x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Green and gold but red all over

Manchester United fans continue to support the club and fill the pockets of the men they claim to hate.

Manchester United fans wave yellow  and green scarves during a league match last month.
Manchester United fans wave yellow and green scarves during a league match last month.

Here's a question for all the Manchester United fans protesting against the club's owners by wearing green and gold. If you hate the Glazers because you believe they care only about the money, why are you dressing up as it? Think about it. US dollar bank-notes are green, and gold is the colour of ... well, gold. You may see the colours of Newton Heath, the club who became United, but I reckon Mr Glazer sees only bills and bullion.

It is the equivalent of a mouse trying to make himself less tempting to a cat by dressing up as a goldfish. Or should that be a green-and-goldfish? Such a protest is not just ineffective, but counter-productive. For a start, the only people who base major decisions on the clothes that other folk wear are fashion designers and 13-year-old girls. Since the Glazers fall into neither of these categories - Malcolm's beard alone rules out both possibilities - I think we can safely assume they would not care less if the entire Stretford End attended home games wearing roller skates, pink tutus and bowler hats.

But more importantly, the green-and-gold protest actually emphasises the fans' impotence. They are simply identifying themselves as individuals whose passion for Manchester United outweighs any other consideration, including their animosity to the Glazers. "Look at me!" they cry, as they twirl their pristine scarves. "I hate you so much but here I am anyway, still giving you my cash, still making you richer."

This does not make them bad people. It does, however, make it easier to see why ruthless businessmen regard football fans as cash cows to be milked dry. Even Sir Alex Ferguson, the man the supporters hold so dear, is in on the joke. "As long as they're supporting Manchester United," he said this week, "they can wear what they bloody like." The contempt contained within the punchline of that statement is telling, but the build-up line is also revealing: "As long as they're supporting Manchester United."

You see, the only meaningful thing a fan can do is withdraw his support, to refuse to renew his season tickets. This was suggested last week by Keith Harris, one of the self-styled Red Knights group attempting to buy out the Glazers. It prompted derision from David Gill, United's chief executive. Of course it did. Gill knows full well, and so do the disgruntled fans, that any season ticket flung back in disgust will be sold immediately to the next name on the waiting list.

Such histrionics may work if you support a minnow club - and even if it doesn't, you can always get your season ticket back as soon as your tantrum has passed. At the big clubs, however, your grand gesture will be like spitting into the wind. This is the uncomfortable truth for fans of clubs like Manchester United. You claim to be the soul of the club, the 12th man, one enormous unified organism. The reality is you are individual consumers in a market ruled by supply and demand. You are very small, expendable cogs in a mighty corporate machine. If you do not like it, support a smaller club. Might I suggest Norwich City? You already have the right colours.

The problem with supporting a smaller club, of course, is that you never win anything - apart from Portsmouth, who lifted the FA Cup in 2008. In the past 20 years, only two clubs outside the "Big Four" achieved this feat. They were Everton (1995) and Tottenham (1991), neither of who could be described as a small club. Indeed, to find an FA Cup giant-slayer comparable to Portsmouth, we must look to Coventry (1987) or Wimbledon (1988). We know now, however, that Pompey's victory was a lie. The club were spending money beyond their means. They cheated. You would think this would be considered a bad thing. You would think that while we cannot revoke Portsmouth's FA Cup, we could agree that they should now go to the back of the queue for glory.

But no. When Portsmouth beat Birmingham to reach the FA Cup semi-finals on Saturday, pundits clamoured to hail the victory as wondrous piece of football romance. Every neutral fan, they declared, would be cheering for poor, destitute Pompey to go on and win the FA Cup. Sorry, but not me. Pompey fans have already had their glory, albeit ultimately false. Why should we wish them another FA Cup victory simply because they are broke after cheating their way to the last one? What about the clubs who still have money because they resisted the temptation to buy glory on credit? Clubs like Aston Villa and Fulham. The pundits would love a Portsmouth victory because it gives them a glib fairy tale angle, with Portsmouth in the role of Cinderella. They forget that the original Cinderella was in rags through no fault of her own. Pompey-rella, on the other hand, bought the diamond slippers and golden carriage first, then waited for Prince Charming to come and pay the bill. Will Batchelor is a writer, broadcaster and self-confessed cynical sports fan. sports@thenational.ae