Fans united in stand over seats of yearning

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Manchester United expect to be crowned champions of football's Premier League at Middlesbrough tomorrow, but a group of ther club's most loyal supporters will be reluctant to join the celebrations.

The club, which has annoyed fans with frequent changes of kit and has been criticised for selling its own-brand whisky, now faces protests stemming from the pounds 28 million redevelopment of its Old Trafford ground.

Last season, 1,500 season ticket-holders were temporarily moved while the North Stand was rebuilt. But United have told the supporters that they will not be able to return to their old seats because the area has been set aside for executive members and corporate entertainment.

Two disgruntled regulars, Eric and Mary Brownhill, have supported the club for the last 50 years and never miss a home match. Since 1966, they have enjoyed "the best seats in the ground" - in the centre of the North Stand. Now, they may cancel their season tickets.

Mrs Brownhill, aged 75, from Stretford, said: "We have been totally loyal for 50 years and now they have taken our seats away so that they can give them to people with more money. There is an enormous feeling of betrayal among fans. We never deserted them, even when they were in the second division. This is how they treat us."

United season tickets are highly prized and supporters must show strong evidence of their loyalty to the club before they can buy one. The Brownhills spend pounds 308 out of their pension every year, but the new cost in the executive stand is pounds 1,200.

"We have been told that we can keep our temporary seats which are right up in a corner where we can't see the goal," said Mrs Brownhill. "We can return to North Stand, but only on one of the new tiers which are very high up. We cannot manage that many steps.

"We may just call it a day and cancel our tickets altogether. It will be such a shame, but there is no point spending money for seats that are no good."

Susan Halpern, who has sat behind the Brownhills with her husband, Jeffrey, for 28 years, accused the club of not telling supporters of its plans until the last minute. "We were led to believe up until last week that we would have our old seats back and now we will have to take grossly inferior seats because it is too late to do anything about it. The fans have been treated disgracefully."

Ken Ramsden, United's assistant secretary, said it had been decided an executive area was the best way of recouping the redevelopment costs. "We've apologised, but it was very expensive to rebuild the stand and we had to generate the money from somewhere," he said. "We are a commercial organisation and need to generate an income to continue our current level of success."

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