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Old Trafford under the spotlight

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James Pearce | 23:30 UK time, Wednesday, 10 March 2010

I'm currently on a train heading to Manchester for an evening that will play an important role in shaping Manchester United's season, but could also provide us with a much better idea of the direction in which the club's long-term future is heading.

David Beckham is far too diplomatic to tell us his thoughts about the ruling Glazer family, but how fascinating it would be to know what's going through his mind tonight. A return to a club that in many ways hasn't changed at all - it's still as successful as ever, but yet once again is witnessing an acrimonious scuffle for control.

I use the word 'scuffle' because so far the current campaign to oust the Glazers has been relatively unthreatening. There's been a great deal of talk but, bar the green and gold scarf campaign, we haven't seen much action.

Yes, we know that a wealthy group of businessmen, the Red Knights, are planning to raise enough money to persuade the Glazers to sell (more than a billion pounds would be required), but there's been no official bid put forward. The money is not yet in place.

So on Wednesday night both the Red Knights and other Manchester United supporters face a dilemma. There's no doubt that the Red Knights have the backing of much of the United fanbase - 125,000 people have signed up to join the Manchester United Supporters Trust - but signatures alone are unlikely to persuade the Glazers to sell.

The Glazer family's spokesman has insisted time and time again that the club is not for sale. Manchester United is a money-making machine. Right now there's little reason for the Glazers to walk away.

The Red Knights, then, need to decide what to do next. Let's assume for now they can raise the kind of sums of money that they're looking for - maybe even as much as £1.5bn. Would that be enough to persuade the Glazer family to hand over the keys to Old Trafford?

A Manchester United fan sells the scarves outside Old Trafford
The green and gold scarf campaign has taken off at Old Trafford

The general theory in life is that everything has its price. In that case, it's simple. The Red Knights just need to work out the Glazers' selling price and raise enough cash to meet it.

Of course, it's unlikely to be that simple. Few things are. There's also the matter of pride. The Glazers will not want to be seen to be being pushed into doing anything. If they do sell - and that's a very big IF - they will want to do so on their own terms.

That's why this evening is going to be so interesting. If supporters don't like something then the natural instinct is to protest. The green and gold campaign has been a very effective and good-natured campaign.

Tonight, though, there's been talk of going further - boycotting the first 10 minutes of the match, allowing the TV cameras to show rows of empty seats to the watching millions around the world. That would certainly send out a very powerful message.

But what would be the reaction of the Glazers? They would be frustrated, maybe angry, but would it make them more likely to sell or would it just persuade them to dig in and vow to ignore the protest? There has to be a real chance that the latter would be the case, and that's why MUST (Manchester United Supporters Trust) is trying to distance itself from talk of any boycott.

There's also the not insignificant matter of the actual match itself. Manager Sir Alex Ferguson has said that he's sure that fans wouldn't do anything that could harm the team's chances of reaching the Champions League quarter-finals. The protestors are protesting because they have strong feelings for the club. Would those same people really be happy not giving their players vocal support throughout the whole 90 minutes?

So maybe this evening we won't see as big a protest as we'd once expected. But then if there isn't a boycott, would the Glazers be able to use that as evidence that the fans feelings against them aren't as strong as some might claim?

It's a big night for Manchester United, but it's also an important night for those attempting to oust the Glazers. Tactics, on and off the pitch, are going to be fascinating to watch.


I'm now at Old Trafford. I've just interviewed Duncan Drasdo, who's the chief executive of MUST. I'm now fairly certain that there will not be a 10-minute boycott - or at least not one that's effective enough to be noticeable on TV. MUST are not doing anything to encourage a boycott, and realistically you'd need around 20% of fans to stay out of their seats for it to be clearly visible.

MUST are definitely going for the cautious approach at the moment. It's a waiting game for them while the Red Knights continue to try to raise the money. Interestingly, though, Drasdo did tell me that he thought that MUST could well support stronger protests once (or if) that money is raised. So there is a bit of a veiled threat towards the Glazers at the moment.

The message from MUST appears to be "We're going to support the Red Knights, but we're not going to make life difficult for you, the Glazers, YET. If however, you refuse any financial offer from the Red Knights, then we (MUST) could start trying to hit you where it hurts - in your pockets."


I said that Beckham's too diplomatic to tell us what he thinks about the Glazers. Well we saw again on Wednesday night that he's also astute enough to let us know his thoughts without opening his mouth.

The enduring image from the game will be Beckham leaving the pitch with a green and gold scarf round his neck. There's no doubt that Beckham's gesture is a boost to the anti-Glazer campaign.

There was no mass walkout, but United's commanding performance enabled the fans to chant their protests without doing anything to damage their team's chances of victory. It was a fantastic night for the team and a good one for the protestors.


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