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An article from RN200 on the resurgence of home made flags and banners at Manchester United games

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  • An article from RN200 on the resurgence of home made flags and banners at Manchester United games

    Keep the Red Flag Flying

    copyright Red News from RN200 - by @willomufc

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    Travel to any European city that United are playing in and you’ll find a main square or focal point decorated in red, white and black as flags are temporarily ‘hoisted’ to confirm that United are in town. Of course as a Red I am biased, but in my opinion it’s something that United’s travelling support does well. However, while the tradition of displaying our flags and banners has been a constant for many years now, the styles have changed as evidenced by looking back at various points over the years.

    In recent years, the vogue has been very much for tri-colours that hang from any convenient balcony, tree or railing pre-match, and then over the tiers of the all-seater stadiums that we visit on our travels across England and Europe. And very impressive they are too; some reflecting the various points of the world from which United’s travelling support is represented, and others reflecting United’s rich history, players and song-book.
    With large numbers making the trip, Madrid was a perfect showcase of the impressive display of flags that currently travel with United; from the pre-match display in Plaza de Santa Ana and then inside the Bernabéu itself. Many of them, including my own, have been brilliantly crafted by Clair (Flags For-Fans) of this parish; the fact that they are hand-made by a match going Red providing greater meaning to them. Of course, preferences are subjective but there can be no denying that United’s display is more impressive than most, if not all, other British teams. Just look at United’s visit to Amsterdam last season and then at pictures from City’s visit this season, as illustrated by the piss taking comparison that did the rounds on facebook and twitter.

    Looking back at pictures from the late 60s, the obvious reference point being the 1968 European Cup Final, the Union flag with the Manchester United wording added was used back then (the flag’s popularity no doubt aided by it being part of the ‘swinging sixties’ imagery). However, there was evidence of the self-styled banners that were to become such a symbol of the 70s; the Busby for Prime Minister banner displayed at Wembley being an example. Of course, the Union flag continued to be a symbol at Old Trafford through the 70s with that famous flag that hung over the tunnel on the Stretford End.

    It is the 1970s that really capture the imagination with those iconic displays of hand-crafted banners displaying the wit and flair (as well as flares!) of United’s support. There was limited scope for hanging flags in those days, so the design was of banners supported by poles at either end to be held on standing terraces. No over-zealous fretting about health & safety back then, or risk of blocking the view of those being wined and dined in the Club Wembley tier. Those flags and banners were spontaneous, reflecting the now and then in talking of current players and the match in hand. Look at those pictures of the United end at the 1977 Cup Final and it’s like reading across a living page full of great pre-match banter (Buchan does 70 mph on the Heighway is a personal favourite of mine and, of course, there was the Jesus Saves but Pearson Nets the Rebound banner that is still talked about today). It’s good to see recent attempts by some to reinvigorate that spontaneity and there is still evidence of ‘off the cuff’ creations for specific games, such as the response to the Clattenburg episode at Stamford Bridge; the ‘United defending titles…’ taken to Anfield after the Suarez episode; and the AAA rating banner at Loftus Road more recently. Reclaim United have been trying to reinvigorate that FA Cup spirit of the 70s by encouraging fans to make their own flags to take to games. People are often quick to knock these attempts to organise the support and by their nature they can feel a bit contrived, rather than the spontaneity they look to recreate, but at least folk are getting off their arses to try something to improve the atmosphere (and fun) of match day so fair dos to those behind it. Hopefully momentum will continue to build among supporters and the club itself will help facilitate their attempts.
    If the 70s caught the imagination, for me personally it was the 80s where the match going experience became a reality. We still had the standing terraces and at the 1985 Cup Final we also still had some banners on poles interspersed with loads of tri-colour flags (many of which were bought on the way in from the grafters working around Wembley). While that colour might not have been reflected week in, week out in league games, the standing terraces still allowed for that abundance of colour at Cup Finals – keep all the support in their confined ‘end’ and they could more or less do as they please while the suits sat elsewhere out of harm’s reach. Next to the ’77 Cup Final, I guess the most iconic images of a United end are those captured at the ’91 Cup Winners Cup Final in Rotterdam; what a fantastic mix of flags and banners with tri-colour, Union and St George flags. I often look at those images and think that end captures and represents the best of all our differing flag ‘eras’.

    United don’t always associate with and reflect the general trends, but as with the national support itself, the 90s saw the demise of the Union flag with the St George’s Cross increasingly used. You only have to compare the England support at Italia ‘90 to the flags at Euro ‘96 and the ’98 World Cup to see that shift. A picture posted on twitter by @jimmufc7 shows that United too carried the St George flag on their travels with an array on display down by the river Douro when United visited Porto in ’97. I have a PA picture of United lifting the ’99 European Cup and it is an MUFC St George’s flag hanging from the second tier in the Nou Camp that provides the backdrop.

    No doubt hastened by the general ABU attitude and the treatment from the England support of United players when wearing the national shirt, the St George’s flag faded from our travelling display. It’s not extinct though, for example in Madrid the large Oldham Reds St George’s flag broke up the pattern of red, white and black decorating Plaza de Santa Ana. That takes us back to the dominance of tri-colours carried by our support today. Personally, I like them and the fact they symbolise United’s own colours rather than anything else. Not only do they reflect our colours, they also represent MUFC’s history, song-book, players and even the music of Manchester that often goes arm in arm with the football for many supporters.

    Of course, it’s not as easy these days to display your flags and banners as it was in those relatively carefree days of the 70s and 80s. No poles are allowed at most places (although Bayern fans seemed to get theirs into the Emirates recently) and, with every available space sold for advertising, more often than not your flag will be ordered down by the stewards quicker than you can say Thomas Cook Sport or place a bet with Paddy Power on your smartphone (if you can get a reception inside OT that is).

    Then there’s size limits; technically mine requires a bloody fire certificate to go into OT(!) but no doubt the real concern is overhanging the drop and blocking the view of the boxes below (fair dos I suppose!). I was instructed to take mine down at one game this season after the control room radioed over to the stewards to tell them that my flag was “flapping in the wind” (as flags do!). The stewards tried to derive some imaginary size limit to prevent me taking mine into the League Cup game at Chelsea this season until a weathered Met officer came over on hearing our debate get louder and sided with me (he probably remembered the steward as one of those boneheads in the West Stand that used to make his Saturdays so miserable during the 80s!).
    In the face of these regulations that do their best to drown out any attempts to add colour to the match going experience (or at least any colour that doesn’t pay its own way in advertising revenue), there does seem to be increasing efforts to inject some craft and colour into our support. As mentioned above, the Reclaim United drive has encouraged fans to bring home made flags and banners to FA Cup games, invoking memories of years gone by. Coupled with the more ‘permanent’ tri-colours that follow the team (it would also be good to see people able to bring more of those into home games), it has the potential to provide a great balance and add some fun to the support (it should be fun, particularly for the younger supporters starting out, as that’s why we go isn’t it?). And of course, SEF continue to work with the club to decorate the stadium and add flags such as the surfer flag paying tribute to the Busby Babes.

    Hopefully, the club will see the value that the support can provide to the performance on the pitch and help create an environment where the fans can add their colour and messages more spontaneously. In the meantime, start working on those (preferably clean!) bed sheets as this season is offering plenty of reason to celebrate our colours, team and tradition.


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