Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Manchester’s Red Revolution

Tom Wainwright discovers a grassroots movement that's transforming fans into activists

June 1, 2005
3 min read

What do you get if you cross a political rally with a football match? The answer could be found at Manchester’s Apollo Theatre this May bank holiday, when nearly 2,000 Manchester United fans crowded in for crisis talks about the future of their team.

The emergency meeting was organised by the Not For Sale Coalition, a group formed to oppose the club’s takeover by US business tycoon Malcolm Glazer, who last month tightened his grip by taking control of more than 75 per cent of Manchester United’s shares.

Part anti-corporate protest, part Man United get-together, this was a red meeting in every sense. But missing from the anxious crowd was the club’s trademark red strip, normally typical bank holiday wear for dedicated fans. Why weren’t the troops in uniform?

‘As long as our club’s owned by Glazer, I’m not wearing any official kit,’ vowed one young speaker, to cheers of support. Outside the theatre, fans handed in their old replica strips and trainers as part of a ‘Nike amnesty,’ a charity collection of clothing made by the club’s official kit manufacturer, which as its biggest corporate partner is a major target for the anti-takeover campaign.

Boycotting official merchandise is a key strategy for the activists, who have begun making their own anti-Glazer range, including black wristbands and skull-and-crossbones t-shirts. Some are making the ultimate sacrifice of not renewing their season ticket, a wrench likened by one supporter to going through a painful divorce.

Those who can’t bear to give up their United habit are planning to do their bit by eschewing the traditional half-time refreshments, a big earner for the club. ‘When you’re at Old Trafford, if you see someone buying a pie, just say to them: “You’re paying Glazer’s debts there, mate,”‘ urged one coalition leader to the packed theatre.

This was a grassroots event for football lovers rather than full-time political anoraks, and the dozens of banners on display had been recycled from the terraces rather than the latest Stop the War march. Even a prominent ‘Hasta la victoria siempre’ banner, with the Cuban flag hanging above it, was in United’s black and red colours.

Andy Walsh, who chairs the coalition, said that it brings together a full cross-section of supporters:

‘Its rooted in ordinary people coming together to do something about what’s happening to their club. Some of the most fervent campaigners would describe themselves as Thatcherites, while others are socialists. The campaign isn’t party political at all. Even amongst the leadership, most are not really political activists.’

But the campaign is inevitably politicising the fans, says Walsh: ‘People are getting a harsh exposure to what football has become. Their eyes have been opened to the way that things work, and the role of business in all this.’

Fans seem to be taking to direct action with ease. One member of the audience urged a campaign of stink bombs on the terraces, while a woman’s suggestion of a topless protest was met with the kind of enthusiasm normally reserved for an injury time equaliser. For the fans who haven’t given up their tickets already, next season at Old Trafford could be a lively one.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death