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.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving

Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry