Manchester United supporters vowed yesterday to continue building their emblematic "green and gold" campaign of resistance to the Glazer family's ownership, amid evidence that the club is attempting to remove signs of the movement from the terraces.
Fans insisted they will wear the new emblem of the protest – scarves in the colours worn when the club was founded at Newton Heath in 1878 – not only in this country but at San Siro for next week's Champions League clash with Milan, despite suggestions on United's website this week that flags bearing the protest colours "may not be allowed".
The Italian club said yesterday that there was no rule on the colours to be sported by away fans and that they were willing to assist if United felt there might be a problem. United insisted that their advice had been a response to their interpretation of Italian law. But fans' suspicions that the club is seeking to silence their protests have been fanned as word has spread of the dismissal of one of Old Trafford's longest-serving stewards after he took back a banner seized from fans by his employers and attempted to return it.
Granville Boden, 53, a steward of 19 years' standing, was in position near the Old Trafford TV gantry before the home match with Burnley on 16 January, when he witnessed six quick response team (QRT) stewards from his own security firm seizing a banner bearing the "Love United, Hate Glazers" slogan from fans who had just arrived in the West Stand. Boden seized it back at the end of the game when he arrived at the building, at the back of the stand, where all staff from Controlled Event Solutions (CES) – United's main security firm – return their uniforms and radios. The club said last night that the incident and steward staffing are outside their direct control and CES were unavailable for comment. Boden was dismissed and said yesterday that the intense argument about the QRT's actions after the game reflected the way that staff are deeply divided over the Glazer campaign issue. "There was a huge argument among staff about what went on," Boden said.
"People had to be pulled apart after that incident. You don't work as a steward for financial rewards but because of your emotional commitment to the club. Fans have every right to say if something is wrong and to protest."
The force of the anti-Glazer protests had risen to a level where a banner during the Hull City home match on 23 January could not be removed, as supporters blocked the aisles to ensure security staff could not reach it.
Despite initial thoughts that the Milan match might be the subject of an organised anti-Glazer protest, the Manchester United Supporters' Trust (MUST) does not now intend to make it one, with the extraordinary success of the new scarf creating a potent enough force in itself. An estimated 30,000 have been sold and around one fifth of fans inside Old Trafford wore one for Saturday's 5-0 win over Portsmouth, with MUST running out of the £2.50 items before the game.
Sales levels are expected to plateau soon, as late adopters will be limited by the perennial fear among fans of seeming to be jumping on a bandwagon, though MUST's belief that they will succeed in joining with financial interests to buy out the Glazers, has engendered a feeling that their campaign will be seen through to fruition.
"The scarf campaign was first proposed on forums when the Glazers took over and it appeals to those fans who do not want to be associated with a campaign of hate," said Duncan Drago, MUST chief executive. "It is a unifying symbol." Meanwhile, Rio Ferdinand has withdrawn his appeal against his four-match suspension. Ferdinand had decided to challenge the ban after an extra game was added to his original punishment for violent conduct against Hull City's Craig Fagan.
His appeal risked seeing the suspension increase to five games, which would have meant the defender missing the Carling Cup final at the end of this month. His first game back in competitive action would then have been England's friendly with Egypt at Wembley on 3 March, his maiden game as the new England captain.
Fan's view: A colourful protest
Is it just a coincidence that United have started emailing supporters with offers to buy the club's home shirts at a discount? I suspect not.
MUST (the Manchester United Supporters' Trust) are selling the green and gold scarves for £2.50 from outside their offices, near Old Trafford, and from stalls outside the ground. Everyone has them now.
The idea ofwearing the colours of Newton Heath (the club, founded in 1878, which was renamed to become Manchester United in 1902) to register our opposition to the Glazers strikes me as genius. It's a highly visible way of venting our feeling about the Glazers, and what these non-football supporting businessmen have done to our club.
Whatever you sing on the terraces, there's no guarantee of getting the message across to TV viewers. But turning Old Trafford into a mass of green and gold looks terrific. The more the club tries to stop uswearing these scarves, the more we'll want to wear them. The mantra is: "Green and gold 'till the club is sold".