It’s March 10 2010. Manchester United are beating AC Milan 4-0 at Old Trafford in a Champions League game. The final whistle blows. The players begin to make their way off the pitch having secured a historic 7-2 aggregate victory over one of Europe’s most famous sides.
But the headlines wouldn’t be about Wayne Rooney’s four goals across the tie or United’s path to the Champions League quarter finals.
The green and gold campaign was in full swing. United were coming up to five years of Glazer rule and the fans had clearly had enough.
And that night it happened. AC Milan star and United legend David Beckham left the pitch wearing a green and gold scarf to become the most high profile supporter of the campaign. The message was clear, despite Beckham later distancing himself from it.
Fast forward nine years and the owners and chief executive are still in situ. Fergie has long gone and the club is a mess.
That season, 2009/2010, saw the team coming off the back of three league titles on the bounce and a Champions League win two seasons before. They finished second that year but were champions again the following season.
Things are very different now. And the unrest has started again. #GlazersOut has been gathering momentum on social media and the hierarchy of the club is beginning to feel the heat once more.
But the silence from former players has been deafening, with a couple of notable exceptions.
“I’ve said it before, but no ex player is going to publicly back #GlazersOut because they still work for the club. Or want to do in the future. They won’t burn their bridges. I understand that, to be fair.”
These are the words of one former player who has stuck his neck out and publicly backed the campaign. Former academy graduate and class of 92 alumnus John O’Kane is one of the only former players who has been vocal on social media about the club’s current plight.
“It’s all about supporting the fans and giving them an inside view about United,” he told us. “The fans have responded and respect what I have to say because I speak honestly and have no desire to be working at United until the Glazers have gone.”
O’Kane knows what he’s talking about. The 44-year-old father of three signed schoolboy forms in 1989, learnt his craft under Eric Harrison and shone alongside players like Gary Neville, David Beckham and Nicky Butt in the side that beat Crystal Palace 6-3 on aggregate to win the FA Youth Cup in 1992.
It’s clear United runs in his blood: “My fondest days at United were being around all those great players. Eric Cantona, Mark Hughes, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Roy Keane, Peter Schmeichel, and Denis Irwin.
“And, of course, making my debut. We lost 3-1 away at Villa, but it was the famous Alan Hansen quote of ‘not winning anything with kids’. That and the Class of 92 victory will be my bit of history with the club.”
The club has changed dramatically since O’Kane left in 1998 to pursue his career elsewhere. For many disgruntled United fans, the owners are the number one reason why things appear to be as bleak as they do at the moment.
“At the moment the club is a business, not a football club, which is a disgrace when you think of the legacy of Sir Alex and Sir Matt,” he says.
He believes the protests must continue “by not buying all the Glazers’ crap, as well as boycotting MUTV and the sponsors” and by actions on matchdays.
“Fan protests are vital so their voices can be heard. The owners will definitely have been rattled [by recent protests on social media] because MUTV shows have been cancelled due to the channel usually sitting on the fence and saying nothing, knowing the phone-in would have been all about the Glazers. The impact is slowly being felt by the owners.”
Which brings us to the present day fortunes of the club. O’Kane referred to last season as a “farce” and it’s difficult not to agree with him.
He believes that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the right man to turn the club’s fortunes around, but only if he’s backed by the right structure, including new owners, a new CEO and a director of football, as well as new players.
And with the new season approaching fast and a bloated underperforming squad still remaining for the most part, United’s current transfer business has been a little slow to say the least.
His knowledge of what makes a successful squad gives O’Kane an insightful opinion of what’s currently missing in the United playing staff: “If United buy four more players and get rid of Pogba and Lukaku I think they might be OK and able to rebuild again the following year. If we keep the same squad as last year, it will turn into a farce again.”
And what’s the problem with the current playing staff? According to O’Kane: “In the dressing room, Pogba runs it and it’s showing by the recent don’t care attitude from the likes of Lingard and co when posting immature posts on their social media.”
He added: “As a United player you can’t be doing that. It shows there’s no respect for United or the management. The ex-players wouldn’t have stood for the lack of respect for the club. Keano would have sorted that out within minutes.”
His life now is what matters and is far more important than football. “I never have any regrets as football has led to me doing the great work I do now with vulnerable children and adults, plus my wonderful wife and three kids. Not being a regular player at United means nothing to me as it was just a brief 10 years of my life.
“I just love working with school kids which is more of a challenge and rewarding than football.”
But would he ever turn his back on the club as some fans have done, dramatically so in 2005?
“As a United fan, I’ll always go and support the team at Old Trafford and away. Nothing will stop that.”
And would he like to go back? “If one day and all is well at United and the Glazers have finally sold up, I’d love to go back in some capacity, but I think I’m way too honest in my opinions now and would upset people.”
We think a bit more honesty is exactly what’s needed right now. Too many former players and high profile supporters are refusing to be drawn on the issues surrounding the club’s ownership. If only there were more people like John O’Kane.