At eight minutes past three, a roar from the Old Trafford crowd greeted the first act in Cristiano Ronaldo’s latest sensational United hat-trick. But thousands of his adoring fans of him were not there to see it. Instead, they remained outside the ground, forgoing the opportunity to watch one of United and football’s greatest ever players in action.
Although the roar came from just yards away, it was drowned out by noise of a different kind. The sound of die hard Reds deciding to make a stand against the ownership of their club.
Instead of taking their seats at 3pm, they sung, lit flares, and made their voices heard, remaining outside until 3.17pm, a minute for every year the Glazer family have owned United since a controversial takeover in 2005.
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The afternoon of protest began at a popular pre-match watering hole for United fans, the Tollgate. As United fans regularly do, they marched from the boozer down Talbot Road, before turning right at the cricket ground and heading down Warwick Road.
It remained to be seen how many fans, who stump up their hard earned cash to follow their team, would take part and miss the start of the game. While the vast majority kept to their usual routine and headed in for kick off, thousands did elect to protest.
The Munich tunnel became a focus for them, with the symbolic colors of green and gold, which also happened to be the colors of the visiting team Norwich, being proudly displayed. Green and gold were the colors of Newton Heath, the team comprised of railway workers founded in 1878, which went on to become Manchester United.
It is that contrast between the humble routes of United, and the current ownership the club finds itself under, which sparked the latest fan protest. Banners held by those leading the march read ‘for the love, not the money’, ‘we want our club back’ and ‘this is our club, and we shall fight to once again be red and white’.
Supporters have watched the continued success of their bitter rivals on the other side of the city and down the M62, and fear for the future of their team. But for many, the problems are more than current results on the pitch. As 3pm approached, the dilemma for United fans became ever more real.
One supporter who elected to stay outside until 3.17pm told the MEN: “The only way we’re gonna get them out is if we stop turning up. But then you’re not supporting your team are you?”
Unlike the protests at United’s game against Liverpool last season, which caused the fixture to be called off, the afternoon appeared to proceed peacefully and without incident. And as the clock struck 17 minutes past three, fans flooded back into Old Trafford, using the same turnstiles they have for years as they made their regular pilgrimage to their second home.
For those who decided to stay away for those 17 minutes, the protest was about more than football. They saw it as making a stand, raising awareness and campaigning against how they see their cherished club being run.
And missing out on 17 minutes of one the greatest ever players to wear the famous red and white only emphasizes the strength of their feeling.