Manchester United’s fans have always been pro-active when it comes to the ownership of the club.
Twenty-one years ago, the Shareholders United group played a key role in helping to block Rupert Murdoch’s proposed takeover at Old Trafford.
And in 2005, following the Glazer buy-out of United, that organisation became the Manchester United Supporters Trust, an industrial and provident society with over 200,000 paying members that continues to fight for fans’ rights and is recognised by the club despite it’s continued opposition to the Americans’ ownership.
Tuesday night’s attack on the home of executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward suggests that the more militant members of United’s support now believe that direct action is required to remove Old Trafford’s controversial owners.
But it is not a new development. There has always been a group of angry young men lurking in the shadows.
The Manchester Education Committee and the sinister splinter group the Men in Black are two elements of United’s support that first emerged when the Glazers were plotting their controversial leveraged buy-out of the club in the early 2000s.
The MEC first hit the headlines in February 2004 when a group of fans disrupted a race meeting at Hereford after manager Sir Alex Ferguson had become embroiled in a legal row with JP McManus and John Magnier over the ownership of champion racehorse Rock of Gibraltar.
The Coolmore stud in Ireland, owned by McManus and Magnier, was then vandalised.
Eight months later, the MEC issued a statement of intent after fans invaded the pitch during a reserve-team game at Altrincham’s Moss Lane ground in a bid to “punish” United’s in-house TV station for offering a media platform to Florida-based businessman Malcolm Glazer.
Dubbed ‘Operation Havana’, the publicity stunt came with a warning that the MEC were about to bring “civil war” to Old Trafford and that the club’s sponsors and commercial partners would be viewed as “legitimate targets.”
In early 2005, with the Glazer takeover now looking inevitable, another statement was released warning chief executive David Gill that supporting the leveraged buy-out would be viewed as “an act of treachery that will place board members in an extremely vulnerable position for years to come.”
It came with a chilling warning to Joel Glazer that he would not be able to employ a security staff big enough to keep him safe.
When the Glazers completed their takeover that May, the debt-free club was instantly plunged £700million into the red.
One influential group of supporters turned their backs on Old Trafford to form the rebel club FC United of Manchester.
Others stayed to continue the fight.
A people carrier transporting three of the Glazer brothers to Old Trafford was attacked outside the stadium later that summer.
That prompted Joel Glazer to break the family’s silence for the first and only time to tell MUTV viewers that they could be trusted to run the club properly and maintain United’s success on the pitch.
Over the next eight years, Ferguson’s brilliance as a manager delivered another five Premier League titles and the Champions League.
But fan protests continued as the Glazers began plundering £1.3billion from the Old Trafford coffers to meet debt repayments and pay themselves dividends.
A Green and Gold campaign was launched by MUST, urging supporters to stop buying official club merchandise and instead wear the colours of United’s founding fathers from Newton Heath.
But more aggressive elements began to re-emerge after rivals Manchester City were bought by Sheikh Mansour and it became clear that the Blues were about to become a force in the Premier League.
In 2008, Rio Ferdinand was confronted at his Cheshire mansion by a balaclava-wearing group calling themselves the Men in Black.
The England defender was stalling on a new contract and the MiB were intent on reminding him how the club continued to pay his wages after he had been suspended by the FA for eight months after missing a drug test.
Ferdinand agreed to talk to the group if they removed their balaclavas – and although worried neighbours called the local police, the evening ended peacefully.
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