 28-year-old Swiss. Actually, Murray is the underdog. He is not tipped to win by the public, bookmakers or experts. Federer has everything to lose, which is why he is the one shooting his mouth off. Some role modelVenus Williams is so desperate to see her face in the papers she runs around on court pretending she isn't wearing knickers. Venus Williams: one way to get yourself noticed Sorry, did I say face? Either way, putting her flesh-coloured undercrackers on display at the Australian Open put me right off my Bran Flakes. Then I remembered how Williams was at the forefront of a campaign demanding female tennis players should be treated as equals to the men. Williams said: 'I believe athletes, especially female athletes, should serve as role models. The message I would like to convey to women and girls across the globe is there is no glass ceiling.' And not much in the basement either, it seems. Her fellow 'suffragette', Maria Sharapova, recently sealed a £45million contract with a sports manufacturer, the most lucrative commercial deal ever for a female athlete. That is not down to results. Although she still squeals on court like a cat going through a mangle, in every other sense Sharapova is no longer a big noise in tennis, having slumped to No 14 in the rankings and with one Grand Slam triumph in six years. The message to budding female tennis players is clear. Scrub up. Make a spectacle of yourself. And you won't have to worry too much about the tennis. Emmeline Pankhurst would have been so proud.