Football: Business as usual at Old Trafford

APART FROM a brisk trade in tee shirts with the slogan "Murdoch: Just Say No", it was business as usual down Sir Matt Busby Way last night.

If soundings of opinion are to be believed, most Manchester United supporters are deeply unhappy about what has happened to their club this week, but they were doing last night what they have always done, walking down what used to be Warwick Road to see their team play.

Seekers after riots and confrontation were disappointed. There was a woman brandishing a banner. "The message is simple, the message is clear," it read. "Don't Sell My MU." The message was also extensively photographed and filmed, but those with a fundamental objection to their club changing hands for the price of 50 Dwight Yorkes were not otherwise much in evidence.

Even for the visit of Charlton Athletic, whose last visit to Old Trafford was when United were in the old Second Division, the ground was, of course, full to rafters that are soon going to be raised to accommodate an extra 12,000. Nobody has gone so far as to suggest a fans' boycott.

Were there more stewards around in case of trouble? Was the music that little bit louder to drown out any dissident chanting? When play did get under way and United failed to score for the first 15 minutes, there did come, from the old scoreboard end, one chant of abuse directed at Martin Edwards and another that used to be reserved for Alan Shearer, "There's only one greedy bastard" - evidence that the disenfranchised had not left their grievances at home after all.

It was a less vocal protest than might have been expected from supporters who, according to a poll in the Manchester Evening News, were 96 per cent opposed to the sell-out to Rupert Murdoch earlier this week. Even the motivation of a second half streaker was uncertain.

Any feeling of disillusionment may find its voice next week. Supporters' and shareholders' organisations are militantly opposed to the change of ownership and a rally is planned in the city on Tuesday.

The last word, perhaps, should go to the other supporters in red replica shirts last night. The Charlton followers, despite an excellent start to the season which continued when they took the lead in the first half, know that they are ultimately fighting a losing battle against clubs with far more financial muscle. "He could buy us if he liked," they sang.