Beckham: Green or Yellow?
For those who took a more critical view of Beckham’s green-and-yellow scarf wearing display, MUST’s triumphant proclamations of what they described as their new hero taking a stand alongside them against the evil Glazers came across as a particularly embarrassing example of that organisation’s very selective approach to reporting on matters of importance to United fans.
From their reluctance during the 2005 anti-takeover campaign to disclose how far away they were from amassing anything like a blocking stake, to their re-definition of a MUST member as any email address they have ever had on their database, it’s clear that they fully appreciate the value of appearing to have an upward trajectory in their attempts to persuade more real human beings to match the deep commitment to the cause made by all those email addresses.
Fair enough, you might reasonably argue, for surely the ends justify the means in this campaign: if by pretending the campaign is more robust than it actually is, they manage to persuade all those marginal ditherers to actually make it more robust, then it will have been a very successful tactic. Such concern for the delicate sensibilities of the fickle majority is of course the reason why talk of boycotts and FC United is more off-limits in a MUST press release than in Ferguson’s press conferences. It’s also why each MUST statement invariably starts by brown-nosing Ferguson, despite the clear disdain ‘Sir Alex’ now shows for the average fan and those organisations that seek to represent them.
But perhaps MUST’s unseemly scramble for the incidental endorsement of the ex-United player, despite Beckham’s refusal to acknowledge any political element to his gesture (a rebuff obviously not picked up by MUST as they revelled in the post-match, scarf-draping afterglow), merely highlights the very reason why this campaign has proven such a hit amongst United’s current match-going support.
‘It’s the old colours innit, I’m just supporting my team’ is the comforting refrain of ‘Becks’ and his fellow green-and-yellow bedecked United fans. That’s why the lad on the Red Issue forum first suggested it, and the reason why so many have taken it up – because it’s ambiguous, there’s no explicit statement of protest, but if enough ambivalent reds shuffle timidly into this half-hearted protest, it might just turn into something tangible. What better way to mobilise the apathetic masses? Give them a way of kind-of-protesting without having to do anything or risk anything.
It says a lot about the one-dimensional relationship experienced by the British football supporter that the risk these fans are seeking to avoid is being seen as anti-United. Is Old Trafford really full of United fans who can’t separate their support for the club from their support of the club’s legal owners? Obviously so, if the only way they can bring themselves to even symbolically oppose the owners is to simultaneously say ‘but look, I’m still a United fan’. A major leap forward will clearly be needed in the collective imagination of match-going United fans if that opposition is to turn into something more than symbolism.
Boycott. You stay away from what you love because you love it. Those who have already done this know there are many ways to express that love, some more subtle than others. The ‘old colours’ get-out clause invoked by Beckham was the betrayal of a small, perhaps momentary, impulse to openly rebel, in favour of the banal ‘I just support the team’ fall-back option that the Newton Heath symbolism allows. So while MUST continues to pander to fans who only really want that one-dimensional, deferential relationship to the club and its owners, they won’t do anything to convince United supporters that the club can be theirs if they can only be brave enough to rip it from the current owners’ clutches.
So while Beckham’s awkward comments leave us guessing whether he’s yellow or perhaps just green in his approach to the ownership politics surrounding United, we can clearly see that as far as MUST go, and all the various knights whose favour they so seek, they may be green and may be yellow, but they’re definitely not my idea of red.